Queen Elizabeth II dead at 96 following 70-year reign
Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, died Thursday at age 96.
“The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” the royal family tweeted. “The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.
Early Thursday, the royal family announced doctors were “concerned” about the Queen’s health, so she was put under “medical supervision.” In response, Prince Harry, Prince William, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and more flew to Balmoral in Scotland to be by the monarch’s bedside.
The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) September 8, 2022
The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/VfxpXro22W
Meghan Markle, however, did not join the Duke of Sussex to be with the royal family.
The Queen — who ruled the Commonwealth for over 70 years after her father, George VI, died in 1952 — is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Raised to put duty and family above all else, Elizabeth was known for her stiff upper lip, her colorful uniform — which she famously said she wore because “nobody will know who I am” in beige — and her love of Corgis and horses.
According to biographer and royal expert, Robert Hardman, Elizabeth never thought too much about the legacy she was leaving behind.
“She’s not like Queen Victoria, who was very concerned about her legacy forever, unveiling statues of herself and building monuments,” the “Queen of Our Times” author told Page Six in April 2022. “That’s not the queen’s way. It’s sort of just get on with the job and move aside.”
He added that the fact the Commonwealth is still going and popular was a testament to the Queen’s reign and influence.
Born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on April 21, 1926, Queen Elizabeth II was the eldest daughter of the then-Duke and Duchess of York.
Elizabeth — known affectionately as “Lilibet” by family and friends growing up — was third in line for the throne behind her uncle Edward and father George.
It wasn’t until her grandfather George V died and Edward VIII, who was embroiled in scandal after marrying American divorcée Wallis Simpson, abdicated the throne that Elizabeth’s father became King in 1936.
Elizabeth briefly met her future husband — and third cousin — Philip Mountbatten at a family wedding in 1934. The two met again in 1939 while on a family trip to Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. The former prince of Greece and Denmark was 18 at the time and instructed to act as a guide to then-13-year-old Elizabeth and her younger sister, Princess Margaret. In the years that followed, the pair wrote to each other while Philip was in the Royal Navy during World War II.
“It’s a very symbiotic relationship and a very firm partnership, starting off, of course, with these early meetings, this early correspondence — which became a friendship, which became affection, which became love,” royal historian Christopher Warwick told Vanity Fair in 2020.
Philip proposed to 21-year-old Elizabeth in 1947. The couple wed in front of 2,000 people at Westminster Abbey on Nov. 20 that same year. Their oldest son and heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, was born almost a year later in November 1948, and they welcomed their daughter Princess Anne in August 1950.
“If I am asked what I think about family life after 25 years of marriage, I can answer with equal simplicity and conviction, I am for it,” she said on the couple’s anniversary in 1972. She has also called the late Duke of Edinburgh a “constant strength and guide.”
On Feb. 6, 1952, Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, was found dead in his bed at age 56, and at 25 years old, Elizabeth — who was in Kenya at the time of his passing — became the Queen.
Although it’s been said that Elizabeth did not shed a tear publicly for her father, royal historian and biographer Sarah Bradford said she believed she did cry in private as the two were “very close” and she “absolutely adored him.”
“I am sure that this, my Coronation, is not the symbol of a power and a splendour that are gone but a declaration of our hopes for the future, and for the years I may, by God’s Grace and Mercy, be given to reign and serve you as your Queen,” she said on her Coronation Day in June 1953.
Following her coronation, Philip and Elizabeth welcomed two more sons, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, in February 1960 and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, in March 1964.
Over her lifetime, especially through the prism of modern society, the Queen was publicly criticized as being cold toward her children, but Hardman told Page Six that she was “very, very conscious that her role, her job places demands on the family.”
“I think there have been times when she certainly felt duty has been at the expense of time with her children. I think she’s a devoted mother, and she’s an old fashioned mother,” he continued.
Over the decades of her service, Her Royal Majesty was credited with bringing stability to the monarchy. From allowing her coronation to be aired on TV to the infamous 1969 BBC documentary meant to humanize the royal family — despite ultimately backfiring — she has also succeeded in modernizing the crown.
However, the royal family, even the Queen, is not without scandal.
In 1992, the monarch endured what she famously called an “annus horribilis,” a Latin phrase meaning “horrible year.” Her son Andrew separated from wife Sarah Ferguson in March, and her daughter, Anne, divorced husband Mark Phillips in April. Her eldest Charles’ marriage was also on the fritz, as his wife, Princess Diana, revealed in the bombshell book “Diana: Her True Story,” published in June, that the Prince of Wales was having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.
To make matters worse, a fire extensively damaged Windsor Castle, one of the Queen’s official residences, in November, just four days before her “annus horribilis” speech marking her Ruby Jubilee on the throne.
“We are all part of the same fabric of our national society, and that scrutiny, by one part of another, can be just as effective if it is made with a touch of gentleness, good humor and understanding,” she said in the deeply personal address as public support for the royal family began to crumble.
In an attempt to take matters into her own hands and avoid any further public embarrassment, the Queen wrote to Charles and Diana in December 1995 and asked them to divorce after years of public speculation about their tumultuous marriage.
Charles and Diana, who shared sons Prince William and Prince Harry, finalized their divorce in August 1996. But tragedy struck again one year later when the People’s Princess was killed in a car crash in Paris in August 1997 at age 36 while the Queen and her family were on holiday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
The Queen initially refused to fly a flag at half-mast over Buckingham Palace and avoided press in order to shield William and Harry by allowing them to grieve in private. But after intense public scrutiny, the monarch returned to London five days after Diana’s death and gave a delayed yet heartfelt televised speech memorializing her son’s late ex.
“She was an exceptional and gifted human being. In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness,” she said in part. “I admired and respected her for her energy and commitment to others and especially for her devotion to her two boys.”
After a period of great tumult, the Queen managed to trudge through and celebrated her 50th year on the throne in February 2002 with her Golden Jubilee. That same month, however, her sister, Princess Margaret, died at age 71, followed by their 101-year-old mother in March.
Joy returned to the Queen’s life in April 2011 when her grandson William, the eldest son of the heir apparent, married Kate Middleton. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge went on to have three children: Prince George in July 2013, Princess Charlotte in May 2015 and Prince Louis in April 2018.
The Queen became the longest-reigning British monarch in September 2015 and the first to celebrate a platinum wedding anniversary in November 2017, three months after Philip retired from public duties.
The sovereign performed fewer engagements in her later years and occasionally relied on Charles and William to represent their family in public. Harry, meanwhile, moved to the United States in early 2020 after he and his wife, Meghan Markle, whom he married in May 2018, stepped back as senior royals.
The Queen persisted through several health issues over the years, including surgery on both knees in January 2003 and a bout with COVID-19 in February 2022 while living at Windsor Castle, where she moved during the pandemic and spent her final years.
Her husband of 73 years, Philip, died in April 2021 at age 99, making Elizabeth the first British monarch to reign as a widow or widower since Victoria.
“In the months since the death of my beloved Philip, I have drawn great comfort from the warmth and affection of the many tributes to his life and work – from around the country, the Commonwealth and the world,” she said in her 2021 Christmas broadcast. “His sense of service, intellectual curiosity and capacity to squeeze fun out of any situation were all irrepressible. That mischievous, enquiring twinkle was as bright at the end as when I first set eyes on him.”
The Queen marked one final life milestone in February 2022 with her Platinum Jubilee, during which she made the shocking announcement that Camilla would be known as “Queen Consort” instead of the originally planned “Princess Consort.”
“When, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes King,” she said, “I know you will give him and his wife, Camilla, the same support that you have given me.”
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