Queen Elizabeth II has passed away. Today, I want to introduce the story of her life – from unexpectedly becoming Queen, to the breakup of the British Empire, to her later years of popularity.
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Reign (n) -the period of time when a king or queen rules a country
Queen Elizabeth’s reign lasted 70 years
Monarch (n) – a king or queen
Britain’s head of state is a constitutional monarch
Duty (n) – work you have to do for your job or because you feel it is right
Queen Elizabeth felt it was her duty to serve the UK
To succeed (v) – to take an official job or position after someone else
King Charles III has succeeded his mother Queen Elizabeth II
Heir (n) – a person who will legally receive money, property, or a title from another person when that person dies
Prince William is now the heir to throne
Coronation (n) – a ceremony at which a person is made king or queen
Queen Elizabeth’s coronation took place in 1953
Scandal (n) – an action or event that causes shock or disapproval
Despite scandals, the Queen remained popular in the UK
Condolence (n) – sympathy or sadness for the family or friends of a person who has died
World leaders have sent their condolences to King Charles and the Royal Family
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Queen Elizabeth II Has Died
On Thursday the 8th of September 2022, Queen Elizabeth II passed away at her residence in Scotland. Just 24 hours earlier, and as her last act as monarch, the Queen had met new British Prime Minister Liz Truss and officially approved her right to lead government. Queen Elizabeth has been succeeded by her son, now known as King Charles III, after the longest reign of British monarch.
While the passing of the Queen was inevitable at some point this decade (she was a 96-year-old woman, after all) her death has come as a shock to the UK. As I just mentioned, she had been pictured with the new Prime Minister just a day earlier. But around lunch time on September 8th, news reports emerged that the royal doctors were concerned for her health and requested her children and grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry travel to Scotland. Only a few hours later, her death was confirmed by Buckingham palace.
Queen Elizabeth’s long reign (the 70-year Jubilee was just a few months ago) was characterised by her dedication to the role and her sense of duty. The world of 1952 is unrecognisable today, but one constant presence on the international stage has been Queen Elizabeth II. During her reign, the British empire collapsed; Britain joined and left the EU; she worked with 15 different Prime Ministers from Winston Churchill to Liz Truss; she travelled 1,000,000 miles and visited at least 117 different countries.
While the world was changing and questions were being asked about the role of monarchy in a modern democracy, the Queen managed to maintain her popularity and constantly represent the UK.
There are many different episodes I could write about the Queen today. I could talk about what happens when a monarch dies?; what kind of king Charles will be?; should the UK still have a royal family? And perhaps I will cover these topics in future episodes, but today I want to look at the life of potentially the most famous person in the world. Let’s discuss how she unexpectedly became Queen and some of the major events during her reign.
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Early Life of Elizabeth
On the 21st April 1926, Elizabeth Windsor was born – not in a palace or castle but a house in London. Her parents were Albert, Duke of York, and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Albert was the second son of King George V, and the family raised Elizabeth and her sister Margaret Rose in a quiet family environment.
The children were educated at home and the young Elizabeth had hopes of living in the countryside with horses and dogs. She could hold this ambition, as she was not born into the line of succession. In other words, she was not supposed to become Queen. Her father’s older brother, then known as David, would become king and his children would follow.
Elizabeth was known to be very close to her grandfather, King George V. While she did not attend school, she spent hours studying languages and the political history of the UK, and Winston Churchill (who met the future Queen while she was still a child) once said that Elizabeth has “an air of authority that was astonishing in an infant.”
George V died in 1936, and as expected he was succeeded by his eldest son David. David chose the royal name Edward and became King Edward VIII. There was a problem with Edward – his choice of wife. Edward married an American woman called Wallis Simpson, who had been married twice previously. Considering the political and religious importance of the monarchy in the UK, it was unacceptable that a king would marry such a person.
King Edward chose his wife over the throne and abdicated less than a year after becoming king. As Edward had no children, the throne passed to his younger brother. Albert, the Duke of York, became King George Vi – a job he never wanted.
The late 1930s in Europe were a time of tension. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party had risen to power in Germany and were aggressively reforming society and forming plans to expand into Austria, Czechoslovakia, and eventually Poland. The Soviet Union was now controlled by Stalin, and Italy had the fascist government of Mussolini. The role of the royal families of Europe was being questioned across the continent, and the new king made it his goal to restore public confidence.
The young Elizabeth understood this role as well. As she did not have a brother, Elizabeth was now the heir to the throne – and she started to take part in royal duties. During the war, she briefly joined the war effort and learned to drive and repair trucks.
She met her future husband, Prince Philip of Greece, during a visit to the Royal Naval College in 1939. They continued to exchange letters throughout the war, but the King was reluctant at first to approve the marriage – Philip was seen as foreign and unsuitable for a future Queen. Eventually, their marriage was permitted, and they were married in 1947. Philip remained in the Royal Navy and the couple spent time living in Malta.
They had their first child, Charles, in 1948. In 1952, the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth and her husband set off on an overseas tour to the British empire. While in Kenya, Elizabeth learned her father King George had died.
George had spent his life smoking heavily, and had experienced incredible stress during World War II, leading to an array of medical problems. He was terminally ill with lung cancer, and at the moment of his death Elizabeth became Queen.
Her official coronation was held a year later in June 1953. Millions of people around the world watched on TV as she was crowned as the monarch – for many people it was the first time they had ever watched television.
Queen Elizabeth’s Time on the Throne
During the first few decades of her reign, the British empire began to crumble. In 1953, as she set off on a tour of the Commonwealth countries, many parts of the British empire had already become independent. India gained its independence just a few years before her coronation, and other countries were campaigning and fighting for their own.
In some places, the Queen remained popular. She was the first monarch to ever visit New Zealand and Australia – where it is estimated 75% of all Australians gathered to see the Queen. The former colonies across the world did not completely lose their attachment to the UK and the Queen; some like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand kept the Queen as head of state; and most others formed a community known as the Commonwealth.
Under the influence of her husband Prince Philip, the Queen gradually began to change the traditions of the British monarchy. The world was changing, and Britain was no longer happy with “upper-class” leaders and the conservative monarchy. The Queen was also challenged with political crises – the Conservative party had no method of choosing a new leader so when the Prime Minister Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan resigned in the 1950s and 60s, she was forced to appoint new Prime Ministers herself – something she was unhappy at doing.
One example of change was the name used to describe the system – they gradually stopped using the term “the Monarchy” and instead referred to themselves as “the Royal Family.” Another key feature of the Queen’s reign was increasing the separation of the Royal family from politics. The Queen understood her role and ensured that it was followed – she had the right to be informed of decisions and advise governments, but she refused to get involved in anything political.
The Royal Family also wanted to display themselves as being more relaxed, approachable, and less formal. A BBC documentary in the 1960s did much to change their image. Support for the Royal Family increased as people seemed to genuinely like the Queen and there were enthusiastic celebrations of her Silver Jubilee in 1977.
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Problems and Scandals
The Queen’s reign was not always free of scandals or disasters. The most famous examples come from the year 1992 – known as the Queen’s Annus Horribilis. First, the Queen’s second son Andrew separated from his wife. Second, the Queen’s daughter Princess Anne divorced her husband, Mark Phillips. Third, the heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Diana were revealed to be incredibly unhappy and eventually separated. And fourth, a massive fire broke out at Windsor Castle, the Queen’s favourite home – and there was a debate over who should pay for the repairs.
The role of the British royal family in the former British empire is also controversial. I will probably record future episodes about this topic, but British colonialism was a terrible disaster for millions of people across Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. It is impossible to remove the association between the Royal Family and the British empire.
The Queen acknowledged that Royal Family needed to change and become more open if they ever wanted to repair their image and reputation. The Queen and Prince Charles started paying tax for the first time, and Buckingham palace was opened to visitors to raise money for repairs.
The Royal Family was again thrown into crisis with the 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales. She died in a car crash in Paris, and the Queen was publicly criticised for not taking part in the public mourning.
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2002 was the 50th year of the Queen’s reign, but also the year that both her mother and sister passed away. Despite a continuing debate over the future of the royal family, 1 million people turned out in front of Buckingham palace to celebrate.
Over next decades, thousands of people celebrated her 80th birthday in 2006, her 60th wedding anniversary in 2007, and Prince Williams wedding in 2011. She became the first monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland in 2011 and her diamond jubilee attracted hundreds of thousands of people.
She continued to work well into her 90s and became the longest reigning monarch of the UK in 2015 – taking over that title from her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.
The final years of her life what marked by more tragedies and scandals. Her husband Prince Philip crashed his car after driving on the wrong side of the road; her son Prince Andrew had all of his responsibilities and titles taken away due to his friendship with the criminal Jeffrey Epstein; Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markel moved to America after years of frustration with British newspapers; the Covid pandemic shut down life in the UK for months; and her husband passed away in April 2021.
But the Queen has remained a popular and much-loved figure in the UK. You just have to witness the celebrations for her diamond jubilee earlier this year to see the respect she is held in. And after the death was announced, everyone from world leaders to sports stars offered their condolences.
The Royal Family is not perfect and without criticism. And the new King Charles will likely face challenges and obstacles during his reign. But the Queen set a model for how a constitutional monarch should act – with dedication to role, for the good of the country, and with respect for the laws and democracy of the country.
The life of Queen Elizabeth was long and influential. From her childhood riding horses to her years travelling around the globe representing the UK, she has remained dedicated to representing the UK. While I may dislike the Royal Family as an institution, I can’t help but respect the Queen for the way she has served the country.
What do you think? Let me know your opinion of Queen Elizabeth in the comments!
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