Elizabeth II (1926-), Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of her other realms and territories, and Head of the Commonwealth. Elizabeth became queen at the death of her father, King George VI, in 1952. She was not quite 26 years old.
Elizabeth came to the throne at a time critical for Britain. Since World War II Britain had given whole or partial freedom to many of its colonies, some of which became voluntary members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Their only bond with Britain lay in their loyalty to the Crown, which Elizabeth represented. Her task was to hold and to strengthen that loyalty. For this she traveled, more than any monarch in history, to all parts of the world, meeting the Commonwealth's people.
Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born in London on April 21, 1926, the first child of the Duke of York. (Her official birthday is celebrated early in June, when London's weather is milder.) Her father became George VI in 1936 upon the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII. From the age of 10 Elizabeth, as Heiress Presumptive, was trained and disciplined in the duties of royalty.
Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret Rose, were educated largely by a Scots governess, Marion Crawford, who later wrote about the royal sisters in The Little Princesses (1950). Tutors schooled Elizabeth in German and French. Elizabeth was a serious student and, when 13 years old, began training in constitutional history with a specialist from Eton College. She became an active member of the Sea Rangers and of the Girl Guides (British equivalent of the Girl Scouts of America).
During World War II Elizabeth served in London as a military auto mechanic and driver in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. When 18 she was empowered to replace her father in the Council of State when necessary. She first served in 1944 while King George inspected the Italian front.
In 1947 Elizabeth was married to a distant cousin, Prince Philip of Greece, a descendant of Queen Victoria. (Philip had become a British subject after World War II and had taken his mother's family name of Mountbatten.) Elizabeth's first child, Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, was born November 14, 1948. A daughter, Princess Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise, was born August 15, 1950.
With Philip, Elizabeth visited several European and Commonwealth countries in the late 1940's. After a tour of Canada in 1951 the couple visited President Harry S. Truman in Washington, D.C.
On January 31, 1952, Elizabeth and Philip took off from London Airport to tour Australia and New Zealand. While they stopped briefly in Kenya, Africa, King George died in his sleep February 6. Elizabeth flew back to England, and on February 8 was proclaimed queen. She declared that she, her children, and their descendants would keep the name of Windsor. Philip kept the name Mountbatten. (However, in 1960 Elizabeth announced that any of her descendants not bearing the title “royal highness” would be surnamed Mountbatten-Windsor.) Elizabeth's coronation was held with medieval splendor in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953.
As queen, Elizabeth continued her visits to Commonwealth countries, including Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, and Uganda. In June, 1959, she and Philip flew to Canada. With President Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States, Elizabeth dedicated the St. Lawrence Seaway. Her one stop in the United States was in Chicago, at the western end of the seaway.
Prince Andrew Albert Christian Edward was born February 19, 1960, and Prince Edward Antony Richard Louis was born March 10, 1964.
In 1969 Elizabeth broke the tradition of privacy in regard to the domestic life of Britain's royalty. She allowed a film to be made showing informal, day-by-day activities of herself, her husband, and their children. The film, Royal Family, was broadcast by television in England and elsewhere.
Throughout the 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's, Elizabeth continued to visit Commonwealth countries and other parts of the world. In 1976 Elizabeth and Philip visited the United States during its Bicentennial. In 1977 Britain celebrated Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee, her 25th anniversary as queen. Elizabeth, accompanied by Philip, toured the Arab states of the Persian Gulf in 1979. In 1982 she and Philip traveled to Canada, where she proclaimed the Constitution Act, which removed the remaining vestiges of British political authority in Canada. In 1986, while in Australia, she proclaimed a similar act pertaining to that country. Also in 1986, Elizabeth became the first British monarch to visit China.
During the early 1990's, after the marital problems of Elizabeth's children received wide publicity, support for the monarchy weakened. In 1992 Elizabeth removed the names of several family members from the civil list, a list of people who receive public funds. Also that year she volunteered to pay taxes on her personal income.