Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch who served as the beloved face of her country and source of strength for seven decades, died Thursday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. She was 96.
Elizabeth’s doctors said earlier Thursday that they were “concerned for Her Majesty’s health” and that she was “resting comfortably” at Balmoral under medical supervision.
The royal was preceded in death by her husband, Prince Philip, who spent more than seven decades supporting the queen. The Duke of Edinburgh, Britain’s longest-serving consort, died in April 2021 at age 99. Elizabeth and Philip were married for more than 70 years and had four children: Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.
From the small, curly-haired girl known to her family as “Lilibet” to the gracious, bespectacled great-grandmother who favored broad-brimmed hats, deliberate bright fashion and sensible shoes, the queen was always a favorite with her subjects both at home and in her many visits to Commonwealth nations around the world.
Her “walkabouts” in which she stopped to shake hands and briefly chat with members of the public seemed to reinforce her one-time comment, “I have to be seen to be believed.”
But appearing in public didn’t mean her audience necessarily knew everything about her. The queen’s personal life was never mined by the media in the way that those of American presidents tend to be.
Among the things that were well known: the queen loved corgis (she reportedly owned more than 30 during her life) and thoroughbred horses, supposedly enjoyed a gin with Dubonnet, and was interested in Scottish country dancing and walking in the countryside.
Other reports said she enjoyed a jigsaw puzzle and in 2011, there were multiple stories that she’d ordered an iPad for herself after grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry showed her theirs.
All in all, not a wealth of personal information about someone who had been a reassuring part of her subjects’ lives for so long.
But if she appeared smiling and cheerful in public, the queen also encountered her share of adversity – from wars to the divorces of three of her four children, the 1997 death of her glamorous daughter-in-law, Princess Diana, and the 1992 fire that severely damaged Windsor Castle, one of her official residences. The constant throughout her life appeared to be a sense of duty and self-discipline.
Born April 21, 1926, at her maternal grandfather’s London home and named Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, the future queen was educated privately at home, along with her younger sister, Margaret Rose. Even as a child, she was considered sensible and well-behaved.
When her uncle Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, Elizabeth’s father became King George VI, and she was next in line for the throne.
With the outbreak of World War II, Elizabeth and Margaret were moved to Balmoral Castle in Scotland and then to Windsor Castle. In a 1940 radio speech to other evacuated children, the then-14-year-old Elizabeth showed her pluck, saying, “We know, every one of us, that in the end, all will be well.”
In a broadcast to the British Commonwealth on her 21st birthday, she pledged, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Elizabeth wed Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, whom she supposedly first fell in love with at age 13, on Nov. 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey. After an initial flurry of disapproval that Elizabeth was marrying a foreigner, Philip’s athletic skills, good skills and straight talk lent a distinct glamour to the royal family. Elizabeth beamed in his presence, and they had a son and daughter while she was still free of the obligations of serving as a monarch.
Elizabeth was on a trip with her husband to Kenya when she received word of her father’s death on Feb. 6, 1952, at age 56. The cause of death was cancer.
On their immediate return to London, Elizabeth, now the queen regnant, and Philip moved into Buckingham Palace, which was to remain her main residence for the rest of her life.
Following her coronation at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, she became known for trying to modernize the monarchy and make more personal contact with her subjects –from garden parties to inviting 100 couples from around Britain who shared her wedding date to join the festivities at her 25th anniversary.
Elizabeth’s devotion to duty and a life of service made her an important figurehead for the UK and the Commonwealth. The queen saw public and voluntary service as one of the most important aspects of her role. She had links to over 600 charities, military associations and public service organizations. Her patronages covered a wide range of issues, including opportunities for young people and the preservation of wildlife, among others.
Elizabeth was also known for her ability to keep her cool. In 1981, during the Trooping the Color ceremony to celebrate her birthday, six shots were fired from close range in her direction as she rode down The Mall on her horse Burmese (they were later found to be blanks). Elizabeth was praised for her skill in bringing the startled horse under control.
A year later, she awoke in her bedroom at the palace to find an intruder sitting at the end of her bed. She calmly picked up the phone to summon the police, then chatted with him until help arrived.
Throughout her tenure, the Queen was also noted for her good health. In recent months, the monarch’s well-being became a matter of public speculation when she was advised to cut back on cocktails for the sake of her health. Not long after, Elizabeth spent a single night in a hospital after being advised to rest. She returned to Windsor Castle the following day, the palace said at the time.
On Feb. 20, 2022, the queen tested positive for COVID-19. According to Buckingham Palace, she experienced mild, cold-like symptoms but still planned to carry on working. The diagnosis prompted concern and get-well wishes from across Britain’s political spectrum. The palace noted that the queen had been fully vaccinated and had a booster shot.
The queen had previously delivered two televised messages to the nation early in the pandemic in 2020 and sought to lead by example. She let it be known she had been vaccinated and sat alone during the funeral of her husband of 72 years because of coronavirus restrictions.
When she died, Elizabeth was the most widely traveled British head of state and the longest-married British monarch. She had ruled for longer than any other monarch in British history, becoming a much-loved and respected figure during her decades-long reign. She reached the milestone of 70 years on the throne on Feb. 6, 2022, celebrating with the Platinum Jubilee in June to mark the occasion.
Elizabeth is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Her eldest son Charles, 73, is first in line to the throne.