Today, in a remarkable milestone, HM Queen Elizabeth II (r. 1952- present) has become the longest reigning monarch in British history, breaking the record of her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria (r. 20 Jun 1837 – 22 Jan 1901).
In ever-humble fashion, and in an enduring testament to her humility, the Queen chose to make only the briefest of remarks to the British people and her subjects around the world acknowledging the occasion. She thanked them for their well-wishes on behalf of her and her consort, HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who has been her husband for 67 years. The monarch and her 94-year old consort, who had been on their summer holiday at Balmoral, took the train from Edinburgh’s Waverley Station alongside Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to the hilly countryside town of Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders, where the Queen symbolically opened a new railroad station.
Born in 1926 to the then-Duke and Duchess of York, Elizabeth II was not born as the heir to the world’s largest empire, but to the then-reigning King George V’s second son Prince Albert Frederick, known affectionately as Bertie. Her imposing paternal grandfather, not known for his geniality or easiness of manner, referred to her affectionately as ‘Lilibet’, while the young Princess Elizabeth called the King ‘Grandpa England’. George V died in 1936 at the age of 70, after just reaching his Silver Jubilee marking 25 years on the throne.
Elizabeth’s uncle Edward VIII’s self-centered decision to abdicate in December 1936 elevated her father to the throne as King, and his first decision was to take the regnal name George VI, to gloss over his brother’s disastrous short reign and show continuity with his father’s line.
The dutiful George VI — who worked diligently to overcome a pronounced stammer- and his immensely popular consort Queen Elizabeth were the public face of British resistance and solidarity in the face of Nazi Luftwaffe blitz bombings of London during the darkest hours of the Second World War. In 1944 the eighteen-year old Princess Elizabeth, the heiress to the throne, took a far-from-safe role in wartime efforts, personally driving British military supply trucks. On Victory in Europe (VE) day in 1945, marking Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Allied forces, the entire Royal Family assembled with Prime Minister Winston Churhill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to share in their people’s joy. It is well-known that, on that night, the future Queen and her sister Princess Margaret donned disguises and went out on the streets of London to be among the British people and share fully in the national rejoicing.
Marrying her beloved Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in November 1947 (Philip was regularly lauded as a modern ‘Adonis’), the beautiful, glamorous heiress to the throne quickly started her own family, with Prince Charles, her own heir, born in 1948. Here is a beautiful, short documentary video showcasing much of the celebrations at Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s royal wedding.
Elizabeth II became Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the British Empire (now renamed the British Commonwealth) at the age of 25 early on the morning of 6 February 1952, when her beloved father King George VI passed away at the age of only 56. United in mourning for the man who was their son, husband, and father, Britain’s three living queens — the dowager Queen Mary (George V’s widow and George VI’s mother), Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (George VIs’ widow and Elizabeth II’s mother) and the young Queen Elizabeth II — observed a period of mourning broken only by Queen Mary’s death at the age of 85 in March 1953. One of her last wishes was that her granddaughter’s coronation not be postponed in the event of her death, and so it was on the second of June, 1953 that Queen Elizabeth was crowned as sovereign of the United Kingdom and the Empire as “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith”.
Here is a beautiful prayer from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer for the life and safekeeping of Her Majesty:
On this glorious occasion, I thought it fitting to share this timeless anthem composed by choralist William Byrd for the first Queen Elizabeth some 450 years ago. Here are the magnificent lyrics:
O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth our Queen to rejoice in thy strength: give her her heart’s desire, and deny not the request of her lips;but prevent her with thine everlasting blessing, and give her a long life, even for ever and ever. Amen.
Congratulations to Her Majesty on her many years of tireless service to Britain and the Commonwealth! Long may she continue to reign! God save the Queen!