Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II Dies at 96
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has died, ending a historic 70-year reign. She was 96.
The Queen died at Balmoral, her beloved palace in the Scottish Highlands, which was purchased by her great-great-grandfather Prince Albert for Queen Victoria in 1852. She was surrounded by her children and grand-children.
Prince Charles, her eldest son, succeeds her.
The Queen’s death comes just under 18 months and after that of her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who died on April 9, 2021.
Earlier this year, the Queen celebrated her Platinum Jubilee, which commemorated a record-breaking 70 years on the throne. In a rare personal statement to mark the occasion of her accession, she said: “It is a day that, even after 70 years, I still remember as much for the death of my father, King George VI, as for the start of my reign.”
Celebrations began on Feb. 6, which is the day she officially acceded to the throne, and carried on into June, when she appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for the first day of a long Jubilee weekend, with the British public getting an extra public holiday to celebrate.
However, the monarch did not attend subsequent Jubilee events, including a concert in her honor featuring Adam Lambert and Queen, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Sir Elton John, after experiencing discomfort during the Trooping the Colour parade on the first day of the celebrations. She made a brief appearance on the Sunday at the conclusion of the festivities.
On 6 Sept., she officially appointed the U.K.’s latest Prime Minister, Liz Truss, in a ceremony at Balmoral. Traditionally a new Prime Minister is appointed at Buckingham Palace, in the capital, but the venue was changed due to the Queen’s “mobility problems,” the palace said in a statement. In photographs released of the event the Queen was shown using a walking stick but smiling as she shook Truss’s hand. The following day she was forced to cancel an audience with ministers after being advised to rest by her doctors.
The Queen, who acceded to the throne in 1952, was the world’s oldest reigning monarch. In 2015, she also became the longest-reigning British sovereign of all time, surpassing the previous record set by Queen Victoria.
She holds the record for the second-longest reigning monarch of all time after France’s Louis XIV, who was on the throne for 72 years.
During her reign, the Queen saw 15 British prime ministers serve under her, beginning with Winston Churchill, and met 13 of the last 14 U.S. presidents, from Harry S. Truman through to Joe Biden, as well as countless heads of state across the world. (The only U.S. president she did not meet was Lyndon Johnson.)
Princess Elizabeth was not expected to become a queen when she was born to the Duke and Duchess of York on April 21, 1926 in Mayfair, London. When her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 over his relationship with American divorcee Wallis Simpson, Elizabeth’s father was declared King George VI, moving the then 10-year-old princess into the direct line of succession. (Edward VIII’s abdication has been portrayed on screen in films including Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech,” starring Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, and in Madonna’s biopic of Wallis Simpson, “W.E.”)
In 1947 Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, with whom she had four children: Charles, Prince of Wales and Anne, Princess Royal, were both born before she acceded to the throne, followed almost ten years later by Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, who were born while she was queen.
On Feb. 6, 1952, King George VI died suddenly at the age of 56 from a coronary thrombosis and Princess Elizabeth, then on a tour of Kenya, acceded to the throne, becoming Queen Elizabeth II. Her coronation in Westminster Abbey the following year was the first in British history to be televised.
While she continued to undertake her royal duties until the very end of her reign, in the last few years of her life she was restrained by her health, using a walking stick and occasionally, according to local reports, a wheelchair, although she was never seen publicly with the latter.
In February 2022, a statement from Buckingham Palace to royal reporters confirmed that the Queen had contracted COVID-19. “Her Majesty is experiencing mild cold like symptoms but expects to continue light duties at Windsor over the coming week,” said a statement from the palace. “She will continue to receive medical attention and will follow all the appropriate guidelines.” However, she appeared to make a full recovery.
The Queen became a cultural staple during her long and eventful reign. She was the most photographed woman in history – gracing the cover of Time magazine at age three, the first of several such appearances – and was depicted on the big screen, the small screen, the stage, in music, and in art.
She is the main subject of the Netflix original series “The Crown,” which follows the Queen from the 1940s to modern times and examines her relationship with the various prime ministers who led Her Majesty’s Government as well as other figures, both within the Royal Family and outside it. Over the show’s six seasons, each of which covers approximately a decade in her life, she has been portrayed by three different actors: Claire Foy, who won a Golden Globe for her portrayal, and Olivia Colman, who won both a Golden Globe and an Emmy, and Imelda Staunton, who will portray the queen in her 70s and 80s during the show’s fifth and sixth (also believed to be its final) season. Season 5 will premiere on Netflix in November 2022.
Helen Mirren also memorably played the British monarch in the 2006 film “The Queen,” written by “The Crown” creator Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Frears. The film was set in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, a low point for the British royal family, and won Mirren a best actress Oscar for her performance. Mirren went on to play Elizabeth again in the West End and on Broadway, in the stage hit “The Audience.”
The monarch was also depicted in “Spencer,” played by Stella Gonet – the film stars Kirsten Stewart as her daughter-in-law Princess Diana – while the Queen’s early childhood was portrayed in Oscar-winning film “The King’s Speech.” The 2015 film “A Royal Night Out” offered a fictionalized glimpse of the night Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret were allowed secretly to slip out of Buckingham Palace to join the crowds celebrating V-E Day on the streets of London in 1945.
In 2016, the Queen was a character in “The BFG,” Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the book by Roald Dahl and “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” also tackled the British monarch — literally. In the 1988 comedy, Leslie Nielsen’s character uses a running tackle to save the Queen from what he wrongly believes to be an assassination attempt. The actor who plays her in the film, Jeannette Charles, has made a career of royal impersonation, standing in as Elizabeth in about 20 movies and TV programs over a 40-year period.
In animated form, the Queen in her Cinderella-like royal coach survived an attempted robbery of her crown in the 2015 film “Minions” and a rear-ending by Homer Simpson in a 2003 episode of “The Simpsons” (titled “The Regina Monologues”). She wasn’t so lucky in a 2012 episode of “Family Guy,” in which a high-speed chase of her carriage ends in a royal fatality, and in 2007 an episode of “South Park” sparked outrage after it showed her dying by suicide on the throne. She also made an appearance in Gary Janetti’s short-lived animated comedy “The Prince,” which ran for one season on HBO Max.
In 2022, the Queen delighted viewers around the world by guest-starring in a video with Paddington Bear. In the skit, which was filmed at Windsor Castle and broadcast before the Platinum Jubilee concert, Paddington is invited to the Queen’s abode for tea where chaos ensues. At one point, the bear offers Her Majesty a marmalade sandwich fished out of his hat, as he tells her: “I always keep one for emergencies.” In response, the Queen replies, “So do I” and opens her handbag to pull out a marmalade sandwich of her own. The two-minute video quickly went viral, with the Queen’s great-grandchildren, Prince George and Princess Charlotte shown in the audience responding with joy to the clip.
The cameo echoed her 2012 appearance at the London Olympics when the Queen appeared in a pre-recorded video shown at the opening ceremony. In the clip, she greets Daniel Craig (in character as James Bond) at Buckingham Palace before he escorts her to a waiting helicopter. They’re shown flying over London towards the Olympic stadium before Craig and the Queen appear to jump out of the chopper with parachutes strapped to their back. As the video was being played in the stadium a real helicopter appeared in the sky and two figures – one clad in a regal peach dress – parachuted out. With perfect timing, the Queen then appeared in person at the ceremony in an identical dress before taking her seat in the stadium to the sound of wild cheers.
Despite her occasional cameos and innumerable public appearances, the Queen remained an enigma to her subjects, deliberately cultivating an air of majesty and mystery. She never gave a single interview during her lifetime and maintained an aloofness in an age of over-sharing and public emotion, even as the lives of her own children — and grandchildren — came to resemble a reality show, with lurid details of their relationships and scandalous antics regularly making headlines in the British tabloids.
All of which made her rare expressions of sentiment all the more meaningful although it also, on occasion, alienated her from the public. In 1992, during her annual televised Christmas Day speech, she memorably declared that year to be an “annus horribilis.” It had been a tumultuous 12 months during which three of her children separated from their spouses – Prince Charles from Diana, Prince Andrew from Sarah Ferguson and Princess Anne from her husband Mark Phillips – while Windsor Castle was badly damaged in a fire.
An even lower point for the monarchy came five years later, following Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris. During the outpouring of grief that followed, the Queen was accused of being cold and unfeeling and it took almost a decade for the royal family’s popularity to rebound.
But rebound it did, particularly the Queen’s, who generated an almost universal respect and gratitude around the world as she continued to fulfill her duties as head of state and national symbol into her tenth decade of life.
“When it comes to how to mark 70 years as your Queen, there is no guidebook to follow,” she said in a letter addressed to the British public in 2022. “It really is a first. But I have been humbled and deeply touched that so many people have taken to the streets to celebrate my Platinum Jubilee.”
“While I may not have attended every event in person, my heart has been with you all; and I remain committed to serving you to the best of my ability, supported by my family.”
Queen Elizabeth II is survived by her four children, eight grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren, the youngest of whom was born in 2021.