World Queen Elizabeth II, UK's longest-serving monarch, dies at 96

Queen Elizabeth II, UK’s longest-serving monarch, dies at 96

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Queen Elizabeth II greets Liz Truss at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on September 6, 2022. The queen asked Truss to form a new administration. Truss accepted and was appointed prime minister and first lord of the treasury. Photo courtesy of The Royal Family/Twitter

Sept. 8 (BP) — Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch in British history, died at her Balmoral estate in Scotland on Thursday at the age of 96, Buckingham Palace announced.

“The queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The king and the queen consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow,” the palace’s statement read.

Her husband, Prince Philip, died April 9, 2021 at age 99. He was the longest-serving consort of a reigning British monarch.

Few people alive today can even remember a time when Elizabeth wasn’t on the throne. From Harry S. Truman to Joe Biden, she saw 14 U.S. presidents come and go during her reign.

Always dignified and stoic, the queen epitomized her country’s World War II slogan: “Keep calm and carry on.”

She was driven by a sense of duty and continued to perform dozens of official engagements each year, past her 96th birthday in April. In March, she recovered from COVID-19.

Britain celebrated her Platinum Jubilee, 70 years on the throne, in early June.

A stickler for detail, the queen was permanently aware that she was the figurehead of Britain and the Commonwealth countries over which she presided and could never afford to have an “off” day.

“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,” she pledged in a speech made on her 21st birthday.

Yet, Elizabeth wasn’t even destined to be queen when she was born Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on April 21, 1926, in London, to Prince Albert, duke of York (later to become King George VI), and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.

Her father was the second son of King George V and Queen Mary Elizabeth and, as such, was not expected to become sovereign. So, Lilibet, as she was known, got to enjoy her first decade with younger sister Margaret without the pressures of being the heir apparent.

But that all changed with the abdication crisis of 1936 when her uncle King Edward VIII gave up the throne to spend his life with American divorcée Wallis Simpson.

With the outbreak of World War II, Elizabeth and Margaret were sent to live in Windsor Castle, 20 miles west of London, to keep them away from German bombing raids of the capital.

She played a part in the war effort, even as a teenage princess. At 14, she made radio broadcasts aimed at reassuring Britain’s children against the Nazi threat.

“In the end,” she declared. “All will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace.”

During the final few months of the war, once she turned 18, Elizabeth even trained to be a mechanic, alongside some of her subjects, as part of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

Famously, as conflict ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, Elizabeth and Margaret were allowed out of Buckingham Palace to party anonymously with the hundreds of thousands of citizens celebrating in the streets of London.

“I remember lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, all of us just swept along on a tide of happiness and relief,” she said in an interview with the BBC in 1985.

Two years later, the young princess was married to Philip Mountbatten, the son of Prince Andrew of Greece. She had been smitten with him for years, but her father wasn’t keen on their union. He regarded the boisterous and outspoken Philip as too rough around the edges for his genteel daughter.

Within months, they had their first child, Charles, followed by Anne, Andrew and Edward over the next 16 years.

Elizabeth and Philip were in Kenya when her father, George VI, died on Feb. 6, 1952. At just 56 years old, he had a fatal blood clot to the heart, but was also suffering from lung cancer.

During her first year as queen, the young monarch traveled more than 40,000 miles and visited 12 countries between November 1953 and May 1954. In all, she journeyed to 128 countries in 265 overseas visits during her lifetime.

Tragedy struck in 1979 when Lord Louis “Dickie” Mountbatten, her husband’s uncle, died when Irish Republican Army terrorists bombed the fishing boat he was on off the cost of Ireland. Mountbatten and three others, including one of his grandsons, were killed.

Three years later, the queen came face to face with an intruder inside her bedroom at Buckingham Palace. Jobless father-of-four Michael Fagan, 31, scaled the walls surrounding the palace, then clambered up a drainpipe into the queen’s private apartment. Once inside, he spent several moments talking to the monarch before she raised an alarm. Fagan was never charged and, seemingly, meant no harm to the queen.

The love lives of her children caused Elizabeth much heartache. Her three eldest all went through divorces.

When Charles, then 32, married 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, rumors surfaced that he’d been pressured by his family into tying the knot. Soon they had sons William and Harry. And in 1985, Andrew married Sarah Ferguson, who was awarded the title duchess of York.

Soon they were making unwanted tabloid headlines for the fiercely private queen.

The queen described 1992 as her “annus horribilis” (horrible year), and perhaps with some justification. During that 12-month period, Charles and Diana separated as stories swirled about her alleged cheating and his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles. Princess Anne got divorced from her husband, Capt. Mark Phillips, while Andrew and Sarah Ferguson also ended their marriage. As if to further rub salt into her wounds, the queen’s favorite residence, Windsor Castle, was extensively damaged by fire.

In 1997, Elizabeth faced intense media scrutiny following the death of Diana in a Paris car crash. Despite mounting pressure from the public for her to make a statement, the queen stayed behind closed doors for days before paying tribute to her former daughter-in-law.

Stories circulated that she did not want to give Diana a royal funeral, which only fueled public sentiment against the monarch.

After the start of the 21st century, Elizabeth experienced two great losses within a matter of weeks.

Her beloved sister Margaret, who had something of a party-animal reputation, died in February 2002 after suffering a stroke. Then the queen’s mother, known affectionately as the Queen Mom, died on March 30 at the age of 101.

Throughout it all, her husband Philip was by her side, for the large part quietly playing the role of consort. But occasionally he would cause unwanted headlines by making an inappropriate comment, once famously referring to Chinese people as “slitty-eyed.”

Despite the grandeur of her palaces and castles (she lived in four properties belonging to the Crown Estate, and owned four others privately), Elizabeth had a somewhat austere existence behind closed doors, a throwback to the post-war era in which she’d grown up.

The family silver and fine china were kept largely for state dinners and entertaining guests. In day-to-day life, the queen’s meals were often served in plastic containers.

And despite having masterpieces by the likes of Canaletto and Gainsborough hanging from her walls, the Audience Room at Buckingham Palace, where she would have cozy meetings with world leaders, was warmed by a $40 portable heater.

Indeed, her estimated personal fortune was only around $500 million, despite the priceless jewels and antiquities that went with the job.

On Sept. 9, 2015, she surpassed her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria as Britain’s longest ruling monarch, who reigned for 63 years.

In her later years, the queen became increasingly aware of her legacy, determined to ensure that she left the House of Windsor in as strong a position as possible for generations to come. She paid particular close attention to Kate Middleton, duchess of Cambridge as Prince William’s wife, anxious to make sure that she got all the support and preparation she needed, especially after the tragedy of Diana.

But in 2020, Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, stepped back from their roles as senior members of the royal family and moved to the United States, an unprecedented move, returning their patronages to the queen.

Not one for the spotlight, when she wasn’t on duty, Elizabeth liked reading mysteries, working on crossword puzzles and watching soaps and wrestling on television. A horse enthusiast, she would often go for a ride around the grounds of one of her country homes and enjoyed attending races. And, of course, she was a dog lover, owning some 30 corgis during her life, as many as five at a time.

Her cousin Margaret Rhodes, who knew Elizabeth since childhood, said the queen was a simple country girl at heart. Her presence gave people “a sense of safety,” despite conflict, political upheaval and everything else going on in the world.

Speaking before Elizabeth’s death, Margaret said: “I think that she herself… does all the things that she’s proud to do like putting on a crown and opening Parliament. But at the same time, she likes to take her dogs for a walk, talks to the ponies and pull out weeds she sees. She’s a mixture.”

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