Having led the United Kingdom as its monarch for more than 70 years, Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland surrounded by her children and grandchildren on Thursday. The queen steadily shepherded her nation through times of peace and triumph, but also through periods of great trauma and turmoil since her coronation on June 2, 1953. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was 96.
Queen Elizabeth’s son Prince Charles is now king. Charles immediately ascended the throne, in accordance with the British line of succession.
A poll conducted in the United Kingdom in the spring of 2022 in recognition of her Platinum Jubilee found the queen had “sky high” public approval, with almost 9 in 10 Britons in favor of how she conducted her job.
A total of 15 prime ministers served during her reign, from Winston Churchill to Boris Johnson to Britain’s new prime minister Liz Truss, who met with the queen on Tuesday.
Elizabeth has often been praised for her calm and steadfast demeanor. Salma Shah, the Independent Voices columnist for the Express, praised the queen, saying, “Her wisdom is reassuring and comforting in dark times.”
Elizabeth began her reign in the early 1950s with a six-month round-the-world tour of the Commonwealth (countries historically connected with the British Empire). She was the first ruling British monarch to visit Australia and New Zealand. In a later visit to those countries, she broke with tradition and instead of waving to admirers from a distance, she strolled among the crowds.
Elizabeth was also the first British monarch to visit South America and the Persian Gulf countries. In 1961 she made what was then the first royal British tour of India in 50 years.
In 1965, she became the first royal to visit Germany since 1913. Her 10-day trip to the country marked the 20th anniversary of the end of World War II and symbolized a reconciliation between two of Europe’s most powerful nations.
In 1986, Elizabeth became the first British ruler to visit the Chinese mainland. She toured the terra-cotta warriors in Xi’an, the Great Wall in Beijing, and other sites. When Elizabeth visited the Republic of Ireland in 2011, it had been 100 years since a monarch had set foot in the country, due to long-standing conflict between the Republic and Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom.
She did have a few regrets during her long reign. In 1966, when an avalanche of mining waste in Aberfan, Wales, killed 144 people, most of them children sitting in their school classrooms, Elizabeth did not immediately visit the beleaguered area, thinking she would be a distraction. Instead, she sent her husband Prince Philip to survey the damage and meet survivors. Eight days later, she came to the Welsh community and was greatly moved by the tragedy. She called her decision not to visit immediately “her biggest regret.”
During her extensive service, Elizabeth saw the decentralization of government power, whereby greater authority was granted to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Through the late 1950s into the 1970s, Great Britain decolonized many of its territories in Africa. In 1997, Hong Kong was handed back to the People’s Republic of China.
Elizabeth reigned both when Britain joined the European Union in 1973 and when it left with Brexit in 2020.
From the Cold War to the fight in Afghanistan after 9/11, the U.S. and Britain have, as the queen said, stood together for freedom around the world.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the monarchy was seen as increasingly irrelevant. In an attempt to humanize the royal family, a documentary was made in 1969 intended to show their private, everyday life. The special gained a global audience of 40 million, but Elizabeth later banned future showings of the film, believing it revealed too much.
The queen weathered her share of family scandal as well. She called 1992 the “annus horribilis.” Prince Charles and his wife Diana, Princess of Wales, separated that year, and so did Prince Andrew and his wife, Sarah, Duchess of York. When Diana died in a car crash in 1997, Elizabeth drew criticism for at first refusing to fly the flag at half staff at Buckingham Palace. In time, she changed course and presented a televised address to a country in mourning.
The queen’s son Prince Andrew has also cast a shadow on the monarchy. He reportedly had close ties to the American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who was charged with child sex trafficking, and Andrew was the subject of a sexual abuse lawsuit.
The queen is survived by her four children, whom she had with the late Prince Philip: Prince Charles (73), Princess Anne (72), Prince Andrew (62), and Prince Edward (58), as well as eight grandchildren. Prince Charles will now assume the throne and become King of England.
Elizabeth led a long and relatively healthy life until her latter years, when she suffered mobility issues and a diagnosis of COVID-19.
Her leadership and positive outlook toward her life and people will remain her enduring legacy.
“Each day is a new beginning,” Elizabeth once said. “I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.”
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