Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II full name Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on 21 April 1926. She has been Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand since 6 February 1952. Additionally, she is Head of the Commonwealth and queen of 12 countries that have become independent since her accession: Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Elizabeth was born in London as the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and she was educated privately at home. Her father acceded to the throne on the abdication of his brother Edward VIII in 1936, from which time she was the heir presumptive. She began to undertake public duties during the Second World War, serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. In 1947, she married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a former prince of Greece and Denmark, with whom she has four children: Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
Elizabeth’s many historic visits and meetings include a state visit to the Republic of Ireland and visits to or from five popes. She has seen major constitutional changes, such as devolution in the United Kingdom, Canadian partition, and the decolonization of Africa. She has reigned through various wars and conflicts involving many of her realms. Significant events have included her coronation in 1953, and the celebrations of her Silver, Golden, and Diamond Jubilees in 1977, 2002, and 2012 respectively. In 2017 she became the first British monarch to reach a Sapphire Jubilee. She is the longest-lived and longest-reigning British monarch as well as the world’s longest-reigning queen regnant and female head of state, the oldest and longest-reigning current monarch, and longest-serving current head of state.
Elizabeth has occasionally faced republican sentiments and press criticism of the royal family, in particular after the breakdown of her children’s marriages and the Windsor Castle fire in 1992 (her annuls horrible) and the death in 1997 of her son’s ex-wife Diana, Princess of Wales; however, support for the monarchy remains high, as does her personal popularity.
The 1960s and 1970s saw an acceleration in the decolonization of Africa and the Caribbean. Over 20 countries gained independence from Britain as part of a planned transition to self-government. In 1965, however, the Rhodesian Prime Minister, Ian Smith, in opposition to moves towards majority rule, declared unilateral independence from Britain while still expressing “loyalty and devotion” to Elizabeth. Although the Queen dismissed him in a formal declaration, and the international community applied sanctions against Rhodesia, his regime survived for over a decade. As Britain’s ties to its former empire weakened, the British government sought entry to the European Community, a goal it achieved in 1973.
In February 1974, the British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, advised the Queen to call a general election in the middle of her tour of the Austronesian Pacific Rim, requiring her to fly back to Britain. The election resulted in a hung parliament; Heath’s Conservatives were not the largest party, but could stay in office if they formed a coalition with the Liberals. Heath only resigned when discussions on forming a coalition foundered, after which the Queen asked the Leader of the Opposition, Labor’s Harold Wilson, to form a government.
A year later, at the height of the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, the Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, was dismissed from his post by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, after the Opposition-controlled Senate rejected Whitlam’s budget proposals. As Whitlam had a majority in the House of Representatives, Speaker Gordon Scholes appealed to the Queen to reverse Kerr’s decision. She declined, stating that she would not interfere in decisions reserved by the Constitution of Australia for the governor-general. The crisis fueled Australian republicanism.
In 1977, Elizabeth marked the Silver Jubilee of her accession. Parties and events took place throughout the Commonwealth, many coinciding with her associated national and Commonwealth tours. The celebrations re-affirmed the Queen’s popularity, despite virtually coincident negative press coverage of Princess Margaret’s separation from her husband. In 1978, the Queen endured a state visit to the United Kingdom by Romania’s communist leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, and his wife, Elena, though privately she thought they had “blood on their hands”. The following year brought two blows: one was the unmasking of Anthony Blunt, former Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, as a communist spy; the other was the assassination of her relative and in-law Lord Mountbatten by the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
According to Paul Martin, Sr., by the end of the 1970s the Queen was worried that the Crown “had little meaning for” Pierre Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister. Tony Benn said that the Queen found Trudeau “rather disappointing”. Trudeau’s supposed republicanism seemed to be confirmed by his antics, such as sliding down banisters at Buckingham Palace and pirouetting behind the Queen’s back in 1977, and the removal of various Canadian royal symbols during his term of office. In 1980, Canadian politicians sent to London to discuss the partition of the Canadian constitution found the Queen “better informed … than any of the British politicians or bureaucrats”. She was particularly interested after the failure of Bill C-60, which would have affected her role as head of state. Partition removed the role of the British parliament from the Canadian constitution, but the monarchy was retained. Trudeau said in his memoirs that the Queen favored his attempt to reform the constitution and that he was impressed by “the grace she displayed in public” and “the wisdom she showed in private”.
During the 1981 Trooping the Color ceremony, six weeks before the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer, six shots were fired at the Queen from close range as she rode down The Mall on her horse, Burmese. Police later discovered that the shots were blanks. The 17-year-old assailant, Marcus Sergeant, was sentenced to five years in prison and released after three. The Queen’s composure and skill in controlling her mount were widely praised.
From April to September 1982, the Queen was anxious but proud of her son, Prince Andrew, who was serving with British forces during the Falklands War. On 9 July, the Queen awoke in her bedroom at Buckingham Palace to find an intruder, Michael Fagan, in the room with her. In a serious lapse of security, assistance only arrived after two calls to the Palace police switchboard. After hosting US President Ronald Reagan at Windsor Castle in 1982 and visiting his California ranch in 1983, the Queen was angered when his administration ordered the invasion of Grenada, one of her Caribbean realms, without informing her.