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 the oldest 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 and the death in 1997 of her former daughter-in-law Diana, Princess of Wales; however, support for the monarchy remains high, as does her personal popularity.
During 1951, George VI’s health declined and Elizabeth frequently stood in for him at public events. When she toured Canada and visited President Harry S. Truman in Washington, D.C., in October 1951, her private secretary, Martin Charteris, carried a draft accession declaration in case the King died while she was on tour. In early 1952, Elizabeth and Philip set out for a tour of Australia and New Zealand by way of Kenya. On 6 February 1952, they had just returned to their Kenyan home, Sagana Lodge, after a night spent at Treetops Hotel, when word arrived of the death of the King and consequently Elizabeth’s immediate accession to the throne. Philip broke the news to the new Queen. Martin Charteris asked her to choose a regnal name; she chose to remain Elizabeth, “of course”. She was proclaimed queen throughout her realms and the royal party hastily returned to the United Kingdom. She and the Duke of Edinburgh moved into Buckingham Palace.
With Elizabeth’s accession, it seemed probable that the royal house would bear her husband’s name, becoming the House of Mountbatten, in line with the custom of a wife taking her husband’s surname on marriage. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary, favored the retention of the House of Windsor, and so on 9 April 1952 Elizabeth issued a declaration that Windsor would continue to be the name of the royal house. The Duke complained, “I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.” In 1960, after the death of Queen Mary in 1953 and the resignation of Churchill in 1955, the surname Mountbatten-Windsor was adopted for Philip and Elizabeth’s male-line descendants who do not carry royal titles.