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Queen Elizabeth II's 70-Year Rule In Britain: Key Points

Elizabeth’s reign was a delayed result of the abdication crisis of 1936, the defining royal event of the 20th century. Here's a look at the key moments in the life of Queen Elizabeth II, as the world mourns 'Operation London'.

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Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. (Archive)
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Queen Elizabeth II, the longest serving monarch in Britain, died at 96 in Scotland on Thursday. The queen, who ruled for 70 years, will be succeeded by his eldest son Prince Charles. 

The British monarchy's rules state that “a new sovereign succeeds to the throne as soon as his or her predecessor dies”. However, it may be months or even longer before Charles' formal coronation. In Elizabeth's case, her coronation came on June 2, 1953 -- 16 months after her accession on February 6, 1952, when her father, King George VI, died. 

Here's a look at the key moments in the life of Queen Elizabeth II, as the world mourns 'Operation London'.

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Elizabeth’s reign was a delayed result of the abdication crisis of 1936, the defining royal event of the 20th century. 

World War II was the most important formative experience for Princess Elizabeth. Her experience as a car mechanic with the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service – the women’s army service) meant that she could legitimately claim to have participated in what has been called “the people’s war”.

The experience gave her a more naturally common touch than any of her predecessors had displayed. When, in 1947, she married Philip Mountbatten – who became Duke of Edinburgh (and died in April 2021 at the age of 99) – her wedding was seized on as an opportunity to brighten a national life still in the grip of post-war austerity and rationing.

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Monarchs in the 20th century were expected both to perform ceremonial duties with appropriate gravity and to lighten up enough to share and enjoy the tastes and interests of ordinary people. The Queen’s elaborate coronation in 1953 achieved a balance of both these roles. 

The Queen went on to revolutionise public perceptions of the monarchy when, at the urging of Lord Mountbatten and his son-in-law, the television producer Lord Brabourne, she consented to the 1969 BBC film Royal Family. It was a remarkably intimate portrayal of her home life, showing her at breakfast, having a barbecue at Balmoral and popping down to the local shops.

Controversy in the early 1990s about the Queen’s exemption from income tax forced the Crown to change its financial arrangements so it paid like everyone else. Gossip and scandal surrounding the younger royals turned into divorces for Prince Andrew, Princess Anne and – most damagingly of all – Prince Charles. The Queen referred to 1992 – the height of the scandals – as her “annus horribilis”.

The revelations about the misery Princess Diana had endured in her marriage presented the public with a much harder, less sympathetic image of the royal family, which seemed vindicated when the Queen uncharacteristically miscalculated the public mood after Diana’s death in 1997. Her instinct was to follow protocol and precedent, staying at Balmoral and keeping her grandchildren with her.

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The extent to which she quickly regained public support was shown by the enormous, if unexpected, success of her 2002 Golden Jubilee, which was ushered in by the extraordinary sight of Brian May performing a guitar solo on the roof of Buckingham Palace. By the time London hosted the Olympics in 2012 she was sufficiently confident of her position to agree to appear in a memorable tongue-in-cheek cameo in the opening ceremony, when she appeared to parachute down into the arena from a helicopter in the company of James Bond.

As she approached her tenth decade, she finally began to slow down, delegating more of her official duties to other members of the royal family – even the annual laying of her wreath at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, while in May 2022 she delegated her most important ceremonial duty, the reading of the Speech from the Throne at the State Opening of Parliament, to Prince Charles.

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She retained her ability to rise to a crisis, however. In 2020, as the COVID pandemic descended, the Queen, in sharp contrast to her prime minister, addressed the nation from lockdown at Windsor in a calm, well-judged message.

The decade also brought sadness. Her grandson, Prince Harry, and his wife Meghan Markle withdrew completely from royal duties, causing deep hurt to the royal family. This hurt was compounded when the Sussexes accused the royal family, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey which was watched around the world, of treating them with cruelty, disdain and even racism.

The remarkable success of her 2022 Platinum Jubilee was a sign of just how much she had retained the affections of her people.

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(with inputs from The Conversation).

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