In memoriam: Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022)

·5-min read
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

Today marks the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history. A statement released from Buckingham Palace confirmed that "she passed away peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon".

The statement also confirmed that Charles and Camilla – now the King and Queen Consort – will remain at Balmoral this evening, before returning to London tomorrow.

Over her seven remarkable decades on the throne, the Queen consistently proved herself to be as powerful a leader on the world stage as she was an effective guiding hand to the British Government behind the scenes.

A steadfast source of inspiration, she vowed in a speech on her 21st birthday to devote her life to the service of her people – and this was a promise to which she held true, despite never having expected to become Queen.

The first child of Albert George Windsor and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, she was born in London in 1926, and grew up there alongside her younger sister Margaret. When her uncle King Edward VIII made the unprecedented decision to abdicate in 1936 after marrying the American socialite Wallis Simpson, her father became King George VI. Following his untimely death in 1952, the Princess was called on to ascend the throne when she was just 25 years old.

Crowned in 1953 at Westminster Abbey, dressed in a crystal- and pearl-embellished Norman Hartnell gown, she declared: “I am sure that this, my Coronation, is not the symbol of a power and a splendour that are gone, but a declaration of our hopes for the future, and for the years I may, by God’s Grace and Mercy, be given to reign and serve you as your Queen.”

Photo credit: Cecil Beaton/V&A Museum
Photo credit: Cecil Beaton/V&A Museum

Many commentators have noted that the young Princess Elizabeth had the natural temperament of a strong and capable leader. Winston Churchill remarked that at just two years old, she exuded “an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant”, as documented in Churchill: Walking with Destiny; and her childhood governess and teacher Marion Crawford wrote in her 1950 memoir The Little Princesses that the young Elizabeth emanated an “orderliness and attitude of responsibility”.

Elizabeth met Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in 1939, and although she was only 13 at the time, she said this was when she fell in love, and the pair began exchanging letters. Eight years later, they married at Westminster Abbey in an elegant ceremony at which the bride wore another Norman Hartnell gown, bought with war-ration coupons as part of Britain’s strict post-war measures. Its design was inspired by Botticelli’s painting Primavera, signifying rebirth and growth after World War II, during which the Princess had served as a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the women’s branch of the British Army). The marriage was to last more than seven decades, until Philip’s death last year, and saw the couple raise three sons – Charles, Andrew and Edward – and a daughter, Anne.

Photo credit: Topical Press Agency - Getty Images
Photo credit: Topical Press Agency - Getty Images

During her reign, the Queen is estimated to have visited more than 110 countries, expanding the number of Commonwealth member states from eight to 54; she helped many of those nations, including the majority of Britain’s former colonies in Africa, gain autonomy. In 1991, she became the first British monarch to address the US Congress, calling on politicians in both countries to sustain harmony between Europe and America. But perhaps her most historic achievement for Britain was to overturn the 300-year-old primogeniture rule, winning daughters an equal right to the throne.

She was also a patron of more than 600 organisations supporting causes including wildlife conservation, education and the arts. Research by the Charities Aid Foundation confirmed her status as one of the world’s greatest supporters of philanthropy, with her patronage helping to raise more than £1.4 billion a year collectively.

Photo credit: Anwar Hussein - Getty Images
Photo credit: Anwar Hussein - Getty Images

The Queen has always been skilled in the art of communication. From the early days of television, she would connect with her public on screen, broadcasting her Christmas message and documenting engagements and royal tours, as well as sharing photographs of Royal Family members to commemorate special occasions. She embraced the modern age in recent years, becoming the first British monarch to join social media: in 2014, she sent her debut Tweet, which she signed “Elizabeth R”. Many will also recall fondly her appearance alongside James Bond in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics 2012, with three of her beloved corgis, Willow, Holly and Monty, in tow.

Photo credit: WPA Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: WPA Pool - Getty Images

The Queen will additionally be remembered as an icon of style, often reflecting the mood and spirit of the nation with her thoughtful sartorial choices. She inspired countless designers from Britain and beyond with her shapely silhouettes and penchant for bright hues – yellow, fuchsia, purple, chartreuse or periwinkle – chosen, she said, to make her easier to spot in large crowds. (Other signatures included silk scarves, three-strand pearl necklaces and her favourite Launer London handbags.) She remained loyal to a select few British designers, including Hardy Amies, Stewart Parvin and Angela Kelly, who served as her personal assistant, senior dresser and close confidante from 2002.

Photo credit: Chris Jackson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Chris Jackson - Getty Images

The Queen’s legacy will make itself felt in many of the creative industries, including art – she is the most depicted monarch in history, with Cecil Beaton and Andy Warhol among the influential artists to have taken her portrait – literature, music, film and television (Helen Mirren and Olivia Colman are just two of the leading actresses who have played her on screen). An inspirational figure who never wavered in her duty to the British people, she safeguarded the place of the monarchy in British society and secured her place in our hearts, ensuring that her memory will endure throughout the ages.

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