Queen Elizabeth’s life and legacy as the country’s longest-reigning monarch

An embodiment of Britain and the Commonwealth, crowned at the age of 25, she didn't know then that she would become our longest serving monarch. ITV News Royal Editor looks back at the life of Queen Elizabeth.

When Queen Elizabeth II was born, she was never expected to sit on the throne. 

But when she did, she reigned for longer than any British Monarch before her. 

She was born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary at 2.40am on April 21, 1926, at 17 Bruton Street in London’s Mayfair. Her grandfather George V was King and she was third in line, behind her uncle Edward, Prince of Wales and her father, The Duke of York.  

But everything changed when King George V died in 1936 and his eldest son became King Edward VIII who, before the end of the year, abdicated in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. 

Princess Elizabeth’s father subsequently became King George VI, meaning that by 1937 she was next in line to the throne. 

When World War Two broke out, the future Queen and her sister, Princess Margaret, were moved out of London to Windsor Castle, while the King and Queen continued to live at Buckingham Palace. 

Princess Elizabeth, left, and Princess Margaret, proudly hold a cup awarded to them at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 1945. Credit: AP

In 1945 she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), becoming the first female member of the Royal Family to join the Armed Services as a full-time active member. The Princess learnt how to drive the vehicles and worked as a mechanic during her time with the ATS. 

The end of the war brought joy to the nation and the Princess was keen to be a part of it. So much so that as the crowds partied on the streets of London on VE Day, she and her sister were given permission by the King to leave Buckingham Palace and join the revellers. 

Listen to reaction and extended news coverage following the Queen's death at 96

Two years later, aged 21, her engagement to Prince Philip was announced. The couple had first met in 1934 at the wedding of Prince Philip’s cousin and their own marriage took place in Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947. 

In 1948 Prince Charles became the first of four children the royal couple would have, with Princess Anne born in 1950. 

And it was the following year, 1952, when her life would change forever as the young princess prematurely assumed a life a duty. 

Her father, King George VI, was due to depart on a tour of the Commonwealth, but ill health meant he had to abandon the trip and Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip took his place on what was expected to be a five-month tour. 

The King waved goodbye to his daughter as she departed for Kenya. It was the last time she would see him alive. 

Just a few days later, on February 6, 1952, he died in his sleep at Sandringham. 

King George VI died in his sleep in Sandringham in 1952. Credit: AP

The Princess learned the news while staying in a remote part of Kenya. Aged 25, she returned to Britain as Queen Elizabeth II. 

Her Coronation was held at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, and though it was in some ways a solemn affair, huge crowds lined the procession route on a typically wet British summer’s day.

For the first time the ceremony was also broadcast around the world on television, something that was done at the Queen’s request. 

The Queen and Prince Philip wave to the crowds at Buckingham Palace following her Coronation in 1953. Credit: AP

In 1960 the Queen and Prince Philip had their third child, Prince Andrew, and their family was complete in 1964 with the birth of Prince Edward. The pair were the first children born to a reigning monarch since Queen Victoria. 

Throughout the Queen’s unprecedented reign, there have been a series of major milestones and celebrations, including: 

  • The Silver Jubilee in 1977 (25 years on the throne) 

  • The Golden Jubilee in 2002 (50 years) 

  • The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Diamond Wedding anniversary in 2007 

  • The Diamond Jubilee in 2012 (60 years) 

  • The Queen becomes Britain’s Longest Reigning Monarch on September 9, 2015 

  • The Queen celebrates her 90th birthday on April 21, 2016 

  • The Sapphire Jubilee in 2017 (65 years) 

  • The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Platinum Wedding anniversary in 2017 

  • The Queen reached her Platinum Jubilee in June 2022 (70 years) 

While many of the events have been marked with public celebrations and Royal tours, Her Majesty has usually spent Accession Day privately at Sandringham as it is a sombre occasion for her. 

Her reign has not always been plain sailing, with the 1990s proving particularly difficult for the Royal Family. 

The fire at Windsor Castle destroyed 115 rooms, including nine State Rooms. Credit: AP

In 1992 there was what the Queen described as an “annus horribilis”. It saw a trio of Royal separations, most notably that of the Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales. Anne, the Princess Royal, also divorced her husband, Captain Mark Philips, and the Duke and Duchess of York announced their separation.

That same year Windsor Castle was devastated by a huge fire and the Monarchy was embroiled in a tax row. 

In a speech marking the 40th anniversary of her accession that year, the Queen said: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘annus horribilis’. I suspect that I am not alone in thinking it so.” 

Prince Charles and Diana's marriage broke down in 1992. Credit: PA

Worse was to come, though. 

When Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris in August 1997, the Queen was on holiday at Balmoral with her extended family, including Diana’s two sons, Princes William and Harry.  

The Queen decided the best course of action was to shield her grandsons from the public gaze, but their seclusion and the fact that the flag was not flying at half-mast over Buckingham Palace gave some the impression that the Queen was not sharing in the mass public grief and there was unprecedented criticism of the Monarchy. 

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh view the floral tributes to Diana, Princess of Wales, at Buckingham Palace. Credit: PA

The Queen was eventually persuaded to return to London and, with the Duke of Edinburgh at her side, she spoke with mourners and surveyed the sea of floral tributes laid outside Buckingham Palace, before making a televised address to the nation the day before Diana’s funeral. 

Her popularity recovered and in 2007, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh became the first couple in the Royal Family to celebrate their Diamond Wedding anniversary. 

Throughout their marriage, the Duke supported Her Majesty through all her duties. In a speech at a lunch to mark their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1997, she said of her husband: “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.” 

To mark their diamond wedding anniversary in 2007, the Queen and Prince Philip re-visited Broadlands where they spent their wedding night. Credit: PA

But their 73rd wedding anniversary in 2020 would be their last, as Prince Philip died aged 99 in April 2021. 

The image of the monarch sitting by herself at the funeral, due to Covid restrictions during the pandemic, was a visible reminder she would reign alone after so many years with her consort by her side.  

In a post on Instagram, indicating how the Queen has had to change with the times, she referenced her 1997 “strength and stay” speech. 

"The Duke of Edinburgh swore to be Her Majesty's 'liege man of life and limb’,” the post read.  

"The Duke was a devoted consort (companion to the Sovereign) for almost 70 years, from Her Majesty's Accession in 1952 until his death." 

However the Queen showed her resilience once again, by attending her first in-person royal duty just a few days after her husband’s passing and attended the State Opening of Parliament a month after his death.  

Moving on from troubled times has been a hallmark of the monarch. 

Credit: Annie Leibovitz 2016

The Queen always maintained a number of hobbies and interests throughout her life, no more so than for horses and dogs, corgis in particular.  

She attended the Epsom Derby and Royal Ascot every year and is an owner and breeder of thoroughbreds.  

Queen Elizabeth goes riding in the grounds of Windsor Castle on her 77th birthday. Credit: PA

Her Majesty also enjoyed Scottish country dancing, holding dances at Balmoral Castle every year during her stay there. 

Her death at Balmoral on Thursday, September 8, 2022 leaves a nation in mourning, with many people never having known another Monarch in their lifetimes. 

She is survived by her four children, eight grandchildren and12 great-grandchildren.  

Queen Elizabeth is joined by members of the royal family to watch the the flypast after the Trooping the Colour ceremony. Credit: PA