Queen Elizabeth II
(Picture: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo).
The Queen

Queen Elizabeth II: Obituary

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has died at the age of 96.

Queen Elizabeth II
(Picture: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo).

Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's longest-reigning monarch, has died aged 96.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was not born to be the monarch but would go on to reign for more than seven decades.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born on 21 April 1926, and ought to have lived a privileged but quiet life of a princess on the edges of the Royal Family.

But her uncle's abdication in 1936 changed everything when she was just 10 years old.

Suddenly her father became King George VI, and she was the heir to the throne.

When war came, Elizabeth and her sister Margaret were evacuated to Windsor Castle, where they would spend most of the war years.

She became a symbol of continuity, as Britain and the rest of the world fundamentally changed.

From the Korean War, through conflicts in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan, she would be the head of the Armed Forces.

Queen Elizabeth II was the wife, mother and grandmother of serving military personnel, a direct personal connection to the forces serving in her name.

Queen Mother and King George VI with baby Queen Elizabeth II then Princess Elizabeth at her May 1926 christening
The Queen as a baby with her parents, then the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and the Queen Mother, at her christening in 1926 (Picture: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo).

"The whole country looked up to the Queen," said General Sir Mike Jackson, a former Chief of the General Staff.

"I do think the Armed Forces and the monarch have this absolutely unique relationship because it is to the monarch that the loyalty is owed."

In 1942, the princess turned 16, and her first solo public engagement was with the Grenadier Guards, soon after being appointed as Colonel-in-Chief.

Towards the end of the war, Elizabeth joined the millions of young women supporting the war effort at home.

She signed up for the Auxiliary Territorial Service as a Subaltern, becoming the first female member of the Royal Family to join the Armed Forces as a full-time member.

"She trained as a driver," said Amanda Mason, from the Imperial War Museum, "learning how to maintain, service and drive heavy vehicles.

"I think her service was probably very important in how she's maintained those close links with the military world over the rest of her reign."

In 1945, as crowds partied to mark the end of the war in Europe, she slipped out of Buckingham Palace with her sister Margaret to join the celebrations.

Queen Elizabeth, then Princess Elizabeth, and Princess Margaret with a dog in Windsor in 1941
The Queen (left) and Princess Margaret in Windsor during the Second World War (Picture: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo).

At the age of just 21, the princess made a promise to the people of Britain: "My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service."

Before the war, the young princesses had been to the Dartmouth Naval College, where a young recruit had been assigned to escort them. He was Philip, Prince of Greece and Denmark.

Soon he would be exchanging letters with Princess Elizabeth as he served in the Royal Navy, and after the war he would ask the King for permission to marry his daughter.

They married in 1947 and a son, Charles, was born the following year.

In 1949, the couple moved to take up a naval posting in Malta. It was a happy time for both, according to Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, a former First Sea Lord.

"All the pictures of the Queen in Malta are of a joyous princess, prior to the responsibility being heaped on her as Queen.

"They were left to themselves, and everyone who knew them at the time said they were a joyous couple."

But as the King's health declined, Elizabeth and Philip returned to London.

The Queen during WW2
The Queen learned to drive in 1945 when she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (Picture: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo).

In 1952, the King died, and Princess Elizabeth became Queen.

"In a way," she would later say, "I didn't have an apprenticeship, and so it was all a very sudden taking on, and making the best job you can."

She was a young monarch with a growing family, as Britain emerged from post-war austerity towards the cultural and social changes of the 1960s.

Her Empire became a Commonwealth, and the 60s gave way to the 70s.

At a time of strikes and blackouts, the Silver Jubilee in 1977 brought a time of national celebration.

But there were moments of danger too – in 1982, shots were fired at the Queen as she rode at Trooping the Colour, and the following year a man was jailed for breaking into her Buckingham Palace bedroom.

The Queen during her 1952 coronation
The Queen during her coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1953 (Picture: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo).

In 1982, Prince Andrew was part of the task force sent to the South Atlantic: "I'm sure the Falklands time was like any other parent, with concern for people out in active service and dangerous conditions," said Lord Bramall, Chief of the General Staff at the time of the war.

Her children married, but their personal problems were played out in public, and the press. It all added to a sense of crisis in the Royal Family.

The year 1997 brought one of the toughest weeks of the Queen's reign with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in Paris.

Elizabeth faced criticism for staying in Scotland with the young princes, William and Harry.

But the growing public anger calmed when the Queen returned to London, to make an unprecedented live television broadcast on the eve of Diana's funeral.

In 2002, she lost her sister and mother in the space of just a few weeks – but months later, huge crowds turned out for her Golden Jubilee – scenes that would be repeated two decades later as the Queen marked 70 years on the throne.

In September 2015, the Queen became Britain's longest-reigning monarch, and the following year turned 90.

The Queen and Prince Philip Trooping the Colour 2005
The Queen and Prince Philip during Trooping the Colour in 2005 (Picture: MOD).

Her workload was gradually reduced, with younger royals taking on some of her duties.

But the Queen remained at the centre of the family, and still insisted on attending as many events as possible.

"I have to be seen to be believed," Her Majesty once said.

Throughout her reign, Her Majesty retained a close connection with the Armed Forces, far beyond her notional role at its head, or the long list of honorary ranks she held.

Nearly 60 years after she started married life as the wife of a Royal Navy officer, the Queen was at Sandhurst to see Prince Harry's passing out parade, as he graduated as a British Army officer.

She would later see him deployed, twice, to the frontline in Afghanistan.

The Queen and Donald Trump
The Queen was in attendance for D-Day 75 commemorations in June 2019 (Picture: MOD).

In 2019, Queen Elizabeth II was part of the D-Day 75 commemorations as she thanked all those who fought for their "heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives".

Her Majesty referenced the 75th anniversary events in her Christmas message later that year.

In early 2020, the Queen's grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan announced their intention to step back as senior royals, with Her Majesty stating her support for the couple's "desire to create a new life".

In February, she watched first-hand as an F-35B fighter conducted a vertical landing at RAF Marham.

Just days later, gun salutes marked the 68th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne.

In April, gun salutes for the Queen's 94th birthday were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, although the anniversary of her coronation and official birthday both had military involvement in June.

Despite Armed Forces Day 2020 celebrations being reduced due to COVID-19, Her Majesty was part of events, giving her thanks to personnel.

In July of the same year, the Queen spoke to members of the UK's Armed Forces to hear how their lives had been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Three personnel from around the world, as well as the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Sir Nick Carter, took part in the discussion over a video call.

Captain Sir Thomas Moore receives his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II during a ceremony at Windsor Castle
The Queen used her father's sword to knight Captain Tom Moore in July 2020 (Picture: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo).

During the same month, Her Majesty knighted Captain Sir Tom Moore in a ceremony at Windsor Castle.

The Queen used the sword that belonged to her father, George VI, as she presented Captain Sir Tom with the insignia of Knight Bachelor.

The ceremony took place within the confines of Windsor Castle, with no positions for the public.

With her father's sword in her hand, Her Majesty lightly touched him first on his right shoulder, then his left, with the blade – officially making him a knight.

The Queen personally praised the veteran saying to him: "Thank you so much, an amazing amount of money you raised."

The Queen at the 2018 Trooping the Colour
The Queen at Trooping the Colour in 2018 (Picture: Reuters/Simon Dawson/Alamy Stock Photo).

According to Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, Chief of the Air Staff in the 1990s, the Queen "looked upon the armed services as family".

"They're the one institution in whom she has complete faith and trust."

He said the respect and affection is mutual: "When you join the military, you swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. And I think people take that very seriously.

"People talk about dying for Queen and country... the Queen is a symbol of what you're fighting for."

"She was an impeccable performer who always got it right," said General Sir Mike Jackson.

"In some cases, I fear, you only really realise what you miss, or what you are missing, when it's no longer there."

In February 2022, after 70 years of service, the Queen became the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee. 

People around the world celebrated this major milestone in June by enjoying street parties and attending local fetes among other social events as part of a special four-day UK bank holiday Platinum Jubilee weekend. 

About 1,800 regular and reserve military personnel from the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force were at the heart of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

The Queen's first balcony appearance was to take a salute of soldiers returning from Trooping the Colour, which started the Queen's Birthday Parade. 

Later, while thousands of flag-flying fans keen to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty lined The Mall in London, the Queen stood on the balcony of Buckingham Palace alongside other members of the Royal Family to watch aircraft such as Typhoon fighter jets, British Army Apache helicopters and Red Arrows fly overhead. 

Over the Platinum Jubilee weekend, the military division of the Queen's Birthday Honours List was published, including more than 100 members of the Armed Forces from varying ranks.

After the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June, the Queen sent a thank-you message to all who marked her 70 years of service, saying: "I have been humbled and deeply touched that so many people have taken to the streets to celebrate my Platinum Jubilee.

"While I may not have attended every event in person, my heart has been with you all; and I remain committed to serving you to the best of my ability, supported by my family."

Queen Elizabeth II along with members of the Royal Family on the Buckingham Palace balcony watching a military flypast on the first day of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022 (Picture: Reuters / Alamy Stock Photo).
Queen Elizabeth II along with members of the Royal Family on the Buckingham Palace balcony watching a military flypast on the first day of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022 (Picture: Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo).

Queen Elizabeth II reigned over a period of dizzying, seemingly endless change.

Hers was a lonely, life-long job – a commitment to serve that won her the support of generations, not just in Britain, but around the world.

The promise she had made in her youth was kept for the rest of her life.