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Young Queen Elizabeth II: England's Monarch Since 1952, Then And Now

Culture | February 6, 2021

Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral in Scotland, photograph taken by Studio Lisa, 1953. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Imagine being Queen Elizabeth II -- the young royal, aged 25 in 1952, assuming the throne of the most far-flung empire of the era. Regents are old, right? Prince Charles (her son) will be king -- in his 70s. Yet in 1952, with piles of rubble still lingering on London streets from World War II, Elizabeth stepped in as Queen of England at an age when high-achieving young people are, maybe, in grad school.

Elizabeth's status as an incredibly long-serving monarch overshadows her origins as an incredibly young monarch. We think of regal status as inevitable -- well, Elizabeth was not meant to be queen, and only got there because her uncle opted out. And while a royal monarch might be an anachronism, Elizabeth navigated her role as a figurehead impeccably through the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, 90s, and into the 21st century. 

Did the world need a queen, in the 20th century, as even the most traditional countries all over the world continued to move toward representative government? No, obviously not. But if the people wanted a queen, those people were fortunate to have such a deft one as Queen Elizabeth II.

Young Queen Elizabeth II. (History)

Queen Elizabeth II ranks as the longest-ruling monarch in Britain’s extensive history, which dates back to 1603. Her coronation was also the first-ever to be broadcast on television. The ground-breaking event captured the eyes of 27 million people in the UK and many more millions across the globe. Queen Elizabeth’s televised crowning epitomized the difficult balance she would face continuing the long-running traditions of old and transitioning the throne into a modern age.

Her father’s surprising death at the age of 56 and her uncle’s abdication of the throne for love meant an incredible responsibility landed on the shoulders of a 25-year-old princess. Though she was 25 when her father died on February 6, 1952, thus was technically queen, she was not crowned until June 2, 1953, when she was 27. Thankfully, Queen Elizabeth II was an exceptionally precocious 27-year-old. 

Early Preparation For The Throne

A young Elizabeth without the weight of England on her shoulders. (BBC)

Queen Elizabeth II, nicknamed Lilibet, was thrust into a position few had anticipated. After all her father was still young and her uncle also remained ahead in the line of succession. Nevertheless, young Elizabeth earned experience in the royal ways during WWII. At the tender age of 14, she gave a speech broadcasted across Britain assuring the evacuated Brits of the future and their safety. In a calm and steady voice she told them "that in the end, all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace."

She also served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, learning to drive and fix a car. On VE (Victory in Europe) Day, she and her sister Margaret anonymously rubbed elbows with commoners, furthering her understanding of citizenry. Her marriage to Prince Phillip six years before her coronation allowed a glimpse into how she would rule. Many considered Phillip an inadequate choice for the throne as his family didn’t possess great wealth and he was considered “rough around the edges.” In royal terms, that’s very nearly unacceptable. 

Changing With The Times

Few wanted Queen Elizabeth to Marry Phillip but that didn't stop her. (Vanityfair)

Obviously, British royalty takes themselves very seriously. When Queen Elizabeth II took over, Britain controlled more than 70 territories across the globe. However, such a wide-ranging rule was not to last. In 1953, the Queen hinted at a changing of the guard, “The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past. It is an entirely new conception, built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty and the desire for freedom and peace. To that new conception of an equal partnership of nations and races I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my life.”

The decision to televise her coronation was met with horrified astonishment that cameras would be allowed in Westminster Abbey. Nevertheless, the Queen overruled her advisors and changed the relationship between royalty and the media. 

Moving Into The Future

The Queen on her historic walkabout. (pinterest)

Queen Elizabeth’s parents were typical buttoned-up royalty. The concept of divorce or the sniff of scandal like Princess Margaret’s wild love life were hidden like dark secrets. On the other hand, Queen Elizabeth urged Prince Charles and Princess Diana to divorce when it became clear they weren’t happy. The marriages of Prince William and Harry became worldwide spectacles watched by millions of people.

She also started the tradition of Queenly “walkabouts.” Prior to her rise to power, commoners rarely saw royals in public and never up close. Queen Elizabeth changed all that in 1970 when she engaged in a limited meet and greet in New Zealand. Since then she continued the tradition of interacting person to person with thousands of subjects over the years. 

A Queen Of Firsts

Then and now, the longest ruling monarch in British history. (500faces.uk.co)

During her long reign as Queen, Elizabeth introduced many firsts to the position. In 1986, she became the first Queen to visit Mainland China. Unfortunately, Prince Phillip's typical gaffes overshadowed her visit. He called Beijing “ghastly” and told British students if they stay there too long they’d get “slitty eyes,” woof!

In 2011, the Queen visited the Republic of Ireland, becoming the first British monarch to do so in 100 years. Her own cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA but she spoke glowingly about the Good Friday Agreement, which called an end to a 30 plus year conflict. In Dublin, she said, “To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy.” Her handshake with ex-IRA leader Martin McGuinness a year later also signified a new era between monarchists and separatists.

Amazingly, her most recent approval of the marriage between Prince Harry and Megan Markle stands as the largest illustration of change for the modernization of the British monarchy. The fact that a divorced, biracial American actress could marry into one of the most powerful monarchies in the world probably made Queen Elizabeth’s father roll over in his grave. Thankfully, times have changed. 

Tags: Ladies | Queen Elizabeth II | Royals | Then And Now

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!