Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, world’s longest-serving monarch, dies at 96

The Royal Family tweeted: The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.

Jane Bown | Camera Press | Redux

Queen Elizabeth II, the world’s longest-serving monarch who as a teen witnessed the horrors of World War II and as an aged sovereign saw the agonies of a deadly pandemic and the personal pain of her own family’s turmoil, has died.

She was 96. The queen died “peacefully” at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the British royal family said.

Under a long-standing plan known as “Operation London Bridge,” her death ushers in 10 days of national mourning. Her son Charles became king upon her death, and will be called King Charles III.

With husband Prince Philip by her side, Elizabeth became queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand upon the death of her father, George VI, on Feb. 6, 1952. Her coronation was June 2, 1953.

On Feb. 6, 2022, Elizabeth became the first British monarch to reign 70 years. In honor of the occasion, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth held a Platinum Jubilee in June 2022.

The 96-year-old monarch made an appearance with her family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the first day of the four-day-long Platinum Jubilee, waving to tens of thousands of people gathered below and watching an aviation display in her honor. But she was unable to attend events later on during the celebrations due to discomfort.

Queen Elizabeth II watches from the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Trooping the Colour parade the Trooping the Colour parade on June 2, 2022 in London, England.

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Elizabeth’s reign covered a period of massive social, economic, technological and political change. It saw the transformation of the once-global British Empire into a Commonwealth of 52 independent nations headed by the queen, and the country’s entrance into and exit from the European Union. Fifteen prime ministers served under Elizabeth — from Winston Churchill on her accession to the throne in 1952 to Liz Truss, who was sworn in by the frail queen only two days before the monarch’s death was announced.

She also presided over a family that saw tragedy, scandal and turmoil, including the death of former Princess Diana, the association of son Prince Andrew with the late millionaire sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein, and the decision by grandson Prince Harry to seek a more private life with his wife, the former Meghan Markle.  

‘Lilibet’ and the War

Then-Princess Elizabeth learns how to change a car tire as an auxiliary officer of the English Army, 1945.

Roger Viollet | Getty Images

Born April 21, 1926, Elizabeth was the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York, who became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937 following the abdication of Edward VIII. She was the 32nd great-granddaughter of King Alfred the Great, England’s first monarch, who reigned from 871 to 899.

“Lilibet” and her younger sister, Margaret, born in 1930, were educated at home by tutors, including a governess.

Soon after the coronation of Elizabeth’s father, the U.K. was plunged into World War II. At 14, she made her first radio broadcast in 1940, addressing children who had been evacuated to the countryside and abroad to avoid the bombings of British cities.

“We know, every one of us, that in the end, all will be well,” she intoned in a delicate soprano to the BBC “Children’s Hour” audience. “For God will care for us and give us victory and peace. When peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place.”

Later during the war, the teenage princess served as a driver for the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) is greeted by crowds as she tours the East End of London on the day after VE Day, 9th May 1945.

Chris Ware | Hulton Royals Collection | Getty Images

When VE Day arrived, she and Margaret sneaked out of Buckingham Palace to mingle with the crowds on the streets of London celebrating the Allied victory in Europe. “I remember lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, all of us just swept along on a tide of happiness and relief,” she told a biographer.

Married to Philip

On Nov. 20, 2017, Elizabeth and Prince Philip celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. Their 73½-year marriage was by far the longest for the monarchy, surpassing that of King George III and Queen Charlotte’s 57 years (1761-1818).

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at Broadlands in 2017.

Fiona Hanson | PA Images | Getty Images

Princess Elizabeth met Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in 1934 at the wedding of his first cousin, Princess Marina, to Prince George, Duke of Kent.

Thirteen years later, Elizabeth and Philip married at Westminster Abbey in an uplifting ceremony — two years after the end of World War II. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets along the route from Buckingham Palace.

“For a brief moment the pace of the strident terrible twentieth century was slowed to the trot of cavalry horses and the rumbling of coaches and pageantry evoked bitter sweet memories of this island’s old, heroic past,” The New York Times’ Drew Middleton wrote in a dispatch from London.

Philip, the princess’ third cousin, had served with the Royal Navy during World War II. His family name was changed to Mountbatten from Battenberg during World War I because of anti-German sentiment.

The union was not without controversy. Philip was broke and foreign-born, but nonetheless they received 2,500 wedding gifts from around the world. A son and heir, Charles, was born in 1948, followed by Anne, Andrew and Edward.

Kenya, Princess Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh are formally greeted by an Asian man who is shaking the Princess’s hand. Beside him stands an Asian woman wearing traditional dress.

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In 1952, Elizabeth and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, began a tour of Australia and New Zealand by stopping in Africa. While they were in Kenya, the news reached them on Feb. 6 that King George had died. At age 25, Elizabeth ascended to the throne and was crowned the following year in the first live television coronation to be broadcast around the world.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh wave from the balcony at Buckingham Palace during the queen’s coronation celebrations June 2, 1953.

Keystone | Getty Images

In May 2017, a month before Philip’s 96th birthday, Buckingham Palace announced that the duke was retiring from his royal duties as of September.

Philip died at age 99 on April 9, 2021, the 16th anniversary of the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla, and the duke’s funeral was four days before Elizabeth’s 95th birthday on April 21. On what would have been his 100th birthday on June 20, the queen planted a specially bred rose named the Duke of Edinburgh in Windsor Castle’s East Terrace Garden.

Longest-reigning monarch

During her time on the throne, Elizabeth took her place on the global stage along with elected leaders and dictators.

Her long reign saw her circling the globe many times: Following her coronation, Elizabeth and Philip took a seven-month tour, visiting 13 countries and logging more than 40,000 miles.

She had met with every U.S. president from Harry S. Truman to Joe Biden, except for Lyndon Johnson. She was entertained at the White House by five presidents — Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. She also met five popes, from Pius XII (in 1951 before she was queen) to Francis in 2014.

The royal family looks on during the annual Trooping The Colour ceremony on June 13, 2015, in London. (L-R) Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince Charles, Prince of Wales; Prince George of Cambridge; Prince William, Duke of Cambridge; Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge; Queen Elizabeth II; Prince Harry; Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

Samir Hussein | WireImage | Getty Images

In 2015, Elizabeth overtook her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria to become the oldest and longest-reigning British monarch. Upon the October 2016 death of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, ending his 70 years on the throne, she became the world’s longest-reigning monarch and head of state.

She celebrated six jubilees, her 25th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 65th and 70th years on the throne, as well as the marriages of her four children and the births of eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

The storybook wedding of her son Charles to Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981, was attended by 2,650 guests at St. Paul’s Cathedral and witnessed by nearly a billion television viewers around the world.

Elizabeth’s reign was also marked by crisis, including two assassinations attempts, in 1970 and 1981 in Australia and New Zealand, respectively. In 1979, her art advisor, Anthony Blunt, was unmasked as a communist spy, and Prince Philip’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was killed by an Irish Republican Army bomb.

‘Annus horribilis’

In 1969, the queen opened palace doors to television cameras for a candid look at the family in an attempt to humanize its members. The resulting documentary, “Royal Family,” was seen by millions of Britons on the BBC and ITV. Critics, however, claimed it debased the Windsors, and led to the frenzied celebrity coverage of members of “The Firm,” as the family is known. It has not been aired since 1972.

The Royal Family standing outside Clarence House on the 89th Birthday of the Queen Mother including Prince Andrew the Duke of York, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Sarah Ferguson the Duchess of York, Prince Edward and Zara Phillips. 4th August 1989.

Roger Allen | Mirrorpix | Getty Images

In 1992, the marriages of three of her children collapsed. Andrew divorced Sarah Ferguson, Anne divorced Capt. Mark Phillips and Diana’s tell-all book revealed Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles. Charles and Diana soon began a separation that ended in divorce four years later.

During an October 1992 visit by the queen to Dresden, eastern Germany, whose inner city was largely destroyed by the 1945 British-American firestorm, she was pelted with eggs. Back home the next month, on the 45th anniversary of her marriage to Philip, fire heavily damaged Windsor Castle, one of her official residences.

The queen with a firefighter inspecting damage at Windsor Castle.

Getty Images: Tim Graham | Corbis Historical/Tim Graham Photo Library

“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” she said in the speech, 40 years after she ascended to the throne and four days after the Windsor fire. “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.”

The year 2002, wasn’t so good, either. She lost her sister, Princess Margaret, in February, and her mother, Queen Elizabeth, the 101-year-old Queen Mother, seven weeks later.

In spite of republican sentiments at home and in the Commonwealth and criticism of the royal family’s lifestyle, Elizabeth seemingly managed to rise above the gossip and opprobrium, with her personal popularity generally remaining high.

To be sure, she was vilified for remaining at Balmoral Castle in Scotland for five days after the death of Diana on Aug. 31, 1997. In the early morning hours, Buckingham Palace issued a brief statement saying the queen and Charles were “deeply shocked and distressed by this terrible news.” But to the dismay of much of the nation, the royal family hunkered down at Balmoral rather than to immediately return to London.

Many of her subjects were aghast that Buckingham Palace didn’t fly the flag at half staff. In fact, in accordance with protocol, no flag flew on the palace until she finally returned there on Sept. 4. The family later said they stayed at Balmoral to protect and prepare her grieving grandsons, Princes William and Harry, then 15 and 12, for their mother’s funeral.

Royal Family, Balmoral Estate, Scotland, 5th September 1997. After attending a private service at Crathie Church, Royal family stop to look at floral tributes left for Princess Diana, at the gates of Balmoral Castle. They are: Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry, Peter Phillips.

Robert Patterson | Mirrorpix | Getty Images

Still, Elizabeth’s silence was deafening. “Your people are suffering … SPEAK TO US MA’AM,” screamed the headline on The Mirror tabloid on Sept. 4.

A day later, on the eve of the funeral, the queen gave a live televised speech, lamenting “from my heart” the “dreadful news” about the Princess of Wales, and remembering her as an “exceptional and gifted human being” and devoted mother.

“No one who knew Diana will ever forget her,” the queen continued. “Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her. I for one believe there are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death. I share in your determination to cherish her memory.”

A generation later, in a sign of just how far the monarchy itself had come during her reign, the niece of the king who abdicated his throne so that he could marry an American divorcee welcomed the November 2017 engagement and May 2018 marriage of Harry to Markle, a divorced biracial American actress.

Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex kisses his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex as they leave from the West Door of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, in Windsor, on May 19, 2018 after their wedding ceremony.

Ben Stansall | AFP | Getty Images

The queen expressed similar joy upon the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s son, Archie, on May 6, 2019.

But nearly two years later, the House of Windsor was rocked by the self-exiled Sussexes’ charges of racism and insensitivity to an outsider.

In early 2020, Elizabeth convened an emergency meeting with Charles, William and Harry to discuss the latter’s attempt to step back from royal duties and live part time abroad. In typically diplomatic language, the queen’s post-meeting statement said:

“My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family. Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working Members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.”

Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex watch a flypast to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force from the balcony of Buckingham Palace on July 10, 2018 in London, England.

Max Mumby | Indigo | Getty Images

A year later, Harry and Meghan confirmed their decision. “While all are saddened by their decision, The Duke and Duchess remain much loved members of the family,” the queen said in a statement.

Then in March 2021, the Sussexes aired their charges of racism during an interview with Oprah Winfrey from their home in Santa Barbara, California. Meghan alleged that a member of “The Firm” had raised concerns during her pregnancy with Archie about how “dark his skin might be when he’s born.” The couple didn’t identify who had raised the issue, but said it wasn’t Elizabeth or Philip. The Sussexes also said the family had withdrawn security protection for them, and Meghan said she had had “clear and real and frightening thought” about suicide.

In a statement after the interview aired, the queen responded with concern and sensitivity: “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning, While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”

Three months later, in June 2021, Meghan gave birth to the queen’s 11th great-grandchild, Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, named after Harry’s grandmother and mother.

Around that time, Elizabeth was criticized after reports that she allowed Andrew to be interviewed in Buckingham Palace by the BBC in November 2019 about his relationship with Epstein. Days after the interview, Andrew announced that the queen “has given her permission” for him to “step back from public duties for the foreseeable future.”

The announcement happened to come on the 72nd anniversary of the queen’s marriage to Philip.

An earlier example of how the queen’s years of diplomacy and experience managed to win over people was demonstrated in the 2011 state visit to Ireland, a country that spent the first half of the 20th century fighting for independence from the U.K. and the second half involved in the Northern Ireland “troubles” that saw 3,600 people dead, including Philip’s mentor, Lord Mountbatten. Her official visit to Ireland, the first by a British monarch in a century, came nearly 13 years after the Good Friday peace agreement.

Queen Elizabeth II, then age 89, smiles as she arrives at Tweedbank Station in Scotland, Sept. 9, 2015.

Getty Images

Addressing a dinner in her honor at Dublin Castle, Elizabeth helped the two countries put the previous decades of strife behind them by beginning her speech in Gaelic: “A Uachtarain, agus a chairde” — “president and friends.”

“It is a sad and regrettable reality that through history our islands have experienced more than their fair share of heartache, turbulence and loss. … To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy,” she continued.

“With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all. But it is also true that no one who looked to the future over the past centuries could have imagined the strength of the bonds that are now in place between the governments and the people of our two nations. So ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to rise and join me in a toast to the president and people of Ireland.”

‘This one is different’

Later during her reign, the world shut down as the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe.

On an early April day in 2020, the queen appeared in a rare video speech from Windsor Castle to promise her subjects that they will prevail over the coronavirus. The speech aired hours before then Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized for Covid-19. 

“While we have faced challenges before, this one is different,” she said. “This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavor, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal.”

During the pandemic, Elizabeth and Philip stayed at Windsor Castle, where she performed duties remotely and where the couple received their first vaccinations in January 2021.

But Covid restrictions were still in place during Philip’s funeral in April 2021. To comply with the stringent pandemic-era social distancing protocols in effect across the country, the queen sat alone in mourning, dressed in black instead of her usual bright colors.

Queen Elizabeth II takes her seat during the funeral of Prince Philip at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on April 17, 2021 in Windsor, England.

Victoria Jones | Reuters

A day after Philip’s death, daughter-in-law Sophie Countess of Wessex told well-wishers outside Windsor Castle that “the queen has been amazing.” On his casket, Elizabeth left a handwritten note signed “Lilibet,” and on her 95th birthday four days later, she issued a statement saying she had been “deeply touched” by her subjects’ displays of “support and kindness.”

In her televised speech on Palm Sunday 2020, the queen promised victory over Covid.

“We will succeed — and that success will belong to every one of us. We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

The Union flag is lowered on Windsor Castle as a rainbow covers the sky on September 08, 2022 in Windsor, England. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born in Bruton Street, Mayfair, London on 21 April 1926.

Chris Jackson | Chris Jackson Collection | Getty Images

— Phillip Tutt, formerly of CNBC.com, and Michele Luhn contributed to this story.

Correction: The queen visited Dresden in eastern Germany in 1992. A previous version of this story misidentified the region.

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