The Queen was on the throne for longer than any other monarch in British history.
Sky News takes a look back at the six years that shaped Elizabeth II’s reign, from the moment she assumed the throne in 1952 to a global pandemic, the departure of a son and a grandson from the Firm, and more.
Britain saw the Cold War and 9/11 over a period of seven decades while the Commonwealth nations fought for their independence.
The Queen experienced the divorces of three of her children, the passing of Princess Diana, and a spectacular claim of racism against the Royal Family made by one of her grandsons.
Here, Sky News looks back at six events from her tenure that stand out.
1952 – When ‘everything changed’
When King George VI passed away, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were in Kenya en route to a trip of Australia and New Zealand.
The pair was located at a treetop hotel 100 miles from Nairobi, thus it took longer than usual for the couple to hear the news when it first broke on February 6. It was Philip’s responsibility to inform the Queen.
The 56-year-old King had undergone a lung procedure four months before and had been ill for a while.
Even though he had been ailing for a while, it didn’t appear like his death was close at hand, according to historian Professor Anna Whitelock, speaking to Sky News.
Then, everything was altered.
Then, as the British hunter Jim Corbett put it, “For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day as a Princess and after experiencing what she described as her most thrilling experience, she walked down from the tree the next day as a Queen.”
The following day, Elizabeth and Philip took a flight home, landing at the same airport in London where she had said goodbye to her father a week earlier.
She would have had a tense and upsetting flight, according to Prof. Whitelock.
She was barely 25 at the time, returning home to grieve her father and simultaneously taking the throne.
Winston Churchill, his aides Clement Attlee and Anthony Eden, and other senior government officials greeted her.
She and Philip were formally crowned twenty-four hours later, following a 20-minute meeting of the Accession Council at St. James’s Palace.
The line of succession was renamed Windsor after they moved into Buckingham Palace.
Elizabeth, though, still had a lot to show.
According to Professor Whitelock, it was a patriarchal society in the 1950s in Britain where women were still viewed as inferior to men.
“Not only was a woman assuming the throne, but her husband was also advised that he must always follow her, which wasn’t customary.
She had to adjust to the concept of being queen, just as Winston Churchill and the other “men of the day” did because they weren’t sure how a young lady with young children would be able to fill the job.
When Queen Elizabeth opened parliament for the first time some months later, in November, the country saw her for the first time.
She wasn’t actually crowned, though, until June 2, 1953.
While Churchill expressed concerns, the Duke of Edinburgh lobbied for the coronation to be broadcast on television.
Prince Philip “recognised the utility of television at its inception and the relevance of the coronation as a national event,” Prof. Whitelock added.
He served as the Queen’s encouraging and supportive presence because she was first extremely reserved.
The crowning was a “intimidating spectacle” for the new Queen, with about three million people camped out in London that day and many more watching from other parts of the world.
But soon after, she launched one of the largest royal tours ever in an effort to establish her credentials.
It was extremely extraordinary because it was one of the most ambitious trips ever, Prof. Whitelock continued.
1977 – The Silver Jubilee
The Queen had served as monarch for a longer period of time than her father by the time she celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977.
Exact 25 years after his passing and her accession on February 6, the festivities got under way quietly at Windsor with church services and family time.
In May, she embarked on the busiest royal tour ever after telling parliament that the nation’s unity would be her jubilee’s theme.
In under three months, no other king or queen had been to 36 counties in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.
Over a million people attended in Lancashire on a single day, breaking previous attendance records.
She started a worldwide tour in February that brought her from Australia and New Zealand across the South Pacific to Canada and the Caribbean a few months later.
The Queen travelled 56,000 miles during her Silver Jubilee visits.
She was a monarch of the Commonwealth, declared Prof. Whitelock. That served as one of her reign’s defining themes.
Several Commonwealth nations were at that time vying for independence, but this didn’t seem to diminish the Queen’s status as their head of state.
When the Queen lighted a bonfire beacon in Windsor on June 6 in the evening, a chain of celebrations spread all throughout England and officially kicked off the Jubilee.
The following day, she took the Gold State Coach to a thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of London.
Thousands stayed out overnight to watch her pass down the Mall and toward the City despite the bad weather, solidifying the Queen’s popularity.
“When I was 21 I devoted my life to the service of our people and I begged for God’s help to make good on that vow,” she said following the service.
Although I made the commitment when I was in my salad days and lacked maturity, I do not regret it and will not change a word of it.
With 500 million people tuned in to see the worldwide celebrations of the Silver Jubilee, it surpassed television audience records.
While towns and villages around the nation decorated with bunting for street celebrations to honour the festivities for the Jubilee, a small group in London had other plans.
The Sex Pistols’ manager arranged for the punk band to sing “God Save the Queen” as they cruised down the River Thames after their single was released.
In an attempt to make fun of the Queen’s jubilee boat journey in two days, they were able to pass Westminster Pier and the Houses of Parliament, but the stunt ended in turmoil when police forced them to shore and many people were detained.
Says Prof. Whitelock “Political stability was not very high during the 1970s. Strikes, austerity, and misery were present ” So, some people objected to the fact that so much money was being spent on that kind of celebration while other people were in need.
“But it is a tribute to her that the Jubilee was seen as the triumph that it was. It was a time when she was recognised nationally “Added she.
“She had confidence as she looked back on her former reign in addition to wisdom. As Queen, she felt more assured.”
1992 – ‘Annus horribilis’
The Queen famously referred to 1992, the year she celebrated 40 years as monarch, as her “annus horribilis.”
The marriages of three of her four children ended in divorce, and a fire at Windsor Castle cost more than £36 million to repair.
Former BBC royal correspondent Michael Cole observed, “It was an unending cycle of scandals and disappointments.”
“These royal divorces heightened the sense of catastrophe that had been developing. You could tell the monarchy was experiencing serious issues.”
Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew divorced in March, and she was later seen having fun with her millionaire boyfriend by a pool in the south of France.
Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, her spouse of nearly 20 years, divorced in the same month.
Charles and Diana’s divorce was declared final in December.
Republican feeling was very negative, and the public funding of the Royal Family was a hot topic.
The Queen began paying income tax the next year, and the civil list was reduced in an effort to lessen some of the animosity.
As biographer Andrew Morton’s book Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words was published in May, more information became available.
The so-called “Squidgygate tapes” of a private conversation between Diana and a friend from 1990, in which she made several incriminating accusations about the Royal Family, were made public by The Sun in August, dealing the royals even another blow.
Cole told Sky News that the year 1992 was “a collection of problems.”
The majority of the time, the Queen avoided the conflict, but her children and their spouses did not.
The monarch is still the Head of the Church of England, a position where you are expected to set an exemplary example, he continued, adding that she wasn’t in the least bit embarrassed or coy about these matters.
The Queen’s reaction to the Windsor fire in November was “devastating,” he continued. However, the “public pressure of who should pay for what” was equally challenging.
In a speech in November that was unusually personal, she stated: “1992 is not a year I will remember with pure joy in the future.
It has been a “Annus Horribilis,” in the words of one of my more understanding correspondents. I have a suspicion that other people share my suspicions.”
She argued that while scrutiny of institutions like the Royal Family is “important,” it should have been conducted that year with “a touch of tenderness, good humour, and understanding.”
Prior to Princess Diana’s passing on August 31, 1997, the royal family had a “pretty ordinary year.”
Cole, a witness at Diana’s inquiry, stated, “Charles and Diana had divorced the previous July.” So, to a certain extent, that was that.
The situation had “stabilised,” even if there was still debate about Charles and Diana’s respective love lives.
The Queen and her sons Harry and William were at Balmoral when word of Diana’s passing arrived from Paris.
Up to the day before the burial on September 6, they stayed in Scotland for five days. The princes later commended their grandma for making the “tough” decision to allow them to grieve in privacy in a BBC programme.
The public, however, appeared to disagree, as thousands of people left flowers outside each royal home.
According to Cole, it precipitated the Royal Family’s “most amazing, terrible, horrific week since the abdication of King Edward VIII.”
“A very remarkable mood of popular disgust and indignation at the lack of response to Diana’s death” may be described as being present in London at the time.
Diana’s supporters were upset by the delay in returning to London and the first unwillingness to fly the royal flags at half-staff.
Because Diana had left the Royal Family, the Queen didn’t believe she should be given a state funeral. However, Tony Blair, the then-prime minister, eventually won her over. His description of Diana as the “people’s princess” encapsulated the sentiment of the country.
Cole said that it appeared as though they were compelled to return to London and that the Queen was compelled to deliver a speech. It would have been difficult to swallow it.
He claims that the Queen’s “mistakes” were primarily caused by bad advise and Balmoral’s secluded setting.
He claimed that geography had something to do with it.
“They were expelled from London, which had turned into a sweltering cage. And the Queen received bad counsel. She occasionally tended to hide her head in the sand and hope that problems would go away, much like her mother did. However, that was not feasible.”
The eulogy delivered by Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, during her funeral was critical of the Royal Family, which did little to change the public’s opinion of them.
He mentioned the fact that the royals were not her “blood kin” and the “bizarre-like life” she led as one of them.
“His criticism was specifically focused at the Queen and her offspring. His point couldn’t have been any more obvious “.
A significant portion of the antagonism subsided after the Queen travelled back to London, delivered her speech, and appeared at the funeral.
It addressed people’s feelings in some measure, according to Cole.
When asked if it affected her rule long-term, he added: “She probably would acknowledge making such errors. She has always been able to adapt and be flexible.”
The Golden Jubilee year of the Queen was meant to be a time of celebration, but according to former BBC royal correspondent Michael Cole, things “couldn’t have started off any worse.”
Elizabeth experienced two sudden losses: her mother passed away on March 30th at the age of 101 and her sister Margaret passed away on February 9th at the age of 70.
The Queen Mother did not remarry and remained close to both of her daughters after her husband’s death in 1952.
Cole asserted that King George VI’s early death “brought all three women closer together.”
Every day they would converse on the phone, no matter where they were in the world.
Although Elizabeth described this as a “great blow,” she persevered because of her sense of duty, which she had received from her father more than 50 years ago.
The Queen’s visit to Jamaica began her Jubilee Commonwealth trip just 72 hours after Princess Margaret’s death.
After travelling the globe, she visited a new province in Canada, where she made history by dropping the puck to start an ice hockey game.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks forced a postponement of the Jubilee tour, which was scheduled to begin the previous year.
Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, lighted up the Empire State Building in regal purple and gold as a gesture of thanks.
The Queen continued the Jubilee celebrations at home by travelling to all of the UK’s nations and regions.
It was uncertain how the people would respond to the first Golden Jubilee since Queen Victoria’s in 1887 because the royals were still dealing with the problems of the 1990s.
Only a few years had passed since Diana’s passing, which brought about the Royal Family’s worst crisis since Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936, according to Cole.
“At the time, neither Camilla Parker-Bowles nor Prince Charles were in any way well-liked. There were still active concerns, so the royals had no idea how people would react to them.”
Despite numerous media and experts’ predictions to the contrary, it succeeded.
It appeared as though the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were in shock by the greeting they received as they made their way through dense crowds in every town and city.
They were really shocked by their popularity and didn’t take it for granted, Cole recalled. “You could practically see the excitement flowing over their faces.”
A million people each day flocked to London for the Jubilee weekend, which took place from June 1 to June 4.
The Party at the Palace, in addition to the customary cavalcade and balcony flypast, increased the attraction of the Jubilee celebrations to a younger audience.
Younger musicians like S Club 7 and Mis-Teeq played on the roof of Buckingham Palace with older musicians like Paul McCartney and Tom Jones as well as Brian May, who sang God Save the Queen.
Cole reflected on the achievement by stating: “The Queen was very much the focus of 2002. It was a phoenix year, rising from the ashes of the previous years’ events.
The Jubilee “showed that the public were willing to forgive everything that transpired in the week after Diana’s death with a ruler as devoted as the Queen was.”
2020 – A pandemic and family problems
Nobody could have foreseen how challenging a year it would be when the Queen began her 73rd year in office in January 2020.
After the birth of their first child and a year of nonstop media attention, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan took a lengthy Christmas break to rest.
They were seen grinning at their first public appearance of the year at Canada House in London after returning to the UK in January.
Even though Meghan had made reference to the difficulties of joining the “Firm,” their statement on January 8 that they intended to “step back as senior royals” was utterly unexpected and presented the Queen with a serious conundrum.
Victoria Murphy, a royal journalist and author, told Sky News that “it was a big shock.”
Nothing had been approved behind the scenes, and the Royal Family was, in her words, totally unprepared.
The Queen, in an uncommon gesture, responded to the couple’s departure with a statement of her own, saying: “While many are grieved by their decision, the duke and duchess remain much loved members of the family.”
According to Murphy, the Queen and the Royal Family’s lives were changed by these two distinct statements—one from the Queen and the other from Harry and Meghan.
That was when we first realised how different the Sussexes were from the other royals, she recalled.
Additionally, their departure had a negative impact on how the Royal Family was viewed globally.
According to Murphy, “Harry and Meghan had a sizable fan base who were sympathetic to their narrative globally.”
“The Queen worked so very hard for so many years to steady the ship. She had a really keen knowledge of how crucial public opinion was.
In the end, Harry and Meghan’s departure provided the world with a “personal glimpse” into the Royal Family that had never been seen before.
The Queen has been incredibly reticent to discuss what goes on behind closed doors, Murphy remarked. It was astounding to have that much information in the public domain.
The Queen “recognised the value of offering a personal narrative,” despite finding it unpleasant for her to be so forthright.
Murphy added, “Her statement demonstrated outstanding leadership.”
“The tone she established with that statement at a period when the monarchy was so difficult and chaotic demonstrated what type of leader she was,” said one observer.