Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor; born 21 April 1926[a]) has been Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand since 6 February 1952. She is Head of the Commonwealth and Queen of 12 countries that have become independent since her accession: Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis.[b]
Elizabeth was born in London as the eldest child of the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and she was educated privately at home. Her father acceded to the throne on the abdication of his brother Edward VIII in 1936, from which time she was the heir presumptive. She began to undertake public duties during the Second World War, serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. In 1947, she married Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a former prince of Greece and Denmark, with whom she has four children: Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
Elizabeth’s many historic visits and meetings include a state visit to the Republic of Ireland and visits to or from five popes. She has seen major constitutional changes, such as devolution in the United Kingdom, Canadian patriation, and the decolonisation of Africa. She has reigned through various wars and conflicts involving many of her realms. She is the world’s oldest reigning monarch as well as Britain’s longest-lived. In 2015, she surpassed the reign of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, to become the longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-reigning queen regnant and female head of state in world history. In October 2016, she became the longest currently reigning monarch and head of state following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.
Times of personal significance have included the births and marriages of her children, her coronation in 1953, and the celebration of milestones such as her Silver, Golden, and Diamond Jubilees in 1977, 2002, and 2012, respectively. In 2017 she became the first British monarch to commemorate a Sapphire Jubilee. Moments of sadness for her include the death of her father in 1952 at age 56; the assassination of Prince Philip’s uncle Lord Mountbatten in 1979; the breakdown of her children’s marriages in 1992 (her annus horribilis); the death in 1997 of her son’s former wife, Diana, Princess of Wales; and the deaths of her mother and sister in 2002. Elizabeth has occasionally faced republican sentiments and press criticism of the royal family; however, support for the monarchy remains high, as does her personal popularity.
Elizabeth was born at 02:40 (GMT) on 21 April 1926, during the reign of her paternal grandfather, King George V. Her father, Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), was the second son of the King. Her mother, Elizabeth, Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth), was the youngest daughter of Scottish aristocrat Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. She was delivered by Caesarean section at her maternal grandfather’s London house: 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair. She was baptised by the Anglican Archbishop of York, Cosmo Gordon Lang, in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on 29 May,[c] and named Elizabeth after her mother, Alexandra after George V’s mother, who had died six months earlier, and Mary after her paternal grandmother. Called “Lilibet” by her close family, based on what she called herself at first, she was cherished by her grandfather George V, and during his serious illness in 1929 her regular visits were credited in the popular press and by later biographers with raising his spirits and aiding his recovery.
Elizabeth’s only sibling, Princess Margaret, was born in 1930. The two princesses were educated at home under the supervision of their mother and their governess, Marion Crawford, who was casually known as “Crawfie”. Lessons concentrated on history, language, literature and music. Crawford published a biography of Elizabeth and Margaret’s childhood years entitled The Little Princesses in 1950, much to the dismay of the royal family. The book describes Elizabeth’s love of horses and dogs, her orderliness, and her attitude of responsibility. Others echoed such observations: Winston Churchill described Elizabeth when she was two as “a character. She has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.” Her cousin Margaret Rhodes described her as “a jolly little girl, but fundamentally sensible and well-behaved”.