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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland since 1952


Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, born 21 April 1926) is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. As Head of the Commonwealth, she is the figurehead of the 54-member Commonwealth of Nations; as the British monarch, she is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Elizabeth was born in London, and educated privately at home. Her father ascended the throne as George VI in 1936 on the abdication of his brother Edward VIII. Elizabeth began to undertake public duties during the Second World War, in which she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. When her father died in 1952, Elizabeth became Head of the Commonwealth and queen of seven independent Commonwealth countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon. Her coronation service in 1953 was the first to be televised.

During her 59-year reign, currently the second-longest for a British monarch, she became queen of 25 other Commonwealth countries as they gained independence. Between 1956 and 1992, half of her realms, including South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (renamed Sri Lanka), became republics. Her Silver and Golden Jubilees were celebrated in 1977 and 2002; planning for her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 is underway.

In 1947, she married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, with whom she has four children: Charles, Anne, Andrew, and Edward. In 1992, which Elizabeth termed her annus horribilis ("horrible year"), Charles and Andrew separated from their wives, Anne divorced, and a severe fire destroyed part of Windsor Castle. Revelations continued on the state of Charles's marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales, and they divorced in 1996. The following year, Diana died in a Paris car crash, and the media criticised the royal family for remaining in seclusion in the days before her funeral. However, Elizabeth's personal popularity rebounded after she appeared in public and has since remained high.

Elizabeth was the first child of Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), and his wife, Elizabeth. Her father was the second son of King George V and Queen Mary, and her mother was the youngest daughter of Scottish aristocrat Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. She was born by Caesarean section at 2.40 am (GMT) on 21 April 1926 at her maternal grandfather's London house: 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair. The Anglican Archbishop of York, Cosmo Lang, baptised her in the private chapel of Buckingham Palace on 29 May.She was named Elizabeth after her mother, Alexandra after George V's mother, who had died six months earlier, and Mary after her paternal grandmother. Her close family called her "Lilibet". George V cherished his granddaughter, 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 was Princess Margaret, 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.To the dismay of the royal family, Crawford later published a biography of Elizabeth and Margaret's childhood years entitled The Little Princesses. 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".

In 2002, Elizabeth marked her Golden Jubilee as queen. Her sister and mother died in February and March, respectively, and the media speculated as to whether the Jubilee would be a success or a failure.She again undertook an extensive tour of her realms, which began in Jamaica in February, where she called the farewell banquet "memorable" after a power cut plunged the King's House, the official residence of the Governor-General, into darkness. As in 1977, there were street parties and commemorative events, and monuments were named to honour the occasion. A million people attended each day of the three-day main Jubilee celebration in London, and the enthusiasm shown by the public for Elizabeth was greater than many journalists had predicted.

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