Queen Elizabeth II surpassed Queen Victoria as the longest reigning British monarch in history yesterday, as she overtook her great-great grandmother’s record of 63 years and 216 days.
Born April 21, 1926 to Prince Albert, Duke of York (who would later take the throne as King George VI) and Elizabeth, Duchess of York (who would join her husband as the first Queen Elizabeth), she was never meant to take the throne. She was third in the line of succession behind her uncle Edward, Prince of Wales, and her father. When her grandfather King George V passed away in 1936 at the age of 70, Edward ascended the throne as King Edward VIII but scandal quickly embroiled his rule.
As king, Edward was the supreme governer of the Church of England which, at the time, did not recognise divorce as a legitimate dissolution of marriage. Those divorced were in fact still married, according to the Church of England, which caused problems when Edward decided he wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, a two-time divorcee. Facing backlash from the church, the government and the public, Edward abdicated the throne in December 1936, less then a year after he ascended it. He was succeeded by Prince Albert, Elizabeth II’s father, who adopted the name King George VI upon ascending the throne. He was Britain’s third monarch in the one calender year.
This entirely unlikely and unprecedented series of events led to Queen Elizabeth II taking the throne on February 6, 1952, after the death of her father. She still holds that position now, almost 64 years later.
The Queen has lived through an incredible amount of change over her reign. She is both the first British monarch whose coronation was televised and the first to ever send a tweet. Her reign encompasses the careers of 12 prime ministers; the current prime minister David Cameron was born fourteen years after she took the throne. She has been the queen of more than 30 countries during her reign and remains the monarch of more than 15 today, including Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica and my own country of Australia. Her image is engraved on every coin in my wallet.
While she has little real power over the running of the country, her impact on the world’s culture cannot be overstated; as former prime minister John Major puts it “…when people refer to the Queen they almost always mean our Queen.”