Queen Elizabeth II: 15 Key Moments in Her Reign

Queen Elizabeth II, who ruled the United Kingdom for seven decades, was such a longstanding institution that it’s easy to forget she wasn’t supposed to have become queen at all.

Born in 1926, Elizabeth was the daughter of King George V’s second son, and had little expectation of succeeding to the throne until her uncle, King Edward VIIIabdicated in 1936 to marry the divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. After the death of her fatherKing George VI, 25-year-old Elizabeth was called upon to assume the throne, beginning a momentous reign. In February 2022, the United Kingdom staged a series of celebrations for the queen’s Platinum Jubilee—marking 70 years of her service to the British Commonwealth.

Queen Elizabeth II, who died at age 96, proved consistent and enduring. In April 2021, she lost her husband of 73 years, Prince Phillip, when he died at age 99. In February 2022, the Queen contracted the coronavirus, which she later said left her “very tired and exhausted.” She installed her 15th prime minister. Liz Truss, just two days before her death.

1. Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation – June 2, 1953

Queen Elizabeth II Coronation

Queen Elizabeth II after her coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey, London.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Held at Westminster Abbey, Elizabeth’s coronation ceremony was the first to be broadcast live on television. Some 27 million people in the United Kingdom (out of a total population of 36 million) watched the ceremony, and 11 million more listened on the radio. Afterward, some 3 million people lined the route as the queen and her entourage made their slow procession back to Buckingham Palace.

READ MORE: Queen Elizabeth II’s Reign: Then and Now

2. First State Visit to West Germany – 1965

Queen Elizabeth II's visit to West Germany, 1965

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip drive in an open off-road vehicle of the British Military Police on the occasion of a parade of British troops over the Maifeld at the Olympic Stadium, in Berlin, on May 27, 1965.

Kurt Rohwedder/Picture Alliance/Getty Images

In the midst of a decade marked by social and political changes, the queen kept to a busy schedule of diplomatic duties, including a 10-day visit to the Federal Republic of Germany (or West Germany) that was the first official visit there by a British royal since 1913. Her visit marked the 20-year anniversary of the end of World War IIhelping to symbolize the reconciliation between the two countries and recognize Germany’s reemergence as a power in Europe and on the world stage.

READ MORE: Queen Elizabeth II: The Real Stories Behind the Tumultuous 1960s and ’70s

3. Mining Disaster in Wales – 1966

On October 21, 1966, an avalanche of mud, water and debris from a coal mine buried an elementary school in the South Wales village of Aberfan, killing 116 children and 28 adults. Though Prince Philip arrived in Aberfan a day after the disaster, the queen herself delayed her visit for over a week, fearing her presence would distract from rescue and recovery efforts. Some of those close to Elizabeth—including her former private secretary, Lord Charteris—have said she regretted the decision not to visit Aberfan sooner.

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