WWhile being queen Elizabeth II Standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace and waving to her people, she couldn’t help but look at her great-grandmother. In front of the main gate rises the “Victoria Memorial”, commemorating a monarch – only the Tudor Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century – who gave her name to an entire age group. Now, after her death, Queen Elizabeth II may also become the name of an era. Where Elizabeth I stood for the dawn of England and the heyday of the Victorian Empire, Elizabeth II represented a country that quietly went back to the ranks during the 70 years of her reign.
April 21, 1926 as Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor London Born, the British Empire had reached its zenith, but already harbored within it the germ of decay. When other Western powers like Germany and the United States challenged Britain’s productivity and supremacy, liberation movements gained momentum in the colonies. The Windsors were also affected by the ideological and moral upheavals of the time. Elizabeth, bright-eyed as a child, had to ascend the throne in 1936 after her father, Edward VIII, who flirted with the Nazis, abdicated because of his romance with an American woman. Throughout the queen’s later life, what her German biographer Thomas Keelinger wrote, could be described as “an attempt to reverse these conditions – to put duty before personal happiness”.
The World War II, which heralded the end of the British Empire, the young crown princess enjoyed the seclusion of numerous family homes. Elizabeth and her sister Margaret, four years younger, moved from Balmoral Castle in Scotland to Sandringham House in Norfolk, then to Royal Lodge and then to Windsor Castle near London. The rulers took care of their education. Amid the German air raids on London, Elizabeth urged the BBC’s children’s program to persevere: “We’re trying everything we can to help our brave sailors, soldiers and airmen. It’s war-weary. We each know that everything will be alright in the end.
At the time, Elizabeth was 14 years old and had long known what was coming. Four years ago, when her father ascended the throne, Margaret asked her if she would one day become queen. “I think so,” was the laconic reply.
When the time finally came – her father died young, in February 1952 – she found herself lying on a meadow in Kenya, herding rhinos with her husband, Philip. The young couple, who would henceforth spend their lives in the service of the crown, made the long journey back, aware of the hardships to come. Seeing the black state cars waiting at London Airport, the only 25-year-old Elizabeth is said to have escaped: “Ah, the hearse.”
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