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Queen Elizabeth II, longest-reigning British monarch, dead at 96
Queen Elizabeth II — the longest-reigning monarch in British history, whose dedication to royal tradition and stiff upper lip in the face of family scandals endeared her to generations of Britons — has died. She was 96.
The death of the beloved monarch came after Buckingham Palace announced Thursday that her doctors had been “concerned for Her Majesty’s health.”
She had also been forced to ditch numerous public engagements, including some over the summer celebrating her historic 70-year reign.
Hours after later, the royal family announced the monarch’s death on Twitter, saying “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.”
The Queen leaves behind four children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, many of whom raced to be by her side as her condition deteriorated while at her Scottish estate, Balmoral.
Elizabeth became the kingdom’s longest-reigning monarch on Sept. 9, 2015, edging out her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.
A statement from His Majesty The King: pic.twitter.com/AnBiyZCher
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) September 8, 2022
Known for her colorful hats and beloved Corgis, the Queen will be best remembered for the greater feat of simply keeping the institution of the monarchy alive and going strong into the 21st century, experts said.
“Through her life, she built on the mystique of monarchy all around the world,” British historian Robert Lacey, author of the biography “Monarch: Life and Reign of Elizabeth II,” told The Post.
“When historians look back on her reign, that will be it … If you’d been a betting man, you’d have put your money on a republic.”
The future Queen Elizabeth II was born Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on April 21, 1926, in London to the then-Duke and Duchess of York.
As the third in line for the throne — the daughter of King George V’s second son — no one at the time expected her to ever become queen.
She enjoyed a childhood of wealth, privilege and notoriety. But the lack of expectation in these early years allowed Elizabeth — affectionately known as “Lilibet” to her family — to experience a measure of freedom before unexpectedly ascending up the royal rankings.
“They lived in a town house in Piccadilly, looking across Green Park at Buckingham Palace. I’ve always felt this had a great effect on her … That was what gave her the awe and reverence for her grandfather’s position,” said Lacey.
“She used to long for the winter when the leaves fell off the trees and grandfather George V would come to the back of the palace and wave to her and [her younger sister Princess] Margaret. They called him ‘Grandpa England.’”
Elizabeth’s uncle, Edward, was next in line for the throne upon the death of her grandfather in 1936. But he abdicated within the year over his scandalous relationship with American divorcée Wallis Simpson, leaving Elizabeth’s dad to reluctantly assume the mantle as King George VI.
￼Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrive to greet guests during a reception for international business and investment leaders at Windsor Castle.Alastair Grant – Pool/Getty Images
Her shy father wept upon receiving the news of his new role, but the stoic Elizabeth had already developed a strong sense of duty from a young age.
“When our father became King, I said to her, ‘Does that mean you’re going to become Queen?’ She replied, ‘Yes. I suppose it does.’ She didn’t mention it again,” Princess Margaret once recalled.
Still, she famously confessed to her riding teacher a few years later that in a different life, she’d “like to be a lady, living in the country with lots of horses and dogs.”
In 1939, Britain entered World War II, but the royal family rejected calls to move the young princesses to Canada to avoid the incessant aerial bombing by the Nazis — and instead the girls were shuffled between royal residences for the duration of the conflict.
Their decision to stay put would help restore the country’s faith in the monarchy after the blow of Edward’s abdication, according to Lacey.
“In many ways it was the saving of the royal family — you can’t claim to be divinely appointed and then just decide you don’t fancy the job because you’d rather go off with an American divorcée,” he said.
Elizabeth also did her bit for the war effort — raising funds to buy wool for military uniforms and, at 14, making her first radio broadcast on BBC’s “Children Hour” to children who had been evacuated from their homes.
“My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those you love most of all,” she said in her address, which was a huge hit with listeners.
It was around this time she also fell for her future husband, Philip Mountbatten, a distant cousin born into the Greek and Danish royal families.
The two spent time together in 1939 at the Royal Naval College, and a smitten 13-year-old Elizabeth began corresponding regularly with the 18-year-old Philip.
In 1947, when Elizabeth was 21, the couple finally married at Westminster Abbey.
But Philip proved to be a controversial choice due to his German heritage — some of his sisters had married men with Nazi ties, and were not invited to the wedding — fiery personality and, later, wandering eye.
After the ceremony — which included 2,000 guests and a worldwide audience of 200 million tuning in on the radio — Philip asked, “Am I being very brave or very foolish?”
Less than a year later, Nov. 14, 1948, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, was born. Princess Anne followed on Aug. 15, 1950 — and they were later joined by Prince Andrew on Feb. 19, 1960 and Prince Edward on March 10, 1964
Elizabeth was just 25 and on a trip to Kenya when she learned her father had suddenly died in his sleep on Feb. 6, 1952.
Her private secretary, Martin Charteris, recalled finding the new Queen at her desk looking “very composed, absolute master of her fate.”
The coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, and the pomp and pageantry was broadcast on television for the first time.
As measure of her long reign, her first prime minister was Winston Churchill and she lasted through 15 political leaders, including Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and the recently sworn in Liz Truss.
After her coronation, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip embarked on a seven-month world tour, hitting 13 counties and traveling more than 40,000 miles.
It was the beginning of her globe-trotting ways — and her lifelong mission to keep the British Empire’s former colonies loyal and united under the banner of the Commonwealth after decolonization.
￼Queen Elizabeth (far right) with her son Prince Charles (right) and his new bride, Princess Diana of Wales (center).Terry Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images
Among her many tours to the United States was a 1976 trip to celebrate America’s 200th anniversary of independence from Britain, and she ultimately rubbed shoulders with 13 U.S. presidents, starting with Herbert Hoover.
Both in England and abroad, Queen Elizabeth II impressed her subjects by getting up close and personal with them on her famed “walkabouts” — always dressed in her signature bold outfits and hats.
“When you’re around her, she’s not distant like other heads of state,” said Andrew Lannerd, a royal correspondent for US TV news networks who runs boutique tours to royal hotspots.
￼Queen Elizabeth II and her family watch the Trooping The Colour from Buckingham Palace.Tim Graham Photo Library via Get
“One quote of hers is: ‘I have to be seen to be believed.’ That’s true — whenever you see the Queen in person, she’s always wearing bright colors and you can always pick her out immediately.”
She was less of a success as a family matriarch, however, and the House of Windsor spent much of the 1980s and 90s mired in scandal
“Her children and grandchildren now are devoted to her, but the record of her children’s marriages are pretty disastrous,” said Lacey.
￼Prince Andrew (right) and his then-wife Sarah Ferguson visit Canada in July 1987.Georges De Keerle/Getty Images
Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson in 1986, but their union soon became the subject of tabloid fodder when photos surfaced of the Duchess sunbathing topless with her financial adviser.
But it was Prince Charles’ rocky marriage to Princess Diana that caused Queen Elizabeth the most heartache.