The life of Queen Elizabeth II is remarkable in more ways than one. Born on April 21 in 1926, she is the longest-reigning British monarch in history. She is also the fourth-longest reigning monarch of all time, having taken the throne 69 years ago. And few would bet against her reign becoming the longest ever — a record currently held by Louis XIV, the Sun King, who reigned in France for 72 years and 110 days.
In 1945, before she became queen, Elizabeth joined the women's Auxiliary Territorial Service (a branch of the British Army) and trained as a truck driver and mechanic. She was only 18 years old. Just under 10 years later, she was crowned as Queen Elizabeth II, beginning a reign that for most citizens of Britain and the Commonwealth is the only one they’ve ever known. And in her time as monarch, she has so far worked with 14 British prime ministers, from Winston Churchill to Boris Johnson.
The monarch’s life has been marked with moments of great joy and fanfare, but also great tragedy. In times of crisis, she has never wavered. Even the staunchest anti-royalist might begrudgingly agree that Elizabeth has shown a fierce and unfaltering dedication in her role as queen. As the following quotes show, she has always been ready to show support in times of need with words of wisdom and empathy, or with witty remarks that show even the Queen of England has a sense of humor.
I can truthfully say to you all that we children at home are full of cheerfulness and courage. We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war.
– A radio address by Princess Elizabeth, 1940
When World War II broke out in 1939, Elizabeth, who was just a teenaged princess was eager to help with the war effort. She begged her father, who allowed her to make a radio address to the children of the Commonwealth. It was her first public speech.
The ceremonies you have seen today are ancient, and some of their origins are veiled in the mists of the past. But their spirit and their meaning shine through the ages never, perhaps, more brightly than now. I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.
– Speech by the queen on her Coronation Day, 1953
When King George VI died on February 6, 1952, it was time for his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, to take the throne. She was crowned at the age of 27.
It is inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you. A successor to the Kings and Queens of history; someone whose face may be familiar in newspapers and films but who never really touches your personal lives. But now, at least for a few minutes, I welcome you to the peace of my own home.
– The queen’s Christmas Broadcast, 1957
Elizabeth’s Christmas broadcast of 1957 was a historic moment, as it was the first to be televised. It also fell on the 25th anniversary of Britain’s first Christmas Broadcast on the radio.
New Zealand has long been renowned for its dairy produce, though I should say that I myself prefer my New Zealand eggs for breakfast.
– Speech during a state banquet in New Zealand, 1986
During a trip to New Zealand in 1986, the queen and Prince Philip were pelted with eggs thrown by anti-royalist protestors. The queen humorously referred to the incident during a speech a few days later.
I think if you check, I will be allowed to come in!
– Comment by the queen at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, 1991
When an unfortunate guard failed to recognize the queen as she arrived at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, he refused her entry and said, “Sorry love, you can't come in without a sticker.” The queen was unfazed and certainly amused, and replied with the now famous line: “I think if you check, I will be allowed to come in!”
She was an exceptional and gifted human being. In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness. I admired and respected her — for her energy and commitment to others, and especially for her devotion to her two boys.
– Speech following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, 1997
With the nation in shock, Elizabeth paid tribute to Princess Diana in a live television address. Her focus was very much on Diana’s two children, the queen’s grandsons William and Harry.
Since I came to the throne in 1952, ten Prime Ministers have served the British people and have come to see me each week at Buckingham Palace. The first, Winston Churchill, had charged with the cavalry at Omdurman. You, Prime Minister, were born in the year of my Coronation.
– Speech by the queen on her Golden Wedding Anniversary, 1997 (addressing Prime Minister Tony Blair)
Elizabeth first met her future husband when she was just eight years old, and fell in love with him in her early teens. She married Prince Philip in 1947, when she was 21. As she noted in her wedding anniversary speech, a lot had happened during 50 years of marriage: Prime Ministers had come and gone, man had walked on the moon, and the world had been introduced to The Beatles, television, cellphones, and the internet.
Grief is the price we pay for love.
– Closing line of the queen's message to New York City after the attack on September 11, 2001
The queen’s message was read by the British ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, at a prayer service in New York. Elizabeth is often cited as the original source of the quote, but she was likely paraphrasing from a passage written by Colin Murray Parkes, a British psychiatrist famous for his books on grief.
I wondered whether I should start this toast by saying, “When I was here in 1776...”
– Speech at the British ambassador's residence in Washington, 2007
During the queen’s trip to the United States in 2007, President George W. Bush stumbled over his lines at the welcome ceremony, accidentally stating that Elizabeth had helped celebrate the U.S. bicentennial in 1776, rather than 1976 — adding 200 years to her age. At a later speech, attended by Bush, the queen playfully teased the President, provoking much laughter from him and the assembled dignitaries.
When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future.
– The queen’s Christmas Broadcast, 2008
The Queen struck a somber tone in her 2008 Christmas Broadcast, due to the problems caused by the global financial crisis. But in typically determined fashion, she also urged people to not lose hope.
I’ve been given two bunches this week. Perhaps they want me dead.
– Joke made by the queen at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, 2016
While visiting the Chelsea Flower Show in 2016, a gardener informed the queen that lily of the valley was once used as a poison. Elizabeth’s quick reply demonstrated her fondness for dry — and sometimes dark — British humor.
While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal. We will succeed — and that success will belong to every one of us. We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.
– The queen's broadcast to the U.K. and Commonwealth amid the coronavirus pandemic, 2020
The Queen made a special address in April 2020 concerning the coronavirus pandemic. Many people were quick to note her poignant use of the words “we will meet again,” a reference to the 1939 song "We'll Meet Again," made famous by singer Vera Lynn. It was one of the most popular songs during World War II, and an inspiration to soldiers heading off to war, and their families back home.
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