9 September 2015 marked a historic landmark for the nation, as Queen Elizabeth became the longest reigning monarch in British history. In doing so, she broke the record held for over a century by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, who served for 63 years and seven months.
The beloved Queen has had an extraordinary lifetime devoted to public service, and also celebrated her 90th birthday in April 2016. June 4th will then see her ‘Trooping the Colour’ birthday parade. In honour of this momentous moment in royal history, explore a timeline of candid photos and clips of Elizabeth and her family in the Bridgeman archive.
1926 – 1935
The Future Queen is Born
On 21 April 1926, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born at 2.40 am at her parent’s home in 17 Bruton Street. She was christened on 29 May, and cried throughout the ceremony. Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret Rose, was born four years later on 21 August 1930.
1936 – 1945
An Unsuspecting Heir
On 20 January 1936, George V died and his eldest son Edward VIII became King. Only months into his reign however, Edward caused a constitutional crisis by disclosing plans to marry an American divorcée. Such a marriage would conflict with his status as titular head of the Church of England. Edward subsequently abdicated and George VI became King on 11 December 1936.
As he was not the eldest son, Elizabeth’s father was not expected to take the throne and in fact he was very reluctant to do so. If he had decided to dismiss the role then Elizabeth would not have been the Queen today.
Soon after Princess Elizabeth celebrated her thirteenth birthday, she began a demanding course of study under the Vice-Provost of Eton College. Elizabeth first met her future husband Cadet Captain Philip of Greece that summer on 22 July, at the Royal Dartmouth Naval College.
The War Years
Britain officially declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939. During the following years, it was the royal family’s responsibility to keep the nation’s morale up during the difficult times. On 4 March 1945 Elizabeth got actively involved by joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), where she trained as a driver and mechanic.
Britain celebrated the formal acceptance of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces and end of WWII on 8 May 1945, which became known as Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Footage in the Bridgeman archive captures the royal family and Churchill waving to cheering crowds.
1946 – 1955
Marriage and Motherhood
Buckingham Palace officially announced the engagement of Princess Elizabeth to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten on 10 July 1947. The couple then married on 20 November at Westminster Abbey.
A year after her wedding, Elizabeth had her first son: Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales on 14 November 1948. She later gave birth to her daughter Princess Anne, the Princess Royal on 15 August 1950.
Elizabeth’s Accession to the Throne
George VI died on 6 February 1952 following a number of health problems, partially caused by the stress of the war. Philip broke the news to Elizabeth while they were abroad together, and the party hastily returned to England to take up the throne.
With Elizabeth’s accession it was likely that the royal house would bear her husband’s name Mountbatten, however upon Queen Mary and Churchill‘s persuasion it was declared in April that the family’s dynastic surname would remain ‘Windsor’. Later that year, Elizabeth broadcast her first Christmas speech on television.
Elizabeth’s coronation ceremony was held on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey.
Touring the World
Elizabeth is one of the most well-travelled monarchs in British history. In 1949 she and the Duke of Edinburgh paid a four-day visit to Paris, in what was the capital’s happiest social event since the liberation. Thousands cheered the royal couple whilst she made her speech in French.
The travel bug continued and on 31 January 1950 Elizabeth and Philip left on a tour of East Africa, New Zealand and Australia. They embarked on another tour on 24 November 1953 to the Commonwealth, returning to England after six months.
Elizabeth had two more sons in the 1960s. She gave birth to Prince Andrew, the Duke of York on 19 February 1960 and Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex on 10 March 1964.
On 21 June 1969 a documentary titled Royal Family was broadcast on British television. It was commissioned by the Queen to give the public a chance to see into their everyday lives and show that they were still an ordinary family like everyone else.
1976 – 1985
The Queen celebrated 25 years on the throne on 7 June 1977, and grand parades and parties were held throughout the UK and the Commonwealth. The Silver Jubilee Walkway, Jubilee Gardens and the Jubilee line were all named after the occasion.
Charles, Diana and The Next Royal Generation
Elizabeth’s eldest son, Prince Charles, announced his engagement to Lady Diana Spencer on 24 February 1981. They married that summer on 29 July at St Paul’s Cathedral, with the wedding being described as a modern day fairytale.
The following year Diana gave birth to her first child, Prince William, on 21 June 1982. She gave birth to a second boy, Prince Harry, on 15 September 1984.
1986 – 1995
1992 was a particularly difficult year for the Queen, as she stated in a speech marking the 40th anniversary of her Accession: ‘1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis’.
There were a number of reasons for this, including the announcements that her sons Charles and Andrew were to separate from their wives, her daughter’s divorce from her husband, and a fire outbreak at Windsor Castle which seriously damaged the building and several priceless artefacts.
1996 – 2005
Death of the Nation’s Loved Ones
Charles and Diana’s marriage officially dissolved in the High Court on 28 August 1996. On 31 August 1997 a sudden tragedy sent the nation into deep mourning when Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris, along with her then boyfriend Dodi Fayed and the driver.
The royal family further grieved in 2002 with the death of both Elizabeth’s sister Princess Margaret on 9 February and the Queen Mother on 30 March. On a more positive note, 2002 was also the year in which Elizabeth launched her Golden Jubilee celebrations, on 30 April.
Charles eventually married again to Camilla Parker Bowles in April 2005, and despite initial opposition to the relationship, the Queen seems to get on well with her new daughter-in-law.
2006 – 2015
Elizabeth Celebrates Old Age and the Birth of her Great-Grandchildren
Elizabeth celebrated her 80th birthday in 2006, and is due to have her next birthday milestone of 90 years next April. In 2011 she saw her grandson Prince William marry Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey. Catherine gave birth to Prince George on 22 July 2013 and Princess Charlotte earlier this year on 2 May.
6 Feb 2012 marked the 60th anniversary of the death of George VI and Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne. The Queen also celebrates her Diamond Jubilee in June of that year, and various events took place throughout the UK to signify the occasion.
The Queen achieved a status as the longest-lived British monarch in 2007, and currently remains as the oldest reigning monarch in the world, with a magnificent legacy that will live on for the foreseeable future.
‘Queen Elizabeth II Timeline‘. History in an Hour. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
‘Annus Horribilis Speech‘. The British Monarchy. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
‘Should we celebrate when the Queen becomes our longest reigning monarch?‘ The Telegraph. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
Images and Licensing
Get in touch with the Bridgeman team on email@example.com with enquires about licensing and clearing copyright. Browse all Queen Elizabeth II images and clips.