Queen Elizabeth II is now officially Britain’s longest reigning monarch. On 9 September, 2015, she overtook Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years, seven months and two days, from 1837 to 1901.
Elizabeth ascended to the throne on 6 February 1952, after the death of her father King George VI. He, as a second son, normally wasn’t destined to become king, and so Elizabeth wasn’t destined to become queen. But in 1936, George’s brother, Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. So his shy brother, who had a bad stammer and struggled to speak in public, was pushed into the role of king. And, since he had no sons, his eldest daughter later became queen.
Britain has not had many female monarchs, but they have been unusually long lasting. Of the six monarchs who ruled the longest, as well as Elizabeth II and Victoria, there is also Elizabeth I.
Victoria and Elizabeth
Elizabeth II and Victoria have length of reign in common, and there are other aspects of their lives that are similar. Both were educated at home as children, though Elizabeth had a pleasant childhood with her parents and sister, whereas Victoria was an only child, whose father had died when she was just eight months old. She was never permitted to be alone. When she became Queen at 18, the first thing she asked for was an hour alone.
Both queens unusually had love marriages, to foreign cousins. Victoria adored her German husband, Prince Albert, and when he died at the age of 42, she retired from public life for ten years. Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip, Prince of Greece and Denmark, is the longest of any monarch – they will celebrate their 68th anniversary this year.
Victoria had nine children, while Elizabeth “only” had four. Victoria’s children all married European royalty or aristocrats. Elizabeth’s children in contrast mainly married commoners, and three of them have divorced, which was unheard of in Victoria’s time.
Both monarchs lived through periods of rapid social and technological progress. Victoria was the first monarch to be photographed. Elizabeth was the first whose coronation was televised. The event, in 1953, is credited with the beginning of television’s popularity in the UK. Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897 by sending a telegram to all the countries in the Empire. Queen Elizabeth has a website, Facebook page and Twitter account. She celebrated her Diamond Jubilee with a small acting role (playing Queen Elizabeth II) in a short film with James Bond for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics!
Queen Elizabeth is now 89 years old but continues to work. She intends to continue to take literally the words of the British national anthem: “Long to reign over us, God save the Queen”!
Click here for teaching tools on Queens Elizabeth and Victoria.
> Queen Elizabeth II Teaching Tools
> A Virtual Visit to Buckingham Palace