Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Queen Elizabeth II Dies at 96

Britain’s longest reigning monarch ruled for seven decades

spinner image queen elizabeth
Michael Ukas - Pool /Getty Images

There were certain aspects of the job she didn’t fancy.​

​Take the heavy, bejeweled crown she wore at the end of her coronation and for most state openings of Parliament. She found it “unwieldy.” ​

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

​“You can’t look down to read the speech ... because if you did, your neck would break,” she explained to the BBC in 2018. “There are some disadvantages to crowns.” ​

​And riding in the gold state coach, drawn by eight horses for grand state occasions like coronations, royal weddings and jubilees? “Horrible. It’s not meant for traveling in at all. ... Not very comfortable.” ​

​But Queen Elizabeth II, who died Thursday at age 96 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, put up with it all just the same. She was Britain’s longest reigning monarch, ruling seven decades, celebrating her Platinum Jubilee in June 2022. Though she could have passed her duties on to her son Prince Charles long ago, she honored the pledge of duty she made to the commonwealth on her 21st birthday in a now-famous radio speech: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.” ​

The queen kept her promise to the end, welcoming ​the new prime minister, Liz Truss, to Balmoral Castle on the Tuesday before her death.

​She had never expected to become queen, her fate turning on the abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced American socialite. With the premature death of her father, King George VI, at 56, she succeeded to the throne on Feb. 6, 1952. Princess Elizabeth was in Africa when he died, and became the first sovereign in more than 200 years to accede while out of the kingdom. She was 27 at her coronation, the first such event to be broadcast on television, on June 2, 1953. ​

​While a much loved and respected figure around the world, she was notoriously private — she rarely gave a lengthy interview to the media in her entire reign — and was reportedly furious when the younger generations of royals broke rank and spoke out about what went on behind palace walls. ​

​She was particularly disappointed with Princess Diana in the 1990s, for example, for publicly discussing both Diana’s and Charles’ extramarital affairs. (“Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” Diana said of her husband’s girlfriend, and later wife, Camilla Parker Bowles.) ​

Shopping & Groceries


$20 off a Walmart+ annual membership

See more Shopping & Groceries offers >

​And the queen was said to be deeply saddened when Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, and his American-born actress-wife, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, gave an intimate interview to Oprah Winfrey in 2021 about why they stepped back from royal duties the year before. Among their bombshells: Meghan’s thoughts of suicide, and the family not supporting her emotionally; and an unnamed royal who fretted about what skin color Harry and Meghan’s son Archie might have, since Meghan is biracial.​

As her personal turmoil grew more serious — this past January, the queen stripped Prince Andrew of his military affiliations and royal patronages over a lawsuit linked to the Jeffrey Epstein sex scandal — there were also hints of familial reconciliation and healing. She announced in February that it was her “sincere wish” for Duchess Camilla to be called “queen consort,” instead of “princess consort,” when Charles ascended to the throne. And Harry and Meghan visited Queen Elizabeth II together for the first time in more than two years last spring.

Her accomplishments were many, if often understated. She brought stability to the monarchy after the abdication of her uncle and the death of her father; accelerated the establishment of Britain as a commonwealth; and quietly supported racial equality and advancement around the globe. She also reformed the monarchy’s finances to reduce its spending, and paid taxes on royal income that had long been exempt.

​During the queen’s long rule, she traveled the globe and often made history while doing so, becoming the first British ruler to tour the Chinese mainland (1986), and in 2011, the first in a hundred years to visit the Republic of Ireland, where she shared her “sincere thoughts and deep sympathy” for the difficult Anglo-Irish past. And on a royal tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1970, she threw off centuries of tradition in engaging in a “walkabout” with the crowds, instead of waving to them from a distance. ​

​Some of her biographers believed that her royal duties superseded those as mother of her four children, to whom she showed few displays of affection in public. It was her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who while prohibited from giving their children — Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward, and Princess Anne — his last name, took command of rearing them, along with nannies and the Queen Mum. Of the latter, Prince Charles said at her death in 2002, “For me, she meant everything. ... She seemed gloriously unstoppable and, since I was a child, I adored her.” ​

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

LIMITED TIME OFFER. Join AARP for just $9 per year when you sign up for a 5-year term. Join now and get a FREE GIFT!

spinner image queen elizabeth the second in a photo from nineteen seventy with one of her corgis
Bettmann/Getty Images

​If Queen Elizabeth II seemed chilly at times and overly serious, she softened at the sight of her dogs, mostly corgis and dorgis (dachshunds bred with corgis), and she had a keen passion for horses, as both a race enthusiast and an owner/breeder of thoroughbreds. In private the queen, who positioned her ever-present handbag to send signals to her staff, also showed a refreshingly down-to-earth side — even deftly eluding an intruder who broke into her palace bedroom in 1982 — and a bit of the common touch. ​

​“I was struck when talking to a clergyman who had been a guest at Balmoral, her Scottish estate,” Sally Bedell Smith, author of Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch, told Vanity Fair in 2012. “They were driving, and she looked out the window of the car and saw one of her gamekeepers walking on the hills with a young woman. The queen suddenly shouted, ‘Hooray!’ And the clergyman said, ‘Why did you say that, ma’am?’ And she said, ‘Well, his wife broke up with him, and now he’s got a new girlfriend!’” ​

​Though her position as queen isolated her somewhat even from Philip, who famously walked two paces behind her, they were described as having “an incredible instinctive chemistry.” Theirs was a storybook romance. ​

​“The queen had been crazy about him since 1939, when she was 13 and Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, an 18-year-old Navy officer cadet, squired her around the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth,” wrote Tina Brown, the celebrated magazine editor and royal watcher. In a 1946 letter to his future bride (they married the following year), Philip declared his love “completely and unreservedly.”​

​When the prince died in April 2021, royal watchers feared the prince’s death, piled on top of the queen’s other personal family disappointments, would be her final, unbearable weight. And indeed, her health declined steadily after that. At the prince’s funeral, which took place during the pandemic, a writer for Britain’s Independent noted that “the image of the tiny 94-year-old widow, frail, bowed, solitary in socially distanced grief” broke hearts around the world. 

But it was the queen’s duty to sit alone to protect herself and the commonwealth’s future leaders. In 1977 for her Silver Jubilee, she repeated her long-ago pledge of a life of service. ​

​“Although that vow was made in my salad days when I was green in judgment,” she added, “I do not regret nor retract one word of it.”​

spinner image queen elizabeth the second waving in twenty sixteen
Samir Hussein/Getty Images

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?