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Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II (1926-...) is the queen of the United Kingdom and the head of the Commonwealth of Nations. She became queen at the age of 25 on the death of her father, George VI, on Feb. 6, 1952.

Elizabeth was born in London on April 21, 1926, when her parents were the Duke and Duchess of York. She was christened Elizabeth Alexandra Mary. Her mother--now Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother--was Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, daughter of the Earl of Strathmore, of an ancient Scottish family. Elizabeth was then third in succession to the throne. Her father became King George VI in 1936, after his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated. So, at the age of 10, Elizabeth became heiress to the throne. Elizabeth was trained from early childhood for the royal duties she would some day assume. The princess was affectionately known as "Lilibet." Her parents had one other child, Margaret, who was born in 1930.

During World War II (1939-1945), Elizabeth served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. She became the fourth woman to be given the Order of the Garter, the highest order of British knighthood. In 1947, she accompanied her parents on a tour of the Union of South Africa. She celebrated her 21st birthday on this trip by announcing to the British people by radio that "... my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service, and to the service of our great imperial family."

Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten, formerly Prince Philip of Greece, on Nov. 20, 1947, in Westminster Abbey. Their first son, Charles Philip Arthur George, was born in 1948; a daughter, Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise, in 1950; a second son, Andrew Albert Christian Edward, in 1960; and their third son, Edward Antony Richard Louis, in 1964. Prince Charles became heir apparent when his mother became queen. Philip was made a prince in 1957. Queen Elizabeth and her husband, children, and other close relatives make up the United Kingdom's royal family. The royal family's name is Windsor. But in 1960, Queen Elizabeth announced that her descendants other than princes, princesses, and others styled royal highness, will bear the name Mountbatten-Windsor.

Princess Anne, now the Princess Royal, married Captain Mark Phillips, a British military officer, in 1973. In 1981, Prince Charles married the late Lady Diana Spencer, who became the Princess of Wales. They had two sons--William Arthur Philip Louis, in 1982; and Henry Charles Albert David, in 1984. In 1986, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, married Sarah Ferguson, and the couple had two daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie. However, In 1992, the Duke and Duchess of York became legally separated, the Princess Royal and Mark Phillips divorced, and the announcement was made that the Prince and Princess of Wales were to separate. The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, married Timothy Laurence, an officer in the Royal Navy, in December 1992. The Duke and Duchess of York, and then the Prince and Princess of Wales, divorced in 1996. The Princess of Wales died in a car crash in August 1997.

Also in 1992, Elizabeth showed her willingness to keep abreast of modern developments by offering to pay income tax on her personal fortune. No United Kingdom monarch had paid taxes since 1936.

After 1948, when King George's health began to fail, Elizabeth and Philip assumed many of the royal obligations. They made an extended tour of Canada in 1951, and visited Washington, D.C. Early in 1952, they began a tour of British colonies and dominions. But on February 6, George VI died and Elizabeth succeeded him as the United Kingdom's monarch. Elizabeth and Philip were in Kenya at the time, and they returned to England at once. Elizabeth's coronation took place on June 2, 1953, in Westminster Abbey.

The following November, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband set out again on their tour of the Commonwealth. The tour included visits to Bermuda, Jamaica, the Fiji and Tonga islands, New Zealand, Australia, Africa, Malta, and Gibraltar. The tour lasted until May 1954, and covered 71,150 kilometres.

The queen's later travels included trips to Australia, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Latin America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and several European countries. In 1986, she visited China. It was the first state visit to the country by a British monarch.

The queen at home is a keen horsewoman. She keeps race horses, and frequently attends races. She favours simplicity in court life. After the 1958 season, the queen discontinued formal presentation parties for debutantes (girls making their first appearance in society). Scholars, artists, critics, and authors have attended informal parties with her.