Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain (1926–)

Queen of Great Britain (1953–present). Born in London on 21 April 1926 to the Duke and Duchess of York, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was not expected to be the future queen, but when her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936, her father unexpectedly ascended the throne as King George VI. It was at that point that Elizabeth became the presumptive royal heir. Elizabeth was educated at home, and when it had become clear that she was heir to the throne, she studied constitutional history and law to prepare for her future responsibilities.

In 1944 during World War II, Elizabeth served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. In November 1947 she married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten of Greece, who became Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. George VI died in February 1952, and Elizabeth duly ascended the throne and was officially crowned as Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953.

The new queen's reign began with high hopes of a new Elizabethan age. Some of the initial euphoria was dampened by the 1956 Suez Crisis. It was also unclear how much the queen knew about Prime Minister Anthony Eden's secret negotiations with France and Israel prior to the crisis.

As the queen ruled Britain while raising her family, she faced increasing criticism regarding the necessity of the monarchy, discontent fueled by the somewhat scandalous marital difficulties of several of her children. Also, the rise of the Labour Party brought more public scrutiny of wealth and privilege, especially toward excesses of the queen's household.

Although she did not engage directly in politics, Elizabeth II still played a crucial public role, as her royal visits became extensions of British foreign policy. She also took an active role in trying to strengthen the British Commonwealth of Nations. Many former colonies tended to adopt positions more in line with those of the Soviet Union than with the Western democracies, and Elizabeth used royal visits to instill a sense of goodwill, particularly in those countries with geographic proximity to the Soviets. Without doubt, the queen's quiet, determined spirit helped to lead Britain through the Cold War.

Casey Wineman


Further Reading
Flamini, Roland. Sovereign: Elizabeth II and the Windsor Dynasty. New York: Delacorte, 1991.; Longford, Elizabeth. The Queen: The Life of Elizabeth II. New York: Knopf, 1983.; Pimlott, Ben. The Queen: A Biography of Queen Elizabeth II. London: HarperCollins, 1996.
 

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