Elizabeth II - 1952-
The reign of Elizabeth II has been no less eventful or hazardous for Britain than that of her Tudor predecessor. It has included war, political and social upheaval, and one threat that the first Elizabeth did not have to defend herself against - the attacks of an intrusive and often malicious mass media.
When her father died in 1952 Elizabeth was in Kenya with her husband, Prince Philip. It was the start of a trip that should have taken her to the furthest points of the Empire and Commonwealth, a demanding job which, in subsequent years, would make her the most travelled monarch in British history.
The new Queen had also soon to deal with a break-up of the social structure at home, as a tide of change in social attitudes, which became more of a tidal wave in the 'Swinging Sixties', swept away established social forms. Brought up in a traditional manner by her parents in an aristocratic Court, not known for its modernity, the Queen and her family had to find a way to meet the demands of a more democratic, media-driven society.
That she did not immediately succeed was made clear in 1957 by the furore that greeted an article in a national magazine. It was written up by a former Lord turned commoner, Lord Altrincham, and criticized her staff as being out-of-touch and narrow-minded. It also said that her own style was 'priggish' and 'schoolgirlisti. Wisely, the Queen did not respond, adopting a low profile while the torrents of criticism, satire and even abuse swirled about the monarchy.
With the support of her husband, Prince Philip, shemade her family more accessible, encouraging them in their public duties and providing opportunities for media coverage. During her reign she has worked with ten Prime Ministers representing Conservative and Labour governments, and has lived through the labour crises of the three-day week, miners and newspaper strikes, and the problem of Northern Ireland and the Falklands War.
In 1997, faced with the breakdown of marriages in the royal family she swept away former accusations that the monarchy had little in common with ordinary people, by referring to a year of unhappiness in her own family as the Annus Horribilis. There are few though who would not agree that the young woman who became a Queen at the age of twenty-five has made a success of a very difficult job.
Key Events during the Reign of Elizabeth II
1952 - Elizabeth accedes to the throne on the death of her father George VI.
1953 - Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climb Everest just before Coronation Day.
1955 - Winston Churchill resigns as Prime Minister and is succeeded by Anthony Eden.
1957 - Harold Macmillan succeeds Eden as Prime Minister.
1959 - Oil is discovered in the North Sea.
1963 - Alec Douglas-Hume replaces Harold Macmillan as Prime Minister. The Beatles release their first LP.
1964 - Labour government of Harold Wilson takes office.
1969 - Charles invested as Prince of Wales.
1970 - Edward Heath becomes Conservative Prime Minister.
1971 - Decimal currency is introduced.
1973 - Britain joins the European Community.
1974 - Harold Wilson returns as Prime Minister.
1979 - Margaret Thatcher becomes Britain's first woman Prime Minister.
1981 - Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer.
1982 - Unemployment tops three million. Britain goes to war with Argentina over control of the Falkland Islands.
1989-90 - Poll tax introduced amid widespread protest.
1990 - Margaret Thatcher resigns as Prime Minister and is succeeded by John Major.
1996 - Both the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the Duke and Duchess of York divorce.
1997 - Labour Party under Tony Blair ends 18 years of Conservative government. Hong Kong reverts to China after 155 years of British rule.
1998 - Structure of Millennium Dome completed.
1999 - National Maritime Museum reopens after being refurbished.
2000 - Queen Mother celebrates her 100th birthday.
2001 - Prince William starts at St Andrews University.
2002 - Queen Elizabeth marks 50 years of rule. Princess Margaret dies.