Britain’s longest-ever ruling monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, turns 92 today (April 21). Living through the terms of 21 UK prime ministers and 16 US presidents, she has reigned for 65 years as one constant in a world that has enormous change.
Through photos from the year she was born to present day, here’s a look at how key moments in her life helped shape modern history, as well as what these decades have looked like through the eyes of a monarch.
When the queen was a child
Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born in 1926. She was the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York and was not expected to ever become queen.
However, in 1936, her father Albert shockingly acceded to the throne and became King George VI after her uncle King Edward VIII (seen below) abdicated, following his proposal to marry the soon-to-be twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. Princess Elizabeth’s mother kept her name and became the first Queen Elizabeth. This paved the way for Elizabeth herself to eventually become queen.
From an early age, she participated in royal duties, which included charity meet and greets.
World War II and starting a family
While still a child, WWII broke out in 1939. At just 14 years old, she conducted her first radio broadcast, with her sister Princess Margaret by her side, to help boost morale, saying that England’s children were full of cheerfulness and courage.
At 18, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, the only female member of the royal family to enter the armed forces. She trained in London as a mechanic and military truck driver. Here she is seated in an ambulance:
By the end of the war, she was thoroughly acquainted with UK prime minister, Winston Churchill, hailed as a hero for leading the UK through the war against the Axis.
Two years after the war, Princess Elizabeth and Lt. Philip Mountbatten were married. It was an enormous affair, with well-wishers lining the streets to celebrate.
In 1948, her first child was born—Prince Charles.
Two years later, Princess Anne became the royal couple’s first daughter and only daughter.
When she went from princess to queen
In 1951, George VI’s health seriously declined and Princess Elizabeth stood in at many of his public events.
In 1952, the king died, making Elizabeth queen. She kept her name and that of her mother’s, to be crowned Queen Elizabeth II.
Her coronation was held in 1953. Here she’s wearing St. Edward’s Crown, and is being helped onto the throne in Westminster Abbey. Her husband Philip had to renounce his royal Greek and Danish titles to become Duke of Edinburgh. Ten years later, his title was changed to prince.
Elizabeth and her family moved into Buckingham Palace. They took along her beloved corgi dogs. She has come to own around 30 during her lifetime. In this photo from 1955, the queen is pictured with the corgi named Sugar.
Modern-day British royalty officially maintain neutrality on political affairs, but it wasn’t always the case. In 1955, Sir Anthony Eden became prime minister (as seen below) and in the following year, he authorized Britain to accompany France in invading Egypt in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to capture the Suez Canal. The queen was said to be opposed to the invasion, according to Lord Mountbatten (paywall). Eden resigned in 1957.
Accelerated decolonization and JFK
When Queen Elizabeth II was pregnant with Prince Andrew (1959) and Prince Edward (1963) she didn’t perform the State Opening of the British parliament—the only two times during her reign she has not appeared.
However, Andrew celebrated his first birthday without his parents in 1961, when they went away on a royal tour of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Iran. That year also marked their meeting with US president John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie.
In 1963, JFK was assassinated. Two years later, on the hallowed fields where the Magna Carta was signed close to the River Thames at Runneymede, Surrey, England, Elizabeth dedicated Britain’s memorial to the late president, with Jackie and her children in attendance.
That year, Sir Winston Churchill died. In this photo, Elizabeth and most of the immediate royal family help lead the procession behind the Lord Mayor of London, Sir James Miller, carrying the Mourning Sword.
After a number of nations gained independence from the British empire, the 1960s and the 1970s marked an acceleration of the decolonization of Africa and the Caribbean. It led to 20 countries gaining independence.
Most of the most iconic moments within this transition took place in 1961. While Ghana gained independence in 1957, the country later became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Ghana president Kwame Nkrumah, pictured dancing with the queen below, helped transform the country into a republic.
The late 1960s
In 1966, Elizabeth saw England win its first and only football World Cup and met the captain Bobby Moore.
In 1969, she also met the American astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin after they returned from their historic moon landing.
The Silver Jubilee and political storms
At the beginning of the 1970s, Elizabeth hosted US president Richard Nixon and his wife.
In 1974, she had to cut short her tour of the Austronesian Pacific Rim, where she attended the 10th Commonwealth Games, after the UK prime minister, Edward Heath, advised her to call a general election. It resulted in a hung parliament and eventually led to the Queen stepping in and asking the leader of the opposition, Labour’s Harold Wilson, to form a government. In 1975, during the height of the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, she was asked to step in again. However, after she declined, it helped fuel Australian republicanism.
The year 1977 marked the Silver Jubilee—the 25th anniversary of the queen on the throne. It was also a politically fraught year, when the troubles in Northern Ireland bubbled into large-scale riots.
The era of Princess Diana
The 1980s saw births in the royal family line as well as another war. In 1981, Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer, making her the new Princess of Wales.
The following year, she gave birth to Prince William. Meanwhile, Charles’ brother Prince Andrew was shipping off to serve with the British forces during the Falklands War. In 1982, the queens he met Pope John Paul II and hosted US president Ronald Reagan. However, in the following year, she was reportedly angered while visiting his California ranch when his administration ordered the invasion of Grenada, one of the Commonwealth’s Caribbean realms, without informing her.
In 1987, Elizabeth publicly supported politically divisive constitutional amendments in Canada. In Fiji, where she is the monarch of the country, she supported the attempts of Governor-General Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau to assert executive power and negotiate a settlement after the government was deposed in a military coup.
The decade containing the “annus horribilis”
The start of the next decade was ushered in by the coalition victory in the Gulf War in 1991. The queen became the first British monarch to address a joint session of the US Congress.
However, 1992 was dubbed as her annus horribilis, meaning “horrible year,” by the queen herself in a speech. That year she saw Prince Andrew, and his wife, Sarah, separate, and her daughter, Princess Anne, divorce captain Mark Phillips. During a state visit to Germany, demonstrators threw eggs at her. In November, a large fire broke out at one of her official residences, Windsor Castle. She’s pictured here, inspecting the ruins.
Over the next few years, the private lives of her children were being played out in public. In 1995, she and Philip, along with prime minister John Major, the archbishop of Canterbury, and the queen’s private secretary wrote to Prince Charles and Princess Diana advising them to divorce.
Two years later, Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. The British press and the public turned on the queen. She issued a highly unusual response to the backlash. She’s pictured here inspecting flowers laid out in memorial of Princess Diana with her husband, son, and grandchildren.
Just months after Diana’s death, the queen and Philip celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. She praised Philip in a speech for being “my strength and stay.”
The decade of death and war
The early 2000s were marked with sorrow and celebration. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US killed nearly 3,000 people and injured around 6,000 others. Pictured here leaving a memorial service at St. Paul’s Cathedral with the American ambassador, William Farish, the queen honored the memory of the victims, of whom 67 were British.
The following year, her mother Queen Elizabeth as well as her sister Princess Margaret died within a month. However, she ended up going ahead with her Golden Jubilee—celebrating 50 years on the throne. She spent the next few years undertaking extensive tours abroad.
In 2003, UK prime minister Tony Blair joined Britain’s forces with the US-led coalition to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003. That same year, Vladimir Putin visited Britain to try and repair diplomatic relations strained by the Iraq War. It marked the last time the Russian president has visited the UK.
As the Iraq War ended in 2011, Elizabeth’s grandson helped usher in a new royal era, with his marriage to Catherine Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge.
Their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte, were born in 2013 and 2015. The birth of a new royal line boosted the monarchy’s popularity once again.
In 2012, she opened the London Olympics, appearing in a short film at the opening ceremony, alongside Daniel Craig as James Bond and some of her beloved corgis. This year, Harry and US actress Meghan Markle (below left) are to marry, while William and the Duchess of Cambridge are preparing to welcome their third child.
At 92, the queen has been mulling the royal succession. While Charles would become king in the event of her retirement, abdication, or death, the leader of the commonwealth is not set in stone as hereditary.
This week, however, she endorsed Charles to take over, and the leaders of the Commonwealth nations agreed.