BY JUDY KURTZ
Queen Elizabeth II has died at the age of 96, ending the longest reign for a British head of state in history, a staggering 70-year tenure that included the administrations of 14 U.S. presidents and a dramatic reshaping of the Commonwealth.
The queen “died peacefully” at Balmoral Castle, her Scottish estate, on Thursday, Buckingham Palace announced.
The news of Elizabeth’s death came just hours after Buckingham Palace had said that her doctors were “concerned for Her Majesty’s health,” and that she was remaining under medical supervision. Earlier this week, Elizabeth had overseen the appointment of new British Prime Minister Liz Truss. But a virtual meeting the next day of the queen’s Privy Council was canceled after doctors advised her to rest.
The future queen took an unexpected path to the throne as a child, after her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated and her father was proclaimed King George VI.
As a 21-year-old, the next in line to the British throne said in a radio address that she intended to dedicate her life to the role: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
In 1952, at just 27, she became queen following her father’s death.
Her unprecedented reign included not just cultural and societal shifts, but changes to the British empire itself. When she was crowned nearly seven decades ago, Britain had more than 70 territories overseas. Now, that number stands at 15, after Barbados removed Elizabeth as its head of state in December.
Elizabeth gave birth to her eldest son and heir apparent, Prince Charles, in 1948. The queen and her husband, Prince Philip, went on to welcome three other children: Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.
In her lifetime, the queen met with all but one of the American presidents, Lyndon Johnson, since Harry Truman. She delivered an address to a joint meeting of Congress, becoming the first British monarch to do so, in 1991. She met with President Biden in June for the first time since he entered office.
Though she rarely granted interviews, American political leaders often heaped praise on Elizabeth.
“I don’t think she’d be insulted but she reminded me of my mother, the look of her and just the generosity,” Biden said after meeting with Elizabeth earlier this year.
Michelle Obama wrote in her 2018 memoir that the queen was “warm and personable” when she met her, and that the two bonded over their uncomfortable shoes.
“I confessed then to the Queen that my feet were hurting. She confessed that hers hurt, too. We looked at each other then with identical expressions, like, When is all this standing around with world leaders going to finally wrap up? And with this, she busted out with a fully charming laugh,” Obama said in “Becoming.”
Former President Trump said he shared a “great relationship” with the British monarch, saying during his 2019 visit to the United Kingdom that “her people said she hasn’t had so much fun in 25 years.”
In June, Elizabeth reached a historic milestone, with London playing host to a massive, four-day Platinum Jubilee celebration to mark the monarch’s 70 years on the throne.
The queen missed part of the extravaganza, a thanksgiving church service, after Buckingham Palace said she experienced “some discomfort” at Jubilee events.
Following the spectacle, Elizabeth said in a statement that she was “inspired by the kindness, joy and kinship that has been so evident in recent days.”
“And I hope this renewed sense of togetherness will be felt for many years to come,” she said at the time.
Described as a private person in one of the world’s most public roles, Elizabeth — who was named Time magazine’s “Woman of the Year” in 1953 — became a cultural icon of sorts as queen. Countless performers have portrayed the monarch on television and the big screen: Helen Mirren won an Academy Award when she took on the title role in 2006’s “The Queen,” while Claire Foy and Olivia Colman both took home Emmy Awards for their turns as Elizabeth in Netflix’s “The Crown.”
She held the Guinness World Record for “most currencies featuring the same individual,” with her image appearing on the coins of at least 35 different countries.
Throughout the countless world events and elections she lived through, Elizabeth upheld the royal family’s protocol requiring its members to “remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters.”
She also remained a steady presence amid the scandalous storms, personal dramas, and tragedies that the royal family faced throughout her reign, including the 1997 death of her former daughter-in-law, Princess Diana, sexual assault allegations against Andrew and claims of racism.
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, whose mother is Black and father is white, and who’s married to Elizabeth’s grandson, Prince Harry, said in a 2021 interview that there were conversations within the royal family when she was pregnant about “how dark” the skin of her child would be. The couple later said neither Elizabeth nor Philip, who died last year at 99, made the skin tone comments.
In a rare move, Elizabeth took to the airwaves in the spring of 2020 to address her country in a rallying cry of sorts amid the increasingly deadly coronavirus pandemic.
“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return,” she said at the time. “We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
Updated 1:47 p.m.
This article originally appeared on The Hill.