The king is dead. Long live the four letter word.
On the morning of Feb 6 1952, the British Broadcasting Corporation broke into its regularly scheduled programming to announce to the world that King George VI had died in his sleep overnight. Although recently of ill health, having been worn down by World War II and suffering from lung cancer, he was believed to be in recovery at the time. Only a few days earlier he had seen his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, off on a tour of Africa and Australia.
Half a world away, Elizabeth was on safari in Kenya when her father died, and did not learn the news until later that afternoon. In the words of those accompanying her, she bore the news, "as a queen." She returned to London later that day as Queen Elizabeth II. Two days later, she formally proclaimed herself Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, and Defender of the Faith.
The sixty years since has seen dramatic change in both the world and in the British Monarchy. When she was born, she was not expected to become queen - her father was the second oldest son of the reigning monarch, King George V, and thus Elizabeth was third in line to the throne, and would be pushed further back when (or if) her uncle had any children. The rules of succession have changed, however, and now any great-granddaughters of hers would have a more direct path to the throne. 12 Prime Ministers have lead her government, and there have been 12 American heads of state during her reign.
Today, in a message marking the beginning of her Diamond Jubilee year, she said she would "dedicate myself anew to" the service of her subjects, recalling a speech she made when she was but a 21 year old Princess. As of today, she is the second longest reigning British monarch, second only to Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother. In just 1311 days she will become the longest reigning British monarch, as well as the longest reigning female monarch. Should she make it to her 98th birthday in May 2024, she would become history's longest reigning monarch, surpassing that of Louis XIV of France.
Long live The Queen.