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Britain's Queen Elizabeth, monarch for 53 years

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Apr 21: Elizabeth Windsor, queen for nearly 53 years, can look back on one of the longest reigns of any British monarch since William the Conqueror stepped ashore to seize the throne in 1066.

On the world stage, it has lasted through the Cold War, the fall of Communism and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

Domestically it has stretched from the 1956 Suez crisis through IRA bombs to New Labour via the Beatles, and still has several years to run if her unwillingness to abdicate remains firm.

As she turns 80, her stock is high again after suffering from the turmoil inflicted on the House of Windsor by its younger members in the past 20 years.

Adjectives like ''remote'' and ''inflexible'' have been replaced by warmer vocabulary, as memories fade of the turbulent years of Prince Charles' first marriage to Diana, which so damaged the reputation of the senior royals.

Now she is portrayed less as the emotionally cold mother-in-law, criticised for failing to grieve publicly after Diana's death in 1997, and much more the constitutional icon, bedrock of the nation and source of British pride.

The restoration of her image in the years after 1997 was the result of astute public relations management, helped by public sympathy when the deaths of her sister Margaret and mother in 2002 coincided with her Golden Jubilee.


Those deaths prompted broadcasters to trawl in the film archives as far back as 1952, when the young Princess Elizabeth, holidaying in Kenya, learned of her father King George VI's sudden death and with it her accession to the throne.

Taking the throne 16 months later at the age of 25 -- the age at which Elizabeth I became queen four centuries before her -- her coronation captured a mood of public optimism after postwar austerity.

But as the first Elizabeth saw her country attain the status of a world power, her successor presided over a shrinking empire and a Britain slipping ever further from its position as a political and economic leader.

Her pledge to be queen for life was strengthened when Prince Charles finally separated from Princess Diana in 1993 after 11 years of marriage. Charles eventually married his long-standing mistress Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.

Courtiers insist there is no thought of the queen stepping down and specialist reporters say she has a horror of abdication, stemming from the national crisis in 1936 over her uncle Edward VIII's abandonment of the throne.

Over the years a picture has emerged of a down-to-earth, witty woman with a love of animals and the outdoors, more at home in tweeds than tiaras. Her relationship with Prince Philip, the tall Greek-born consort she married at only 21, has seemed a happy if sometimes distant one, marred by occasional rumours of discord.

The couple have four children, with a gap of 10 years between the second, Anne, and the third, Andrew. The queen had her last child Edward in 1964, when she was 37.

She became sovereign through a quirk of history which saw the crown pass from Edward, who renounced the throne for love of an American divorcee, to her father.

When King George died at his Sandringham estate on February 6, 1952, Elizabeth became Britain's first queen in her own right since Victoria, who died in 1901 after a 64-year reign.

The black-suited Elizabeth cut a slight and wan figure as she returned from Kenya aboard a royal aircraft to be formally welcomed to her new role by Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

She was crowned the country's 63rd monarch on June 2, 1953, in a ceremony in Westminster Abbey that was televised live.

The day was chosen on the advice of meteorologists as giving the best chance of sunny skies. Typically for a country of unpredictable weather, it poured with rain all day.

At first, the queen relied heavily on her father's old circle of advisers but gradually brought in more career diplomats and business executives to the court as she slowly modernised the monarchy.

In 1992, she acted on criticism about royal wealth by offering to pay income tax for the first time and cutting the number of her family members on the state payroll.

Of the 10 prime ministers she had political briefings with, she is said to have been especially close to Labour premier Harold Wilson.

Her frequent foreign tours raised some concerns for her safety.

In March 1984 she travelled to Jordan in an aircraft equipped with anti-missile devices because of bomb attacks in the host country.

In 1981, a British youth fired blank shots near her during the military Trooping the Colour ceremony. Her horse shied but she was unhurt.

Perhaps the most bizarre incident occurred in July 1982 when unemployed labourer Michael Fagan climbed over the walls of Buckingham Palace and made his way into her bedroom.

He spent 10 minutes sitting on her bed, pouring out his troubles and his affection for her, before she managed to summon help.


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