Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories and Head of the Commonwealth, as her proper title puts it, celebrated the 40th anniversary of her accession in 1992. Her ancestry dates back to William I, the Norman who seized the throne of England in 1066.
Born on Apr. 21, 1926, Elizabeth became heir to the throne when her father became king as George VI upon the abdication of his brother Edward VIII in December 1936. On Nov. 20, 1947, she married Philip Mountbatten, duke of Edinburgh, a distant cousin whose mother was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. When George died on Feb. 6, 1952, Elizabeth came to the throne at the age of 25.
The public duties of the British monarch were then entirely ceremonial, but Queen Elizabeth took her responsibilities seriously, inspecting state papers daily and consulting with prime ministers. She was educated in the role of constitutional monarch by her father and her grandmother Queen Mary, wife of George V. She was also trained by her mother, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Harold Macmillan, prime minister from 1957 to 1963, wrote of her: "She loves her duty, and means to be a Queen and not a puppet." Her constitutional role obliges her to keep opinions to herself. This makes her a somewhat colorless public personality, but those who know her speak of her shrewdness and sense of humor.
Queen Elizabeth is the wealthiest woman in Britain, having inherited the extensive royal family estates. Under pressure from public opinion, she volunteered in 1992 for the first time to pay income tax. She has four children: Charles, Prince of Wales (b. 1948), the heir to the throne, who married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 and separated from her in 1992; Anne, the Princess Royal (b. 1950), who divorced her husband of 18 years, Capt. Mark Phillips, in 1992 and married Timothy Laurence that year; Andrew, Duke of York (b. 1960), who married Sarah Ferguson in 1986 and wasdivorced from her in 1996; and Prince Edward (b. 1964). Prince William (b. 1982), Charles and Diana's older son, is second in line to the throne.