Queen Elizabeth II dies at 96: A timeline of her life, royal reign

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The longest-ever reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the only monarch most of her subjects have ever known, is over. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor died Thursday at Balmoral Castle, her estate in Scotland. She was 96.

Her eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, 73, immediately became King Charles III upon her death. His wife became Queen Consort Camilla.

After reigning over the United Kingdom for 70 years and having been royal all her life, Queen Elizabeth has lived through some remarkable times. From her first personal crisis as queen in 1953 to Princess Diana's death in 1997 to the death of her husband Prince Philip last year, here's a look at some of the most important dates from her life.

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Another portrait of Queen Elizabeth II has been added to her collection. The full length portrait of the monarch wearing a spray of five poppies was painted by artist Darren Baker to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion. It went on display at Clarence House in London, on Oct, 26, 2021, during the official launch of the centenary poppy appeal.

1926: A princess is born

Princess Elizabeth, as she was known before ascending the throne at 25, was born in Mayfair, London, to Prince Albert, Duke of York, and his Scottish aristocrat wife, Elizabeth, Duchess of York.

Her sister, Princess Margaret Rose, was born Aug. 21, 1930, at Glamis Castle, the Scottish ancestral home of her mother's family, the earls of Strathmore. The sisters were close to each other and to their parents, often called "We four" by their father.

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1936: The Abdication Crisis

King Edward VIII, Elizabeth's uncle, abdicated – gave up his throne – on Dec. 10 to be free to marry a twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson, after his ministers and the Church of England refused to accept a divorced queen.

As a result, his next oldest brother, Prince Albert, Elizabeth's father, became King George VI and her mother became his consort, Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother). Their older daughter, Elizabeth, became the heir to the throne, at the age of 10.

The trauma from the abdication and its existential threat to the British monarchy has never been forgotten in the royal family. Elizabeth's mother blamed the stress for her husband's early death at age 56, though he had lung cancer and died of coronary thrombosis. Her daughter had always vowed never to abdicate.

Stay up to date with the latest on King Charles III and the royal succession with our newsletter Keep Calm and Carry On. Sign up here.

1947: Princess Elizabeth marries Prince Philip

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, a member of the Greek and Danish royal families, wed in November 1947 after a four-month engagement. The two first met in 1934 at the wedding of their relatives, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark and Prince George, Duke of Kent.

They met again in 1939, when she was 13 and he was 18, and she was forever smitten. Elizabeth and Philip were distant cousins, both great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria.

More: Prince Philip's will ordered sealed for 90 years to protect royal 'dignity'

1952: Elizabeth II ascends the throne

Elizabeth was a young mother of just 25 and vacationing with Philip in Kenya when her father George VI died on Feb. 6, 1952 at Sandringham, the royal country retreat in Norfolk. She became queen instantly on his death but didn't know it because international communication at the time was less developed. Philip broke the terrible news to her, both aware their lives would now change utterly. She flew to London immediately to be officially proclaimed queen.

Her coronation took place more than a year later, on June 2, 1953, in Westminster Abbey and marked the first time a coronation was televised.

1953: Queen's first personal crisis

The queen faced her first crisis when her sister Princess Margaret wanted to marry Group Capt. Peter Townsend, a divorced World War II hero flyer and her father's equerry. Ministers and church leaders, as with the 1936 abdication crisis, opposed the princess marrying a divorced man. In 1955, under pressure from the church and a threat to her royal status, and after a forced separation and years of headlines, Margaret and Townsend decided not to marry.

One of the first personal crises of the queen's reign took place soon after the coronation when news broke that her sister Princess Margaret was in love with ex-World War II flying ace Group Capt. Peter Townsend, a divorced man who was one of her father's former equerries. The queen wished her sister to be happy, but her government was against the marriage, too soon after the abdication of Edward VIII over his wish to marry a divorced woman. In October 1955, Margaret, under pressure from the church and a threat to her status as a royal princess, issued a statement declaring she would not marry Townsend. It was a blow painful for both sisters. Here, the couple are seen in 1947 during a royal tour of South Africa. Townsend died in 1995 at age 80.

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1957: First televised Christmas speech

Like her father before her, the queen delivered a speech to the nation every Christmas, one of the only times she spoke her own words without government scrutiny. Her first televised Christmas speech was in 1957. (Before that, her speeches were broadcast on the radio.)

"I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct," she told her audience.

1957: Queen meets President Eisenhower

Though Princess Elizabeth met President Harry S. Truman in 1951, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first American leader she met as queen. She welcomed Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie Eisenhower, for a dinner in their honor at the British Embassy in Washington.

The queen went on to meet 12 more U.S. presidents, including John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and, most recently, Joe Biden.

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1973: Queen's only daughter gets married

The first of the queen's children to marry was her only daughter, Princess Anne, who married her first husband, Capt. Mark Phillips, on Nov. 14, 1973, at Westminster Abbey. The couple had two children, Zara Tindall and Peter Phillips. They divorced in 1992. Princess Anne, now Princess Royal, who remarried in 1992 to Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, now is grandmother to five children.

1981: The wedding of the century

It was the wedding everyone waited for – the marriage of Elizabeth's son and heir, Prince Charles, to Lady Diana Spencer in St Paul's Cathedral on July 29. A year later, on June 21, 1982, a new heir to the throne, Prince William, was born. His brother, Prince Harry, was born on Sept. 15, 1984.

After years of scandals and recriminations, Charles and Diana divorced in August 1996, under orders from the queen. In 2005, Charles married his longtime mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Queen Consort

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1992: The 'annus horribilis'

In a woebegone speech (while suffering from a cold), the queen quoted one of her correspondents as saying 1992 was her "annus horribilis," the most painful year of her life.  First, three of her children's marriages collapsed, accompanied by tabloid headlines.

On Nov. 20, 1992, the queen's beloved Windsor Castle burned for 15 hours, and 100 rooms were damaged or destroyed. It led to two major changes: The queen and Prince Charles announced they would begin paying taxes, and Elizabeth opened parts of Buckingham Palace to the public the following year to help defray some of the taxpayers' costs to repair Windsor Castle.

1997: Princess Diana dies

Diana and her beau, Dodi Fayed, died in a car crash in a tunnel in Paris while racing to evade paparazzi. Later inquiries found the driver was drunk and no one in the car was wearing a seat belt except the sole survivor, a security guard.

The queen rarely addressed the nation outside of her annual Christmas speech, but Diana's death was one of the few times she did so, under tremendous pressure from the public and the press to show more feeling publicly about the tragedy. A few days before Diana's moving funeral in Westminster Abbey, Elizabeth gave a five-minute televised tribute to the late princess, with whom she had a fraught relationship.

2002: Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother die

Queen Elizabeth's only sibling, Princess Margaret, died in her sleep at age 71 in February 2002 after suffering a stroke the day before. Divorced from her husband, Lord Snowdon, she was the mother of two children, David Viscount Linley and Lady Sarah Chatto, both of whom were close to their aunt the queen.

Contrary to usual royal custom, Princess Margaret was cremated and interred with her father in the King George VI Memorial Chapel in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

A month after her sister's death, Buckingham Palace announced the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother at age 101. The palace released a statement on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II that read: "The Queen, with the greatest sadness, has asked for the following announcement to be made immediately. Her beloved mother, Queen Elizabeth, died peacefully in her sleep this afternoon, at Royal Lodge, Windsor." She, too, was laid to rest in the memorial chapel named for her husband.

2015: Longest-reigning British monarch

On Sept. 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning British monarch. As 41st monarch since 1066, she surpassed her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria for the longest run in the country's history – just over 63 years and six months. Elizabeth marked the day by carrying on with her daily royal duties – business as usual.

2019: Prince Andrew steps back from royal duties

After the fallout from Prince Andrew's past friendship with American sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the Duke of York, the queen's second son, announced he was stepping away from his royal duties.

Two years later, Andrew was sued in federal court in New York and accused of sex crimes, including being a knowing beneficiary of the alleged sex trafficking of a teen girl by Epstein. Andrew, 62, has vehemently denied all the accusations, and Buckingham Palace has backed him up in emphatic statements.

More: Prince Andrew could face U.S. trial next fall for sexual assault civil suit, judge rules

2020: Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan quit royal duties

In a shocking, unprecedented move, Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of Sussex announced they were stepping down from their senior royal roles and moving to North America. Later, they cited the “toxic” British media as a reason for doing so.

Bitter recriminations followed. Harry and Meghan ended up moving to California, where they began their new lives in Santa Barbara County. The couple have since signed production deals with Netflix and Spotify and welcomed a second child.

Then, in an interview in March 2021  with Oprah Winfrey, Harry and Meghan shocked again with more details about why they left, suggesting racism in the royal family and indifference to Meghan's pleas for mental health support.

More recriminations and counterallegations followed as relations between the Sussexes and the rest of Harry's family, including his father and brother, deteriorated.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex arrive to attend the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9, 2020.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex arrive to attend the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9, 2020.

2020: Queen addresses nation on COVID-19

Amid shutdowns and anxiety over the spread of the coronavirus in Britain and around the world,  Elizabeth addressed the nation in a "rare and historic" move, calling on the U.K. to rise to the challenge of the pandemic. The queen acknowledged the daunting trials brought by the crisis, seeking to lift spirits and offer hope to the country in its hour of need.

Queen Elizabeth II appears on a screen via videolink from Windsor Castle, during a virtual audience at Buckingham Palace, London, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.
Queen Elizabeth II appears on a screen via videolink from Windsor Castle, during a virtual audience at Buckingham Palace, London, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.

2021: Prince Philip dies

The Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth's husband and Britain's oldest and longest-serving royal spouse in 10 centuries, died April 9 at 99 years old, just short of his 100th birthday. Married to the queen for more than 70 years, Philip was a steady presence behind her at thousands of public events, as familiar to the British people as the queen, if not always as beloved.

More: Queen Elizabeth II speaks publicly about late husband Prince Philip at Scottish Parliament

His death was a personal loss to the monarch and to his family, and a substantial one: Most British historians and commentators believe Philip was one of the keys to the queen's enduring  success as a monarch. The queen herself famously described him as her "strength and stay."

2022: Queen Elizabeth II dies 'peacefully'

"The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon," the palace tweeted. "The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow."

Queen Elizabeth II died with her family by her side.

A fleet of cars carrying Prince William, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, arrived at Balmoral Castle about an hour after their plane landed in Aberdeen, Scotland.

King Charles, along with his wife, Queen Consort Camilla, and sister, Princess Anne, arrived earlier that day.

Prince Harry, who was due to appear at a charity awards ceremony in London later Thursday, canceled that appearance and was making his way to Scotland separately.

Contributing: Maria Puente, Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY; Christine Rushton, Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Queen Elizabeth dead: A timeline of pivotal moments during her life