Queen Elizabeth II: 50+ facts about her life and reign
Everything you need to know about Queen Elizabeth II's life and reign – from facts about her coronation and jubilees to her reign in numbers...
Elizabeth II (1926–2022) became queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on 6 February 1952 following the death of her father, King George VI (1895–1952). Known for her efforts to modernise the institution of monarchy – and for her love of corgis – she celebrated her Platinum Jubilee in 2022 and was the second-longest reigning monarch in history when she died on 8 September 2022. She is succeeded by King Charles III.
Here, we bring you 50+ numbers that define the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II…
25,569 days | The length of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign on her Platinum Jubilee
On the morning of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee earlier this year, marking 70 years since her accession to the throne on 6 February 1952, Elizabeth II had reigned for 25,569 days – a constant steward over decades of remarkable social change. This made her the longest-reigning monarch in British history.
95 years old | The Queen’s age on her Platinum Jubilee
Not only was Elizabeth II the longest-reigning British monarch, she was also the longest-lived sovereign that Britain has ever had.
63 years and 7 months | The time it took to overtake her great-great grandmother
The length of time Elizabeth II reigned before overtaking Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch in the United Kingdom – a milestone Elizabeth passed on 9 September 2015.
- In pictures | Queen Elizabeth II through the decades
Facts about Elizabeth II’s early life
2.40am | The moment, on 21 April 1926, that Princess Elizabeth was born
Princess Elizabeth was born to Prince Albert, Duke of York (who would take the regnal name George VI on his accession) and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, delivered by caesarean section. She entered the world in a townhouse belonging to her maternal grandparents at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair.
“She was called Elizabeth Alexandra Mary after her mother, great-grandmother and grandmother – after consorts, not queens regnant,” writes royal historian Kate Williams. “The princess was destined for a good marriage and little more.”
- Read more | The real history behind The Crown
Third | Elizabeth’s place in the line of succession at birth (and she wasn’t expected to rule)
Elizabeth was born during the reign of her grandfather, George V. Her father, the Duke of York was himself a second son, whose elder brother Edward, Prince of Wales was ahead of them both. It was reasonably expected that Edward would have children of his own, who would supplant them in the succession, so there was little likelihood of Elizabeth ever coming to the throne.
That changed in 1936, when Edward (by then reigning as Edward VIII) abdicated in favour of marrying divorcee Wallis Simpson. His decision thrust the Duke of York to the throne, and made Elizabeth heir presumptive.
8 | The age at which Elizabeth met her future husband, Prince Philip
It was 1934, at the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (Philip’s cousin) and Prince George, Duke of Kent (Elizabeth’s uncle). It was five years later, though, when they met again at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth they began exchanging letters.
10 | Elizabeth’s age when she learned of her uncle's abdication
“On 10 December 1936, 10-year-old Elizabeth was about to write up her notes from her swimming lesson when she heard chants of ‘God Save the King’ outside,” writes Kate Williams. “She asked a footman what had happened and he told her that her uncle had abdicated and her father was king.”
14 | The age at which Elizabeth delivered her first radio broadcast
It was on 13 October 1940 on the BBC’s Children’s Hour, during which the princess addressed children who had been evacuated from Britain to America, Canada and elsewhere during WW2 owing to the Blitz.
“We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers, and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war,” she told them. “We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well.”
18 | Elizabeth’s age when she insisted upon joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) during the Second World War
During her time with the ATS, Elizabeth took a training course in driving and vehicle maintenance at the major garrison of Aldershot, qualifying just as the war ended.
“Elizabeth’s attendance was somewhat circumscribed – she was driven home to Windsor Castle every night and was taken to the officers’ mess for meals – but it was at least an opportunity to test herself against less privileged contemporaries for the first time in her life,” writes the author Stephen Bates. “More importantly, the pictures of her fiddling with an engine and the newsreel of her driving a truck showed her doing her bit.”
Facts about Elizabeth II’s family and residences
73 years | The length of the Queen’s marriage to Prince Philip
“He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.” This was how Elizabeth II described Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921–2021), on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary in 1997.
They had met as children, but it wasn’t until that second meeting in 1939 that the 13-year-old Elizabeth and 18-year-old Philip began exchanging letters. Philip would be invited to Windsor for Christmas in 1943, and this was perhaps when their courtship seriously began.
As the longest serving male consort in British history – the length of their marriage surpassed the next closest, that of George III and Queen Charlotte by more than 16 years – Philip witnessed Britain transform beyond recognition during his lifetime. One of those changes was a very personal one: his position as a husband.
At their wedding in 1947, Princess Elizabeth vowed to love, cherish and obey Philip. “The use of the word “obey” by the future monarch raised some eyebrows at the time,” writes Alwyn Turner, “though the respective ranks of the couple were spelled out at the Queen’s coronation in 1953, when Philip knelt before his wife and swore ‘to become your liege man of life and limb’.” The sight sparked a frisson around the country, though it was, notes Turner, one of the many ways Prince Philip’s life “reflected wider changes that were happening in the 20th century”.
But there were other obstacles too, not least that how Philip – born Greece, identifying as Danish, and with German heritage – might be accepted in postwar Britain.
One sibling | Princess Margaret
Princess Margaret Rose Windsor (1930–2002), Countess of Snowdon and the younger sister of Elizabeth II, was arguably one of the most popular royals in modern history. “Margaret was stereotyped as the classic naughty younger sister from the very beginning,” writes historian and presenter Dominic Sandbrook. “The camera always loved her, and visitors often commented on her spiky personality,” leading to allegations that some of her staff nicknamed her ‘Her Rude Highness’.
Her party girl lifestyle saw her become a newspaper darling whose high-profile relationships: from her first notable romance with her father’s equerry, Group Captain Peter Townsend (whom she could have married had she given up her royal status and all that came with it), an intense marriage to photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (“At first glance… a fairy-tale,” writes the biographer Anne de Courcy) and on to a series of love affairs with younger men.
Four children | Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward
Her eldest child is Charles, born 1948, who in April 2011 earned the accolade of the longest serving heir apparent in British history. For the duration of his time as heir, he was styled as the Prince of Wales – a tradition, notes the historian and royal commentator Carolyn Harris, that began after Edward I’s conquest of Wales.
Charles was followed by a younger sister, Princess Anne, in 1950, who, Dr Ed Owens writes for HistoryExtra, was “cast in the role of energetic and fun-loving playmate to her quieter and shyer brother”.
Two more sons were born in the next decade: Prince Andrew, Duke of York in 1960, and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex in 1964.
Eight grandchildren | Peter, Zara, William, Harry, Beatrice, Eugenie, Louise and James
The Queen has two grandchildren by each of her four children. Her oldest is Peter Philips (b1977), son of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Philips; the couple also had a daughter Zara, in 1981.
Princess Diana, who married Charles in 1981, gave birth to Princes William, Duke of Cambridge in 1982 and Harry, Duke of Sussex in 1984. Princess Beatrice (b1988) and Eugenie (b1990) were born to Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.
The Queen’s youngest grandchildren are the issue of the Earl of Wessex and his wife Sophie Rhys-Jones: they are Louise (b2003) and James (b2007).
Of the great-grandchildren, the most familiar to the public are children of Princes William and Harry. Prince William’s children with Kate Middleton – Prince George (b2013), Princess Charlotte (b2015) and Prince Louis (b2018) – are third, fourth and fifth in the line of succession.
Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have two children: Archie (b2019) and Lilibet (b2021).
6 royal residences | Where Elizabeth II spent most of her time
- Buckingham Palace | This was Elizabeth II's official London residence, as it has been for all British sovereign since 1837. It also serves as the administrative headquarters of the monarch.
- Windsor Castle | The oldest occupied castle in the world, and where the Queen spent many of her private weekends. William the Conqueror chose the site for the castle, in the wake of the Norman Conquest.
- Balmoral Castle | This was the Queen’s private Scottish estate, a majestic property located by the river Dee in Aberdeenshire. Elizabeth II spent the summer here each year.
- Sandringham House | This was Elizabeth II’s private country home in Norfolk, where the Royal Family spends Christmas.
- Holyrood Palace | The principal royal residence in Scotland, based in Edinburgh. During her life, the Queen normally spent one week here at the end of June or beginning of July.
- Hillsborough Castle | This was the Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland, and also the official residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Facts about Elizabeth II’s wedding
134 days | The length of Elizabeth and Philip’s engagement
Their engagement was announced on 9 July 1947, and they married in Westminster Abbey on 20 November 1947.
200 extra ration coupons | Given to Elizabeth by the British Government towards the material for her wedding dress
She was also sent coupons by British women, but Elizabeth had to return them as it was illegal for them to be shared in the first place.
10,000 pearls | On her wedding gown, imported from the US
The designer, Norman Hartnell, described it as “the most beautiful dress I had so far made”.
9ft | The height of the four-tier wedding cake
The ingredients for the 500lb fruit cake were donated by Australia and South Africa, leading to it being nicknamed the ‘10,000-mile cake’. It was large enough for 2,000 guests to have a slice.
£500 | The price fetched at auction by a single slice of the cake in 2015
It was sold by an unnamed woman whose father was at the wedding, was still in its original wrapping, and was deemed to be still edible due to its high alcohol content.
500 crates | Of tinned pineapple sent as a gift
Not just 500 tins, 500 crates of tins. This unusual wedding gift was sent by the government of the Australian state of Queensland, as food rationing was still in effect in Britain at the time.
Facts about Elizabeth II’s accession and coronation
25 | Elizabeth’s age was when she assumed the throne
The princess was on vacation with Prince Philip at Sagana Lodge in Kenya when news of King George VI’s death in 1952 reached the couple. Prince Philip was the person to break the news to her.
8,251 guests | Invited to Elizabeth II’s coronation at Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953
An additional 27 million people in the UK watched the almost-three-hour ceremony on television, with only the anointing and communion not broadcast to the wider world.
- Read more | Becoming Queen: Elizabeth II’s coronation
Sixth | Queen to have been crowned in Westminster Abbey in her own right
Facts about Elizabeth II’s reign
15 British prime ministers
There were 15 incumbents in 10 Downing Street during Elizabeth II's reign. The prime minister typically had weekly meetings with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, a tradition beginning with Winston Churchill.
“[Many of these] enjoyed their weekly meetings, laughed a lot, and bonded over a shared interest in horses and racing,” writes the author Francis Beckett. The same can’t be said for all of her prime ministers: the Queen was allegedly "correct but cool" with Edward Heath; was “anxious at the human cost of Thatcherism”; and declined the offer to call Blair 'Tony'.
These prime ministers, in order, were:
- Winston Churchill (1951–55)
- Anthony Eden (1955–57)
- Harold Macmillan (1957–63)
- Alec Douglas-Home (1963–64)
- Harold Wilson (1964–70 and 1974–76)
- Edward Heath (1970–74)
- James Callaghan (1976–79)
- Margaret Thatcher (1979–90
- John Major (1990–97)
- Tony Blair (1997–2007)
- Gordon Brown (2007–10)
- David Cameron (2010–16)
- Theresa May (2016–19)
- Boris Johnson (2019–2022)
- Liz Truss (2022–)
14 US presidents
Fourteen US presidents have occupied the Oval Office during the Queen’s reign.
The first was Harry Truman, whom Elizabeth met her first visit to the US in 1951, while she was still a princess; the most recent is current president Joe Biden, who visited Windsor Castle in 2021, but first met the queen in 1982, while he was a senator.
More like this
One US president the Queen never met | Lyndon B Johnson
The LBJ Presidential Library created a Twitter thread about this apparent anomaly in 2018.
“President Johnson and Queen Elizabeth corresponded from March 1964 to July 1967,” the post reads. “Nothing serious – congratulations on births, birthday wishes, and a condolence message after the death of [Winston] Churchill.
“Queen Elizabeth never sent an invitation to President Johnson to visit Great Britain. And, President Johnson never sent an invitation to the Queen to visit the United States.”
But another royal did visit Johnson – Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon attended a White House dinner in November 1965, an event heavily dramatised in The Crown.
There were seven Roman Catholic popes during the Queen’s reign: Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.
Two birthdays | One in April and one in June
Elizabeth II’s actual birthday was 21 April, but her official birthday was in June – usually on the second Saturday of the month, coinciding with Trooping the Colour, a ceremonial military parade.
The dual birthday is not unique to Elizabeth. The tradition began in 1748 with George II, whose real birthday was in November, a decidedly unreliable month in terms of fair weather for public celebrations. Likewise, Edward VII, who was also born in November, had an official birthday in the summer.
The Queen’s April birthday never went unmarked, however. It was acknowledged with gun salutes: one in Hyde Park or Green Park, another in Windsor Great Park, and a third at the Tower of London.
69 | Christmas broadcasts
This is one short of Elizabeth’s reign. The missing year was 1969, which saw the televised investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, and the release of fly-on-the-wall documentary Royal Family. “Half a century on, we are still debating whether or not it was a good idea,” writes journalist and author Sarah Gristwood of the rare glimpse behind royal walls.
The result was that the Queen decided to issue a written Christmas message for that year, promising a return to tradition in 1970 – and that hasn’t been broken since.
Quick numbers about the Queen's reign
- 600+ | The number of charities that the Queen is patron of across the UK and Commonwealth
- 45,000+ | Christmas cards sent during her reign (up to 2012)
- 175,000+ | Telegrams sent to centenarians in the UK and the Commonwealth (up to 2012)
10 minutes | The length of an alleged audience with an intruder
On 9 July 1982, painter and decorator Michael Fagan broke into Buckingham Palace and made his way to the Queen’s bedroom, in what was one of the biggest royal security breaches of the 20th century.
Initial reports that the Queen stalled Fagan in 10 minutes of conversation while waiting for security have been debunked by none other than Fagan himself. “Nah! She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor… Her nightie was one of those Liberty prints and it was down to her knees,” said Fagan in a 2012 interview with The Independent.
- Read more | Buckingham Palace intruder Michael Fagan: what happened and what did he say to the Queen?
1992 | The year of the Queen’s annus horribilis
The year 1992 spelled disaster for the Queen: a fire broke out in Windsor Castle, and the respective marriages of three of her children – Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne – broke down. The Queen deemed this her annus horribilis (horrible year).
- Read more | Why did Charles and Diana's marriage fail?
Six | Jubilees celebrated
Elizabeth II passed a number of regnal milestones: her Silver Jubilee (25 years) in 1977, her Ruby Jubilee (40 years) in 1992, her Golden Jubilee (50 years) in 2002, her Diamond Jubilee (60 years) in 2012, her Sapphire Jubilee (65 years) in 2017, and, most recently her Platinum Jubilee (70 years) in 2022.
The Sapphire and Platinum Jubilees were a first for any British monarch; Queen Victoria only reached her Golden Jubilee.
5,000+ | The estimated number of hats the Queen has worn
Some might have said that Elizabeth II’s hats were the crowning glory of her wardrobe, often dazzling colours and almost certainly matching the rest of her outfit. But this may have belied a more serious aspect of her wardrobe.
“Very few modern women wear a hat as part of their work uniform,” historian and biographer Robert Lacey told journalist Elizabeth Holmes for her book HRH: So Many Thoughts On Royal Style. “It’s a reminder that the Queen is indentured to a service, to a job.”
Facts about Elizabeth II and the Commonwealth
54 | Members of Commonwealth of Nations, of which Elizabeth II was the ceremonial head
Formerly known as the British Commonwealth, the Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of 54 nations, most of which were ruled by Britain at some point in history. All but two – Rwanda and Mozambique – were formerly part of the British empire.
The roots of the Commonwealth stretch back to the Balfour Declaration of 1926, which recognised the ‘Dominions’ (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa and the Irish Free State) as “autonomous communities within the British Empire”, but it was only the 1949 London Declaration, issued in the wake of Indian independence, that paved the way for the modern Commonwealth.
- In pictures | Queen Elizabeth II on tour
The Commonwealth is inextricably linked with Elizabeth II’s rule. “In the first dozen years of her reign, the empire all but disappeared, to the point that in 1965 the term ‘British empire’ had ceased commonly to be used,” writes British empire historian Ashley Jackson “With the emergence of a multiracial Commonwealth of independent nations sporting divergent interests, the Queen’s role became one of providing continuity during transformation.”
15 | Commonwealth Realms that count Elizabeth II as their head of state
At the time of her death, the Queen was head of state of 15 of the 54 Commonwealth nations, known as Commonwealth Realms. In addition to Britain, these were Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; the Bahamas; Belize; Canada; Grenada; Jamaica; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; the Solomon Islands; and Tuvalu.
Of the remainder, 34 of the Commonwealth nations are republics, while the remaining five have their own monarchies.
Zero | The number of times Elizabeth II has had to apply for a passport
This is because all passports are issued “in the name of Her Majesty”, which means she would be issuing one to herself. All other members of the Royal Family require one.
Zero | The number of times Elizabeth II has had to apply for a driving licence
As with her passport, it is for the same reason that the Queen does not need a driving licence.
116 | Countries visited
Despite not having a passport, Elizabeth II is perhaps the most widely travelled head of state in history, having visited at least 116 countries to date, many as part of duties as head of the Commonwealth.
Two | The number of Commonwealth nations the Queen has never been to
They are Rwanda and Cameroon.
265 | Official overseas visits carried out by Elizabeth II
By contrast, Queen Victoria ruled over 70 territories and was Empress of India, but she never left Europe.
Facts about Elizabeth II, her corgis and other animals
30+ | Corgis owned by the Queen during her reign
The Queen famously had a long-held fondness for corgis, established in her youth. She owned more than 30 during her reign; her first was Susan, who was given to her as a present on her 18th birthday.
1 | Dog breed ‘invented’ by the Queen
The royal household witnessed the birth of a new breed of dog: the ‘dorgi’. It was a hybrid that emerged when one of Elizabeth’s corgis mated with a with a dachshund named Pipkin belonging to Princess Margaret.
100+ | Racing horses owned today
Elizabeth II had a keen interest in horse riding, and breeding racehorses in particular. The hundreds she has owned over the decades are believed to have claimed more than 1,600 racing wins.
£6.75 million | Racing prize money
The Queen’s estimated lifetime winnings from horseracing.
100 | The percentage of unmarked swans in Britain owned by the Queen
Swans were once a prized food at banquets, and it was early as the 12th century that the Crown held a right to all unmarked mute swans that could be found on open water.
During her life, the Queen retained the right to claim ownership of any unmarked mute swan swimming in open waters, but this right was mainly exercised on certain stretches of the River Thames – and the swans were never eaten.
Subscribe to BBC History Magazine for £21.99 every 6 issues + receive a £10 M&S gift card (use online instore).
As a print subscriber you will also get FREE access to HistoryExtra.com worth £34.99