Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s Longest-Serving Monarch, Has Died

She lived to swear in her 15th Prime Minister just this week.

Queen Elizabeth II Stefan Wermuth/WPA/Getty

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Queen Elizabeth II, the world’s longest reigning monarch in over three centuries, who lived to swear in her 15th Prime Minister just this week, has died aged 96. 

Elizabeth’s seven-decade reign, recently fêted during her Platinum Jubilee, began and ended during times of crisis across the British Isles. Upon ascension in 1952, aged 25, the British Empire was reeling from the world war and continuing its descent into twilight, across a map redrawn by new alliances and emerging powers. Meanwhile, post-war Britain was an economically and emotionally exhausted bomb-site, with the monumental task of reconstruction ahead. Recently, the fiasco of Brexit with its accompanying economic and social strife has imperiled Britain’s leadership in the community of nations it once helped to restore.

The sheer amount of history she viewed from the throne was staggering: Wars, violent territorial crises, hand-overs, more disastrous wars, and the petty (and not so petty), tribulations of Westminster. These twists and turns were matched by the unparalleled place she occupied, for better and worse, in the global imagination. The domestic dramas of her exceptionally dysfunctional family—by turns operatic, outrageous, sad, or downright creepy—sold tabloids, inspired an internationally popular mini-series among an inordinate number of franchises, and kept the entire Windsor enterprise afloat and center stage in British life.

Through it all, the Queen’s signal brand, as marketed by the palace and the Royal machine, was dignified grit, at a royal remove. Dry and dutiful, accompanied by her loyal (and gaffe-prone) consort Prince Philip and beloved corgis, she kept the whole thing together, they say, a singular figure across most of the past century, showing up, day in day out, to perform the functions of a ceremonial monarchy.

Now, Prince Charles, her 73-year-old eldest son and heir, will be king, and the remaining nations of the Commonwealth will no doubt have a new opportunity to reevaluate their lingering and costly relationship to a distant king, sitting on a throne on a distant island that feels more globally and culturally isolated than at any time in recent memory.

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