30 Photos of a Young Queen Elizabeth Before She Ruled the United Kingdom
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was the United Kingdom's longest-reigning monarch, having ascended the throne in 1952 at age 25. Here are some snapshots of what her life was like before her coronation.
Editor’s note: Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, who sat on the throne for 70 years, has died at 96 years old. In a statement on Sept. 8, 2022, the Royal Family website writes, “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.” The Reader’s Digest team sends condolences to the royal family and all of Britain at this time as we honor her life and legacy.
1926: Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is born
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York was born on Apr. 21, 1926. She’s pictured here with her mother, Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, who was the wife of Prince Albert “Bertie” of York. Since Bertie was the second-born son of the reigning monarch, King George V, no one, and least of all the princess herself, had any clue Elizabeth would one day be queen. Here’s a detailed look at the royal family tree, by the way.
1927: Princess Elizabeth as a toddler
When Princess Elizabeth was learning to speak, she had trouble pronouncing her name, referring to herself as “Lilibet,” and the name stuck. Outgoing and plucky, Lilibet was one of the few people on the planet who wasn’t intimidated by the man she called “Grandpa England,” whom she led by his beard as if he were a horse, according to TIME. Here are some royal nicknames you may not have known about.
1927: Princess Elizabeth with Mom and Dad
The Duke and Duchess of York are seen with Princess Elizabeth just after their return from Australia. How cute is this royal baby? She looks just like a little Shirley Temple with that hair.
1932: The Royal Tournament
Arriving at the Royal Tournament in 1932, Princess Elizabeth was dressed like the proper princess she was, but she generally lived a quiet life outside the spotlight. Until the birth of her sister, Princess Margaret Ann, she played with the children of businessmen and doctors, as opposed to the children of royals. Here’s what to know about the relationship between the late queen and Princess Diana.
1933: The Little House
Elizabeth is photographed posing on the steps of Y Bwthn Bach (The Little House), the playhouse given to her by the people of Wales. (This playhouse is larger than many actual family homes.) This is the food that the late Queen Elizabeth ate every day since childhood.
Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret can be seen playing on the grounds of the model house on Margaret’s 6th birthday. Just a little sisterly love!
1936: Princess Elizabeth with two corgis
Pictured with two of her corgis in 1936, Princess Elizabeth likely has little awareness of the constitutional crisis brewing as a result of King Edward VIII’s romance with the still-married, once-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Simpson’s divorce, among other things, made her an inappropriate king’s “consort,” but Edward declared his intention to marry her and make her his queen. By the end of 1936, Edward would abdicate the throne after learning the British people wouldn’t be able to support their King’s marriage to a divorcee, leaving Elizabeth’s father, Bertie, as King (King George VI) and Elizabeth as the presumptive heir. One thing that never changed? Elizabeth’s love of corgis.
1937: The future Queen and her sister at play
It was around this time that Princess Elizabeth realized she was now the presumptive heir to the throne. (She could not be heir “apparent” because, theoretically, her father could still have fathered a son, who in the days of male primogeniture, would bump Elizabeth from the line of succession.) Elizabeth helped do away with male primogeniture.
1939: Elizabeth as a lover of animals
Elizabeth was one of the, if not the, most famous animal lover in the world. Here she’s seen feeding one of the elephants at the London Zoo. Later in life, Elizabeth received an elephant as a gift from the President of Cameroon, in 1972. This is why Queen Elizabeth had two birthdays each year.
The royal family is pictured hanging out at the Royal Lodge in Windsor with the royal dogs Ching, Carol and Crackers.
Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret are pictured during a rehearsal of Cinderella, the first Royal pantomime at Windsor Castle. Both princesses stand proudly in their costumes.
1943: Young Queen Elizabeth with one of her horses
Elizabeth started riding at age 3 and has owned many horses throughout her life. Here she is, at age 17, with one of her many horses during Harvest Time at Sandringham in Norfolk.
1944: Elizabeth turns 18
The 18th birthday of an heir (apparent or presumptive) signifies that the heir could become monarch at any time without the need for a regent to act on his/her behalf. Here, Elizabeth answers a telephone greeting on her 18th birthday, Apr. 21, 1944.
1945: A Princess does her military duty
It took a lot of cajoling, but eventually, Elizabeth got her father, King George VI, to agree to allow her to join the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II, for which she donned coveralls and trained as a mechanic and truck driver. According to history, the Queen was the only female royal family member to have entered the armed forces. She may have also been the only royal female who can change a spark plug.
1946: The Princess does her duty for fashion
The current Princesses of the United Kingdom are not the first to have been on almost constant style-watch. Here, Princess Elizabeth is pictured modeling what can only be described as a truly fabulous, fashion-forward hat. Find out why the Queen always wears bright colors.
1946: The Princess studying
Princess Elizabeth is working at her desk at Buckingham Palace. In July of 1946, Elizabeth was presented an Honorary Bachelor of Music degree from the University of London.
1947: Sisters posing
Elizabeth and her sister Margaret are pictured posing together at the Royal Lodge in Windsor on July 8, 1946.
1947: A future Queen’s promise
On Apr. 21, 1947, on the occasion of her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth announces her intention to serve as Queen for life (when the time comes) and promises her loyalty and faithfulness in serving.
1947: Wedding day
On Nov. 20, 1947, Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten were married at Westminster Abbey. To marry Elizabeth, Philip, who was born into the royal families of Greece and Denmark, had to renounce his birth titles (Prince of Greece and Denmark). In return, his father-in-law-to-be named him Duke of Edinburgh, Baron Greenwich and Earl of Merioneth. Here’s the real reason Prince Philip was never considered king.
Just a few days after the big royal wedding, Elizabeth and Philip are photographed on their honeymoon at Broadlands, Romsey, Hampshire, after they left the palace showered in rose petals.
1948: The pregnant Princess Elizabeth
During the summer of 1948, Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, are snapped arriving at Ballater Station en route to Balmoral for a family vacation (or “holiday,” as they say in England). At this time, Elizabeth is six months pregnant with her first child, who would grow up to become King Charles III.
1950: King Charles III
Princess Elizabeth and the future King Charles III are pictured watching a procession during the visit of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, from the wall of Clarence House in London.
1951: Princess Elizabeth and her baby daughter
Princess Anne is the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Born Her Royal Highness Princess Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise of Edinburgh on Aug. 15, 1950, Anne will later become Princess Royal, a title the monarch may bestow on his/her eldest daughter.
1951: Family photo
Princess Elizabeth is pictured here with her husband, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, along with their two oldest children, the future King Charles III and Princess Anne, at Clarence House in London.
1952: A last look at the Princess
On Feb. 2, 1952, Colonel Mervyn Cowie opens the visitors’ book for Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh to sign upon their arrival at Nairobi National Park for a tour, during which they slept in a hotel built as a treehouse. Philip is chatting in the background with Cowie’s daughter, Mitzie. Four days later, King George VI would be dead, and the Princess would ascend the throne as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Read more to discover why, on that trip, Elizabeth was one of the last to know she had become Queen.