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Queen Elizabeth II died on September 9 after a 70-year reign on the throne. She will be remembered as the longest-serving monarch in British royal history — but it was never supposed to be that way. When she was born in 1926, it was highly unlikely that the then-Princess Elizabeth would ever be Queen. But everything changed when she was 10 years old after her uncle chose love over country.

Queen Elizabeth II attends a service for the Order of the British Empire at St Paul's Cathedral on March 7, 2012 in London, England
Queen Elizabeth II in 2012 | Geoff Pugh – WPA Pool /Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth was third in line to the throne when she was born

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor — affectionately known as Lilibet — was born on April 21, 1926, at her grandfather’s house in Mayfair. She was the first child of Prince Albert, Duke of York, and the Duchess of York, nee Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. And at the time, she was third in line to the throne.

Prince Albert was the second son of King George V, and his older brother Prince Edward was the heir presumptive. The expectation at the time was that Elizabeth’s uncle Edward — who was quite young — would one day marry and have children who would precede her in the line of succession. 

Simply put, Elizabeth enjoyed a happy child with her younger sister Margaret, with no inclination that she would ever be queen. She was educated at home by tutors, was close to her family, and spent her free time playing on the grounds of the various royal estates. 

“That was quite unusual in royal or even aristocratic circles at the time,” royal author and historian Sarah Gristwood said, per Newsweek. “It forged the Queen and gave her a lot of her strength to a certain degree. The downside of that was the girls were given the education of nice young ladies – ie not much of an education at all.”

The Princess was never supposed to be Queen

When her grandfather George V died in January 1936 and her uncle Edward was proclaimed king, a series of events changed 10-year-old Elizabeth’s fate forever.

Prince Edward officially became King Edward VIII after his father’s death — but there was a problem. He had fallen in love with an American divorcée named Wallis Simpson. And royal rules and protocol wouldn’t allow him to marry an American, much less a woman who had been divorced. 

So, on December 11, 1936, King Edward officially abdicated the throne — choosing love over service to country — and Elizabeth’s father Albert suddenly became King George VI.  Instead of her uncle being on the throne and having children that would jump in front of her in the line of succession, Elizabeth was now the heir. 

“Her father wasn’t meant to be King and Elizabeth wasn’t meant to be the heir,” Gristwood reiterated. “The abdication was a huge shock to the system for the entire Royal Family.”

Queen Elizabeth was in a treehouse in Kenya when she became queen

This major, unexpected change meant that Elizabeth had to give up her carefree princess life, move to Buckingham Palace, and prepare for her future role as queen. And, that role came much faster than anyone expected.

Fifteen years later — on February 6, 1952, when she was just 25 — Elizabeth became queen while she was on a royal tour in Africa. Her father, King George VI, passed away in his sleep at the age of 56 after failing to recover from a lung operation. Her Majesty was perched in a treehouse watching a herd of elephants when she received the news.


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“It is a day that, even after 70 years, I still remember as much for the death of my father, King George VI, as for the start of my reign,” Queen Elizabeth wrote in an anniversary statement in February.

Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral will take place on Monday, September 19.