Historical events during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

During her historic 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II has been the head of state and has witnessed some of the most momentous events in modern world history, from the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy to the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the year that marks the Queen’s platinum jubilee, the first of its kind in the British monarchy’s millennial history, news week looks back on some of the most historic events that happened during her reign.

1953 coronation

Elizabeth II became Queen on February 6, 1952 after the death of her father, King George VI, occurred while she was in Kenya on a royal tour. She immediately returned to Great Britain, where she took up her new duties as Queen. However, she was not officially crowned for over a year.

Elizabeth’s coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953 and was attended by the crowned heads of Europe and a special delegation from the United States led by General George Marshall.

Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Jackie Kennedy
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place at Westminster Abbey (L) on 2 June 1953. And on May 15, 1965, she dedicated a memorial to US President John F. Kennedy in the presence of his widow Jackie Kennedy (R).
Hulton Archive/Getty Images/Keystone/Getty Images

1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy

The Queen met President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy at a reception at Buckingham Palace in June 1961. The Kennedys were on their way back to the United States from their visit to Paris and so a semi-formal dinner was given to them in their honor. This meeting was dramatized in season 2 of The crown.

When President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas in 1963, the Queen, along with other world leaders, offered his condolences to his widow. In May 1965, the Queen invited Jacqueline Kennedy to Britain to unveil the British National JFK Memorial in Runnymede. During her speech she said:

“The unprecedented intensity of this wave of grief mixed with something akin to despair that swept our people at the news of President Kennedy’s assassination was a measure of how much we recognized and how high what he had already accomplished Hopes that rode with him into a future that shouldn’t be.”

1966 Aberfan disaster

One of the greatest national tragedies experienced by the Queen during her reign occurred in the Welsh mining town of Aberfan in 1966. Heavy rain caused a landslide that engulfed a school building, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

The Queen reportedly initially declined requests to visit the disaster area immediately after the event, fearing her presence would divert attention from the ongoing rescue effort. Finally, eight days later, the Queen visited Aberfan and the families of those killed.

In a 2002 book, author Gyles Brandreth recounted a conversation with the Queen’s former private secretary, Martin Charteris, in which he said that the delay in visiting Aberfan was one of the Queen’s greatest regrets of her reign.

Queen Elizabeth II school disaster visit to Aberfan
Eight days after a landslide killed 116 schoolchildren on October 30, 1966, the Queen visited the Welsh town of Aberfan.
Ronald Dumont/Express/Getty Images

1969 Man walks on the moon

When Apollo 11 successfully landed a man on the moon for the first time in 1969, the Queen sent a message that said: “On behalf of the British people, I salute the skill and courage that brought man to the moon. May this endeavor increase the knowledge and well-being of mankind.”

1977 Silver Jubilee

The Queen celebrated her first milestone jubilee at 25 years on the throne in 1977. Street festivals, a river procession, thanksgiving services and a ride in the Gold State Coach were part of the celebrations watched by millions around the world.

1981 Charles and Diana married

The wedding of the Queen’s son, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana was watched by a global audience of 750 million people. The ceremony took place at St Paul’s Cathedral on July 29, 1981 and was followed by a balcony appearance at Buckingham Palace, where the new Princess made her first appearance as a member of the Royal Family.

1989 Fall of the Berlin Wall

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall dividing East Germany and West Germany was dismantled by protesters after five days of rallying against the oppressive division. The fall of the Berlin Wall, completed in 1991, meant the fall of the Iron Curtain and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In the spirit of reconciliation after the Second World War, the Queen visited the Federal Republic of Germany for the first time in 1965.

Queen Silver Jubilee Charles Diana Wedding Anniversary
Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 25th Silver Jubilee Jubilee on June 7, 1977 with a service of thanksgiving (R). The wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana (R) was watched by 750 million people on July 29, 1981.
Fox Photos/Getty Images/Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

1992 Annus Horribilis

In a speech delivered at London’s Guild Hall in November 1992 on the occasion of her 40th jubilee, the Queen said: ‘Nineteen ninety-two is not a year which I shall look back on with unalloyed joy. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it turned out to be ‘Annus Horribilis’.” – Latin for ‘terrible year’.

That sentiment was sparked by a wave of criticism that erupted against the royals following the split of Charles and Diana, the split of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson and the divorce of the Queen’s daughter Princess Anne. These events were distressing to the Queen, and her sadness was compounded when a severe fire broke out at Windsor Castle, destroying many of the semi-state dwellings.

1994 First visit to Russia

The Queen was invited to Russia for her first (and only) state visit in 1994 after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The visit was carefully planned so as not to cause offense on either side, as the Queen’s Russian cousins, Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra Fedorovna, were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

The visit followed a luncheon hosted by the Queen at Windsor Castle in 1989 for then-President Mikhail Gorbachev.

1997 Death of Diana

Princess Diana died in a tragic car accident on August 31, 1997 in the Pont de Alma tunnel in Paris after being pursued by paparazzi and driven by a speeding, drunk driver. The princess’ death sent shockwaves around the world. At the time, the Queen was staying at her Scottish retreat with Diana’s sons, Princes William and Harry, who were away on their summer holidays.

The Queen’s initial desire to keep her grieving grandchildren out of the public eye has drawn criticism. After five days, she made her way to London to be with the people and give a special speech before the planned funeral:

“I admired and respected her for her energy and commitment to others and especially her devotion to her two boys. This week in Balmoral we all tried to help William and Harry cope with the devastating loss they and the rest of us have suffered. No one who knew Diana will ever forget her. She will be remembered by millions of others who never met her but felt they knew her.”

Queen Elizabeth Annus Horribilis Princess Diana Death
The Queen described 1992 as her “annus horribilis” in a speech following a series of family problems and a fire at Windsor Castle (L). In 1997, the world watched as the Queen traveled to London following the death of Princess Diana (R) on September 6, 1997.
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images/John Shelley Collection/Avalon/Getty Images

2001 attacks of September 11, 2001

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the Queen paid her own special tribute to the Americans who live and work in Britain and to those personally affected by the attacks.

For the first time in her history, the Queen authorized the military band outside Buckingham Palace to play the American national anthem to the assembled crowd during the changing of the guard, before then attending a memorial to those killed and injured at St Paul’s Cathedral.

2002 Golden Jubilee

For the Queen, her Golden Jubilee, which celebrated 50 years on the throne, followed a period of personal sadness. In February 2002, her only sister, Princess Margaret, died after a long illness. Just a month later, her 101-year-old mother also died.

Despite these personal losses, the Queen embarked on a busy schedule of planned celebrations throughout the year, including tours abroad and domestic visits, with key events planned in London including a pop concert and pageant.

Queen Elizabeth Golden Jubilee London Olympia
Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her golden jubilee June 4, 2002 with a ride in the Gold State Coach (L). And the Queen followed her grandfather and father when she declared the London Olympics open on July 27, 2012.
Sion Touhig/Getty Images/Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

2011 First visit to the Republic of Ireland

The long and painful history of the British Crown in Ireland had prevented any monarch from visiting Ireland until it was agreed in 2011 that the time had come to change that.

The Queen paid a three-day visit to the country and paid many tributes to her hosts, including wearing the national color green and opening her State Dinner Speech in Gaelic.

London 2012 Olympic Games

The world’s attention turned to Britain in 2012 as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics took place throughout the summer. The Queen’s appearance in a video shown at the games opening ceremony with co-star James Bond was warmly received. In declaring events open, she followed her grandfather and father in royal tradition.

2020 COVID-19 Pandemic

The escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns across the UK in 2020 meant that the Queen sent only the fifth message to the nation in her 70-year reign. Although the Queen’s Christmas speech is an annual tradition, this type of broadcast was only performed on important occasions such as the start of the first Gulf War or the death of Princess Diana.

During her speech, the Queen made a unifying statement of reassurance, ending by saying:

“We should take comfort that, though we may have more to endure, better days will come: we will be with our friends again; we will be back with our families; We’ll meet again.”

For more royal news and commentary, check out Newsweek’s The Royal Report podcast:

https://www.newsweek.com/historic-events-queen-elizabeth-reign-platinum-jubilee-1711591 Historical events during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

Rick Schindler

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