Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II Dies at 96 After 70 Years as Monarch
She traveled the world extensively, including to multiple locations in the Middle East, though she never visited Israel
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who traveled the world extensively, including to multiple locations in the Middle East, has died. The queen, who served for 70 years as monarch and is the only British head of state that most of the world can remember, died on Thursday afternoon at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, at the age of 96.
Members of the royal family rushed to the queen’s residence at Balmoral on Thursday, as Buckingham Palace announced that doctors were concerned for the health of the British monarch and recommended that she remain under medical supervision. The palace announced on Thursday evening that the queen died “peacefully.”
Queen Elizabeth took the throne in 1952, following the death of her father, King George VI, and earlier this year celebrated her platinum jubilee to mark 70 years as ruler of the United Kingdom. In 2015, Queen Elizabeth became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, surpassing her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who ruled for 63 years.
Her final act as ruler was to invite new Prime Minister Liz Truss, whom she met at Balmoral on Tuesday, to form a government in her name.
Born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on April 21, 1926, she was never expected to take the throne, but that changed when her father succeeded his brother, Edward VIII, in 1936, following the latter’s abdication to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. As the eldest child of the monarch and without brothers to take precedence, Elizabeth became the heir apparent.
As head of state for the United Kingdom and more than a dozen Commonwealth countries, the queen traveled the world extensively, including to multiple locations in the Middle East, although she never visited Israel. Her late husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, made a private journey to Israel in 1994 to visit the grave of his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who is buried in Jerusalem.
Her son and heir to the throne, Prince Charles also made several visits to the country in a private capacity, including for the funerals of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and former Israeli President Shimon Peres. But it wasn’t until his son, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, arrived in June 2018 that a member of the British royal family made an official visit to Israel.
The queen’s most significant visit to the Middle East came in 1979, when she spent several weeks touring the region, visiting Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. She also made a journey to other countries in the region, including Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in 1980 and Jordan in 1984.
In 1961, she visited Iran, 18 years before the Islamic Revolution that saw the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Curiously, it was a snafu involving the queen in 1953 that helped the shah’s return to power in Iran as part of a US plan to topple the democratic government there.
A message urging the shah to remain in Iran was reported to have been sent by Queen Elizabeth herself, but ultimately turned out to have been sent by the British foreign secretary from a vessel bearing the monarch’s name. Nonetheless, believing it to have come from a fellow ruler, the shah remained in Tehran and was back in power soon afterward.
A renowned horse and dog lover, the queen was rarely seen at home without her beloved corgis at her feet and was a frequent visitor to the horse races. She passed this fondness for all things equestrian on to her daughter Princess Anne, who competed at the 1976 Olympics in Toronto riding her mother’s own horse.
The queen’s dedication to protocol famously never deviated, although an often-repeated tale of an encounter with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah showed that she had her own unspoken ways of making a point.
According to former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, who also served as envoy to Israel, the queen related to him that she had taken the de facto Saudi monarch, whose country at the time banned women from driving, on a white-knuckle tour of the Balmoral estate in 1998, with her at the wheel.
The queen, who honed her driving skills during war-time service in the British Army, rattled her Land Rover along the narrow country roads at such speeds that the terrified Saudi prince begged her to slow down. The incident was recounted by Cowper-Coles in his 2012 memoir, in which he wrote: “Through his interpreter, the crown prince implored the queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.” The queen apparently spent the entire drive chatting merrily as the prince likely held on for dear life.
Queen Elizabeth II was succeeded as monarch by her eldest son, Charles, who automatically ascended to the throne upon her death.
She is survived by her four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.