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HISTORY

Why Queen Elizabeth II wasn't destined to rule, and how did she get there

Neither Queen Elizabeth II nor her father were destined to rule. Why they came into power was one of the Royal Family's biggest traumas.

England has had three iconic Queens with long-lasting rulings that have passed into history as true eras of development and growth. Curiously enough, none of them was destined to rule. Of course, we're talking about the great Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, and Britain's current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The three of them were born to be princesses and marry well, but it seemed that destiny saw the brilliance and wit in them that through some complex plot twists ended up sitting them in one of the most coveted thrones in the world.

Queen Elizabeth II is about to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee; that is 70 years of rule. She's the longest-reigning British monarch in history and the one that has kept the monarchy relevant even when it seemed people were over the Royal Family. But as we mentioned, it was not on her cards to take this role, not even in his father's. Why did they become monarchs, is one of the biggest scandals in modern history, and an episode that traumatized the Royal Family for decades.

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[From left to right: King George V, his sons David (King Edward VIII), Bertie (King George VI), and his father King Edward VII]

King George V's rule

To explain it, we have to go back in time to the early 20th century. The past century had been an era of development and urban growth that started during the reign of Queen Victoria. After her death, her eldest son has crowned King Edward II, his rule was known as the Edwardian era, which basically followed his mother's steps focusing on the industrialization of England. 

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This is where destiny started pulling some strings. Edward's firstborn and heir to the throne, Prince Albert Victor (which, by the way, was suspected to be no other than Jack the Ripper), died before his father of complications during the flu pandemic in 1892. His father would rule for eight more years after the loss of his eldest son. So, as the line of succession dictated when King Edward II passed in 1910, his second son, George became King of England.

King George V' ruled during a very convulsed time of changing politics and a war of a magnitude that the world hadn't seen before. Not only was he in charge when WWI outbroke, but he also saw the empires of his relatives, Tsar Nicholas II and Kaiser William II, fall under new political regimes like communism and fascism respectively. King George V was the one who renamed his family Windsor. His six children would be now named that way instead of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha; only one of them was prepared to become King.

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[Painting of King Edward VIII]

The short rule of King Edward VIII

From a very early age, David started making public appearances, often stealing the hearts of the people through his charismatic personality and good looks. David was very outgoing and seemed to fit perfectly with the profile of the monarch. Not only that, he was seen as a ray of light that gave them hope of a better country where the common people could grow and not only see how the aristocracy became richer and richer. 

In 1936, his father passed, and David was named king. But this wasn't precisely good news for the Royal Family. Before the death of his father, David had met Wallis Simpson, a good-looking American woman whose biggest sin was that she had divorced two times. The Royal Family was against the relationship and tried their best to separate the couple, but David was madly in love with Wallis and determined to marry her no matter the cost. Turns out, it would cost him his crown and a life in exile. 

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So, when he became King, he announced he intended to marry Wallis despite his family and Parliament's objection. The people, who loved him, were on his side and even would organize public demonstrations asking Parliament to let him marry whomever he wanted; at the end of the day, he was the King and he should be able to choose whom to marry. It didn't help, and David has put an ultimatum; he had to choose between the throne or the love of his life. He chose the latter.

[Coronation of King George VI. Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret at the center]

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A blessing and a curse

King Edward VIII, aka the hopelessly romantic David, abdicated the throne that same year in favor of his brother Albert (Bertie), who was crowned King George VI. Albert was nothing like his brother. An introvert, with a speech impairment, and more importantly a man who had prioritized private life throughout his life, was now the head of Britain. When he rose to power, he had already formed a family with his wife Mary Bowes-Lyon and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. None of them ever envisioned becoming the ruling Royal Family, and as such, none of them was prepared for the job.

Little by little, King George VI, took the reins of the country but destiny would play another trick. The unprepared King had to follow his father's steps and rule during war, WWII to be precise. Parliament advised him to leave the country with his family during the war to ensure the protection of their family, but he refused. Moreover, all the family was active in trying to help out during these difficult times. Elizabeth even trained and served as a driver and a mechanic for some months.

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The stress of war and that of being the head of the nation (not to mention his worrying smoking habits) took a toll on King George V's health which was notably starting to deteriorate. He was diagnosed with lung cancer, arteriosclerosis, and Buerger's disease (clotting of the arteries and veins of the hands and legs). Elizabeth, who had just married Prince Philip, was forced to take over most of her father's engagements. In 1952, Elizabeth and Philip said goodbye to the king to fill in for him in a long tour through Africa and Australia, it was the last time they saw him.

King George VI, died six days later on February, 6 at the age of 56. Elizabeth became Queen of England and the Commonwealth at only 23 years of age. Although she had had some preparation during the reign of her father, she wasn't well prepared to take over the Crown at such a young age, and she had to learn most things on the go. The family mourned the early death of Bertie, and for decades, they blamed David and Wallis for putting him in that stressful position. 

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Photos from Wikimedia Commons

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