Queen Elizabeth II was Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and one of the few female sovereigns in England and Scotland over the past thousand years.
Some were among the nations’ greatest figures. Others were little-known, controversial or disputed.
– Queens of England –
King Henry I’s daughter and declared heir was a disputed monarch during the reign of her cousin, king Stephen.
Empress Matilda invaded from Normandy, controlled southwest England and captured Stephen but was never crowned.
The clergy switched sides from Stephen and declared her “Lady of the English”.
Londoners revolted shortly before her planned coronation and it never took place. Her eldest son succeeded Stephen as king Henry II.
Lady Jane Grey was England’s de facto monarch for nine days in July 1553. Again, she was never crowned and her reign was disputed.
She was a Protestant and cousin of the late king Edward VI. He named her his successor.
She was proclaimed queen but, sensing growing support for Edward’s Catholic half-sister Mary, the monarch’s privy council changed sides. Jane was executed on February 12, 1554, aged 16.
Mary I (1553-1558)
Nicknamed “Bloody Mary” by her Protestant opponents, Mary sought vigorously to reverse the anti-Catholic Reformation of her father, king Henry VIII, who had broken with the Vatican.
England’s first undisputed queen regnant married king Philip II of Spain.
She had more than 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake. Many rich Protestants sought exile.
The childless Mary was forced to accept her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth as her successor.
Elizabeth I (1558-1603)
One of England’s greatest monarchs. The 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada, which followed her rousing speech “I have the heart and stomach of a king”, was one of England’s defining military victories.
Her 44-year reign provided stability and religious reform.
The Elizabethan era, when William Shakespeare began writing, was a golden age for literature and theatre. It was also a time of New World expansionism.
The “Virgin Queen” never married.
– Queens of Scotland –
The only surviving descendant of king Alexander III, the Norwegian princess became queen of Scots at the age of three but never set foot in the country.
Sailing to Scotland aged seven, she died of severe seasickness off the Orkney coast. Her body was returned to Bergen in Norway.
She had no obvious heir and the interregnum after her death saw England assert control.
Mary I (1542-1567)
Mary queen of Scots acceded at six days old and spent most of her youth in France, returning to Scotland aged 18 in 1561.
After she married the man acquitted of her second husband’s murder, an uprising forced her to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son, king James VI, in 1567.
She fled south, seeking her English cousin Elizabeth’s protection.
Perceived as a threat, she was confined in castles for 18 years and beheaded in 1587.
James VI was Elizabeth’s chosen successor, the first monarch to rule both England and Scotland, but as separate realms.
– Queens of England and Scotland –
Mary II (1689-1694)
Co-monarch with her Dutch husband, William of Orange, a first cousin.
Fearing Catholic succession, the Protestant couple deposed her Catholic father, king James, in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688.
The Bill of Rights outlining civil liberties was introduced a year later. It is still used today.
Mary acted alone when William was on military campaigns abroad, proving a firm and effective ruler.
She contracted smallpox and died aged 32, after which her husband reigned alone.
Mary’s sister Anne succeeded William. In 1707, England and Scotland merged into one kingdom — Great Britain.
The War of the Spanish Succession overshadowed most of her reign. Party politics became more defined under the Tory and Whig camps.
Architecture and furniture styles were named after her.
Plagued with ill health, she grew obese.
Despite 17 pregnancies, she had only five live births and none of her children survived to adulthood, leaving the distant Hanoverians next in line to the throne when she died aged 49.
– Queens of the United Kingdom –
Under Victoria’s lengthy reign, the British Empire reached its zenith in an age of industrial expansion and advancement in science, technology, trade and the arts.
Victora symbolised Britain’s imperial might. Queen at 18, she had nine children and became the “grandmother of Europe”. Many other royal houses descended from her line.
Widowed when prince Albert died in 1861, the empress of India spent the rest of her life in mourning.
Elizabeth II (1952-2022)
Elizabeth, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, became queen aged 25. She was a figure of constancy, overseeing decades in which Britain recovered from World War II, shed its empire and became a multi-cultural nation.
She modernised the monarchy and saw it come through the turmoil of princess Diana’s death, divorces and a huge fire at Windsor Castle.
As the age of deference ebbed, she retained public affection and respect through her dedication to duty.
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