- Queen Elizabeth II was the first child of Prince Albert, Duke of York.
- Her Majesty’s father was unexpectedly named King in 1937, taking the name George VI.
- Knowing Elizabeth would one day be Queen, he began preparing her for the role at an early age, creating a special bond between them.
In February 1952, King George VI of England died of lung cancer, leaving his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, to rule in his stead. Elizabeth was just 25 years old when she became Queen Elizabeth II. But thanks to her close relationship with her father, she was prepared.
Fast forward, on September 8, the British royal family announced Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96. In honor of her historic 70 year reign, discover how she followed in the steps of her father to lead the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth nations.
King George VI called Elizabeth his “pride.”
Ten years before he would take the throne, George VI (then known as Prince Albert, Duke of York) and his wife, Elizabeth, Duchess of York, welcomed their first child: a daughter who they named Elizabeth Alexandra Mary.
When Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926, it was widely believed that her father would never rule the country, as his older brother, Edward, was set to inherit the title of King. So for the first 10 years of young Elizabeth‘s life, the family led a relatively quiet existence.
The Duchess of York gave birth to her and Albert’s second child, Margaret, in 1930, and the family of four split their time between two royal homes — one in London, and one on the grounds of Windsor Great Park — where Elizabeth and her sister were privately tutored.
Although the Duchess (who later became known as The Queen Mother) and Queen Mary (Albert’s mother) are credited for much of Elizabeth and Margaret’s education and upbringing, Albert reportedly also adored his two girls from the very beginning. While Margaret was a bit more rambunctious, young Elizabeth — who was called “Lilibet” by those closest to her — was well-behaved and serious beyond her years. For this reason, Albert was said to have called Elizabeth his “pride,” and Margaret his “joy.”
Elizabeth’s father began preparing her to be Queen early.
Of course, Albert did eventually come to rule the country: His older brother, Edward VIII, became King of the United Kingdom in 1936 after the death of their father, King George V, but he abdicated the throne later that year in order to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson.
In the wake of his brother’s abdication, Albert took on the role of monarch, becoming King George VI in an official coronation ceremony on May 12, 1937. Elizabeth was just 11 years old at the time, but George immediately recognized what his new role meant for his young daughter: she would one day succeed him as Queen.
With this in mind, the new King of the United Kingdom reportedly asked his eldest daughter to write an account of his coronation, so that she might one day feel more prepared for her own. Elizabeth did as she was told, and her love for her father shone through in her words: She wrote that her Papa, as she called him, looked “very beautiful” that day, and she saw a “haze of wonder” throughout Westminster Abbey as her father was crowned, according to Vanity Fair.
George VI began entrusting Elizabeth with royal duties.
As George settled into his new role as King, he began assigning some royal responsibilities to his eldest daughter. When she was just 14, Elizabeth gave a now-famous radio broadcast to British children who had been evacuated from their homes due to World War II. As soon as she was eligible, she joined the war efforts as a mechanic in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, and in 1942, George made Elizabeth an honorary colonel in the Royal Army’s 500 Grenadier Guards.
Perhaps the ultimate sign of his trust, however, was the responsibility King George VI granted Elizabeth after she turned 18: While he was away on a tour of the Italian battlefields, she was named a “counselor of state,” which allowed her to represent the U.K. when her father was abroad and unable to do so.
Elizabeth’s father was saddened by “losing” her to Philip.
Eventually, with her father’s blessing, Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten (later known as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) in a November 1947 wedding. Following the event, King George VI wrote his eldest daughter a letter reminiscing on the day — and this single piece of correspondence might be the strongest evidence of their remarkably close relationship.
According to an emotional video released by the royal family in 2015, George’s never-before-seen letter read as follows:
I was so proud and thrilled at having you so close to me on our long walk in Westminster Abbey. But when I handed your hand to the Archbishop, I felt I had lost something very precious. You were so calm and composed during the service and said your words with such conviction that I knew everything was alright. I have watched you grow up all these years with pride under the skillful direction of Mummy, who, as you know, is the most marvelous person in the world in my eyes, and I can, I know, always count on you, and now Philip, to help us in our work. Your leaving us has left a great blank in our lives. But do remember that your old home is still yours and do come back to it as much and as often as possible. I can see that you are sublimely happy with Philip, which is right, but don’t forget us, is the wish of your ever loving and devoted … Papa.
Elizabeth reacted stoically to her father’s death.
On February 6, 1952, 25-year-old Elizabeth got word of her father’s death while on a Commonwealth tour of Kenya.
According to Robert Lacy, author of The Queen: A Life in Brief, the young royal was remarkably stoic upon hearing the news of George’s passing, dutifully writing letters to apologize for the cancelation of the rest of her tour before packing up her belongings and returning to England.
At the time, her official proclamation of herself as Queen was one of few signs of her heartbreak: “My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than I shall always work, as my father did throughout his reign, to advance the happiness and prosperity of my peoples,” Elizabeth said during an Accession Council at St. James’s Palace.
Throughout her reign, Elizabeth’s love for her father remained clear in her refusal to celebrate the anniversary of her first day as Queen. In 2015, she surpassed Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch in British history — but in response to the congratulations she received, Elizabeth called attention to the great loss that led to her lengthy term. The record “was not one to which I have ever aspired,” she said.
Heather Finn is the content strategy editor at Good Housekeeping, where she heads up the brand’s social media strategy and covers entertainment news on everything from ABC’s ‘The Good Doctor’ to Netflix’s latest true crime documentaries.