The footprint of Queen Elizabeth II’s monarchy shrank dramatically, but at her death she was still head of state of the United Kingdom and 14 Commonwealth countries or realms, from Canada and Jamaica to Australia and New Zealand
Queen Elizabeth II’s reign encompassed to a large degree Britain’s declining global influence, from an empire that once bestrode the world to a middle-ranking economy.
During her time as queen, the footprint of her monarchy shrank dramatically, but at her death she was still head of state of the United Kingdom and 14 Commonwealth countries or realms, from Canada and Jamaica to Australia and New Zealand.
At her coronation in 1953, Elizabeth II was crowned queen of seven independent countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, which later changed its name to Sri Lanka.
The numbers grew as decolonisation accelerated and British colonies and dependencies became new Commonwealth realms.
Some decided to keep her as head of state, others did not.
Where she remained queen, the role was largely ceremonial, and her duties were carried out by one of her governor generals — a viceroy who effectively acts as head of state.
She was the queen of each newly independent country in its own right, not merely because she was the British monarch previously.
At her death, she was head of state of: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and the UK.
These countries are distinct from the broader 54-state Commonwealth of nations that have historical ties to the United Kingdom, but did not necessarily choose to have the queen as head of state.
Over her entire reign, she was head of state of 32 countries in total.
Seventeen of those decided to cut ties at some point after becoming independent. They were:
Barbados 1966-2021; Ceylon (Sri Lanka) 1952-1972; Fiji 1970-1987; The Gambia 1965-1970; Ghana 1957-1960; Guyana 1966-1970; Kenya 1963-1964; Malawi 1964-1966; Malta 1964-1974; Mauritius 1968-1992; Nigeria 1960-196; Pakistan 1952-1956; Sierra Leone 1961-1971; South Africa 1952-1961; Tanganyika 1961-1962; Trinidad and Tobago 1962-1976; Uganda 1962-1963.
At the peak, she was queen of 18 countries at the same time, between 1983 and 1987. Since then, Fiji (1987), Mauritius (1992) and Barbados (2021) have become republics.
When Rhodesia — Zimbabwe today — unilaterally declared its independence from Britain in 1965, it proclaimed its allegiance to the queen before declaring itself a republic with a president in 1970, although its status was never recognised internationally.
Being queen of New Zealand also meant she was the head of state of the Cook Islands and Niue, which are associated states that form part of the wider realm of New Zealand.
Britain has 14 overseas territories, including Bermuda, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and British Antarctic Territory, over which she also ruled.
Her shortest reigns were in Kenya, Tanganyika — now the major part of Tanzania — and Uganda, which each lasted exactly a year between independence from Britain and becoming a republic.
During her time on the throne, eight referendums were held on becoming a republic, three of which passed: Ghana (1960), South Africa (1960) and The Gambia (1970).
Barbados declared itself a republic without holding a referendum.
Those that did not pass were a first referendum in The Gambia (1965), two in Tuvalu (1986 and 2008), Australia (1999) and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (2009).
A life of service
Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born in London on 21 April 1926.
At the time, no one expected her to be Queen as she was third in line to the throne behind her uncle and father.
During her record-breaking reign, she dedicated her life to serving her country and Commonwealth.
In a radio address in 1947 on her 21st birthday, she said: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Princess Elizabeth became Queen in 1952 at the age of 25, when her father, King George VI, died.
Her coronation took place 16 months later at Westminster Abbey.
The Queen held a number of other titles, which will now automatically pass to her son and heir.
She was head of the Commonwealth, commander-in-chief of the British Armed Forces, and supreme governor of the Church of England. She was also patron of more than 600 charities and organisations.
Wife, mother, grandmother
Away from her official duties, she was a devoted wife and mother to four children, and dedicated grandmother to eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
In 1947, she married her wartime sweetheart Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey, with a relatively simple ceremony as the country was still recovering from the war.
King George VI wrote to her about his feelings about giving her away: “I was so proud of you 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 that I had lost something very precious.”
The Queen gave birth to Prince Charles in 1948 and to Princess Anne two years later. Prince Andrew and Prince Edward – who were born in 1960 and 1964 respectively – were the first children to be born to a reigning monarch since Queen Victoria had her family.
Until his death in 2021, the Duke of Edinburgh, “her beloved husband”, was always by the Queen’s side.
She described the Duke as her “constant strength and stay” and in 2017 the couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary, the only royal couple to ever reach their platinum anniversary.
A record-breaking reign
The Queen’s reign saw 15 different prime ministers, from Sir Winston Churchill to Liz Truss.
She was more widely travelled than any other international leader and the world’s oldest head of state, always using her own distinctive form of quiet diplomacy to represent the United Kingdom around the world.
In 2015, she also became the longest-serving British monarch in history, passing the record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.
As head of state and head of nation, Queen Elizabeth II was widely regarded as a symbol of stability, working tirelessly to make sure the monarchy remained relevant during a period of immense social, technological, and economic change.
She was a monarch without equal who will now be mourned across the globe.
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