When Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952, Britain was just seven years out of the second world war. Rebuilding work was still ongoing, and rationing key products such as sugar, eggs, cheese and meat would continue for another year or so.
But the austerity and restraint of the 1940s was giving way to a more prosperous 1950s. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that the Queen’s succession was hailed as the “new Elizabethan age”. Society was changing, and here was a young, beautiful queen to sit at its helm.
Seventy years later, Britain looks very different. Elizabeth II ruled over perhaps the most rapid technological expansion and sociopolitical change of any monarch in recent history. Looking back on Elizabeth II’s life raises key questions about not just how the monarchy has changed, but also how Britain itself has transformed throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century.
If Elizabeth I’s reign was a period of colonial expansion, conquest and domination, then the “new Elizabethan age” was marked by decolonisation and the loss of Empire.
When Elizabeth II succeeded the throne, the last vestiges of the British Empire were still intact. India had been granted independence in 1947, and other countries soon followed throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Although it…