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30 Photos of a Young Queen Elizabeth Before She Ruled the United Kingdom

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was the United Kingdom's longest-reigning monarch, having ascended the throne in 1952 at age 25. Here are some snapshots of what her life was like before her coronation.

Princess Elizabeth At WindsorLisa Sheridan/Getty Images

Editor’s note: Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, who sat on the throne for 70 years, has died at 96 years old. In a statement on Sept. 8, 2022, the Royal Family website writes, “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.” The Reader’s Digest team sends condolences to the royal family and all of Britain at this time as we honor her life and legacy.

As the world continues to mourn the death of  Queen Elizabeth II, people are looking back at key moments of her life—including moments she lived before becoming queen. Elizabeth became queen in 1952, at the age of 25, after the death of her father, King George VI. She had four children with Prince Philip, who passed away in April 2021, along with many grandchildren and great grandchildren. She served seven decades as queen, but not many people have seen these rare snapshots of the young Queen Elizabeth before she took the throne.
Historical Collection 84 The Duchess of York Photographed with Her Eldest Baby Princess Elizabeth 1926Historia/Shutterstock

1926: Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is born

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York was born on Apr. 21, 1926. She’s pictured here with her mother, Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, who was the wife of Prince Albert “Bertie” of York. Since Bertie was the second-born son of the reigning monarch, King George V, no one, and least of all the princess herself, had any clue Elizabeth would one day be queen. Here’s a detailed look at the royal family tree, by the way.

Historical Collection 173 Princess Elizabeth of York (now Queen Elizabeth Ii)taken in June 1927 at the Age of 14 Months 1927Historia/Shutterstock

1927: Princess Elizabeth as a toddler

When Princess Elizabeth was learning to speak, she had trouble pronouncing her name, referring to herself as “Lilibet,” and the name stuck. Outgoing and plucky, Lilibet was one of the few people on the planet who wasn’t intimidated by the man she called “Grandpa England,” whom she led by his beard as if he were a horse, according to TIME. Here are some royal nicknames you may not have known about.


The Duke and Duchess of York with their daughter Princess Elizabeth immediately after their return from Australia in 1927Universal History Archive/Getty Images

1927: Princess Elizabeth with Mom and Dad

The Duke and Duchess of York are seen with Princess Elizabeth just after their return from Australia. How cute is this royal baby? She looks just like a little Shirley Temple with that hair.

Princess Elizabeth of York Photograph of Princess Elizabeth of York (now Queen Elizabeth Ii) Taken in May 1932 Arriving at the Royal Tournament. the Illustrated London News. . .Historia/Shutterstock

1932: The Royal Tournament

Arriving at the Royal Tournament in 1932, Princess Elizabeth was dressed like the proper princess she was, but she generally lived a quiet life outside the spotlight. Until the birth of her sister, Princess Margaret Ann, she played with the children of businessmen and doctors, as opposed to the children of royals. Here’s what to know about the relationship between the late queen and Princess Diana.

Princess Elizabeth, future Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, Windsor, 1930s.Print Collector/Getty Images

1933: The Little House

Elizabeth is photographed posing on the steps of Y Bwthn Bach (The Little House), the playhouse given to her by the people of Wales. (This playhouse is larger than many actual family homes.) This is the food that the late Queen Elizabeth ate every day since childhood.

Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret as children in the 'grounds' of the model houseCulture Club/Getty Images

1933: Playtime

Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret can be seen playing on the grounds of the model house on Margaret’s 6th birthday. Just a little sisterly love!

Historical Collection 148 Princess Elizabeth of York (now Queen Elizabeth Ii) Taken at the York's London Residence 145 Piccadilly in 1936 with Two of Her Corgis 1936Historia/Shutterstock

1936: Princess Elizabeth with two corgis

Pictured with two of her corgis in 1936, Princess Elizabeth likely has little awareness of the constitutional crisis brewing as a result of King Edward VIII’s romance with the still-married, once-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Simpson’s divorce, among other things, made her an inappropriate king’s “consort,” but Edward declared his intention to marry her and make her his queen. By the end of 1936, Edward would abdicate the throne after learning the British people wouldn’t be able to support their King’s marriage to a divorcee, leaving Elizabeth’s father, Bertie, as King (King George VI) and Elizabeth as the presumptive heir. One thing that never changed? Elizabeth’s love of corgis.

Historical Collection 84 Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Photographed On A Rocking Horse 1937Historia/Shutterstock

1937: The future Queen and her sister at play

It was around this time that Princess Elizabeth realized she was now the presumptive heir to the throne. (She could not be heir “apparent” because, theoretically, her father could still have fathered a son, who in the days of male primogeniture, would bump Elizabeth from the line of succession.) Elizabeth helped do away with male primogeniture.

Historical Collection 86 Princess Elizabeth Feeding One of the Elephants at London Zoo c.1940Historia/Shutterstock

1939: Elizabeth as a lover of animals

Elizabeth was one of the, if not the, most famous animal lover in the world. Here she’s seen feeding one of the elephants at the London Zoo. Later in life, Elizabeth received an elephant as a gift from the President of Cameroon, in 1972. This is why Queen Elizabeth had two birthdays each year.

Royal Broadcast with Princesses Elizabeth and MargaretTopical Press Agency/Getty Images

1939: Sibling broadcast

Look at that hair! Elizabeth and Margaret are photographed making a broadcast to the children of the Commonwealth who were living away from home during World War II. This was Elizabeth’s first public speech.

Royals In WindsorLisa Sheridan/Getty Images

1940: Royalty

The royal family is pictured hanging out at the Royal Lodge in Windsor with the royal dogs Ching, Carol and Crackers.

Royal ThespiansLisa Sheridan/Getty Images

1941: Thespians

Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret are pictured during a rehearsal of Cinderella, the first Royal pantomime at Windsor Castle. Both princesses stand proudly in their costumes.

Princess GuidesLisa Sheridan/Getty Images

1942: Princess guides

Girl power! And here’s where it all began. Elizabeth and Margaret are photographed wearing Girl Guide uniforms at Frogmore in Berkshire.

Historical Collection 173 Queen Elizabeth Ii When Princess Elizabeth Pictured with One of the Horses During Harvest Time at Sandringham Norfolk in 1943 1943Historia/Shutterstock

1943: Young Queen Elizabeth with one of her horses

Elizabeth started riding at age 3 and has owned many horses throughout her life. Here she is, at age 17, with one of her many horses during Harvest Time at Sandringham in Norfolk.

Art (Portraits) - various Princess Elizabeth 1926- at her desk answering telephone greetings on her 18th birthday, 21 April 1944The Art Archive/Shutterstock

1944: Elizabeth turns 18

The 18th birthday of an heir (apparent or presumptive) signifies that the heir could become monarch at any time without the need for a regent to act on his/her behalf. Here, Elizabeth answers a telephone greeting on her 18th birthday, Apr. 21, 1944.

PRINCESS ELIZABETH AT THE WHEEL OF AN AMBULANCE WHILE A SECOND SUBALTERN IN THE A.T.S. - APRIL, 1945Shutterstock

1945: A Princess does her military duty

It took a lot of cajoling, but eventually, Elizabeth got her father, King George VI, to agree to allow her to join the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II, for which she donned coveralls and trained as a mechanic and truck driver. According to history, the Queen was the only female royal family member to have entered the armed forces. She may have also been the only royal female who can change a spark plug.

Historical Collection 170 Princess Elizabeth Pictured in November 1946 Wearing A Hat Worn On the Back of the Head Forming A Heart Shaped Double Halo and Trimmed with Veiling 1946Historia/Shutterstock

1946: The Princess does her duty for fashion

The current Princesses of the United Kingdom are not the first to have been on almost constant style-watch. Here, Princess Elizabeth is pictured modeling what can only be described as a truly fabulous, fashion-forward hat. Find out why the Queen always wears bright colors.

Studious PrincessLisa Sheridan/Getty Images

1946: The Princess studying

Princess Elizabeth is working at her desk at Buckingham Palace. In July of 1946, Elizabeth was presented an Honorary Bachelor of Music degree from the University of London.

Elizabeth At WindsorLisa Sheridan/Getty Images

1946: Elizabeth with a book

It’s no wonder the world fell head over heels in love with Elizabeth. She looks absolutely stunning holding a book at Windsor Castle in Berkshire, Great Britain.

Princesses Elizabeth And MargaretLisa Sheridan/Getty Images

1947: Sisters posing

Elizabeth and her sister Margaret are pictured posing together at the Royal Lodge in Windsor on July 8, 1946.

Historical Collection 170 Princess Elizabeth (queen Elizabeth Ii) at A Bbc Microphone Making Her 21st Birthday Broadcast to the Empire During the Royal Tour of South Africa On 21st April 1947 1947Historia/Shutterstock

1947: A future Queen’s promise

On Apr. 21, 1947, on the occasion of her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth announces her intention to serve as Queen for life (when the time comes) and promises her loyalty and faithfulness in serving.

Historical Collection 174 Princess Elizabeth (queen Elizabeth Ii) and Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh (formerly Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten) Pose Together For an Official Photograph Following Their Marriage at Westminster Abbey On 20 November 1947 1947Historia/Shutterstock

1947: Wedding day

On Nov. 20, 1947, Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten were married at Westminster Abbey. To marry Elizabeth, Philip, who was born into the royal families of Greece and Denmark, had to renounce his birth titles (Prince of Greece and Denmark). In return, his father-in-law-to-be named him Duke of Edinburgh, Baron Greenwich and Earl of Merioneth. Here’s the real reason Prince Philip was never considered king.

Royal Honeymoon for queen elizabethCentral Press/Getty Images

1947: Newlyweds

Just a few days after the big royal wedding, Elizabeth and Philip are photographed on their honeymoon at Broadlands, Romsey, Hampshire, after they left the palace showered in rose petals.

Historical Collection 170 Princess Elizabeth (queen Elizabeth Ii) and Princess Margaret Seen On Arrival at Ballater Station En Route to Balmoral For Their Annual Holiday with Other Members of the Royal Family the Future Queen is Six Months Pregnant with Her First Child Prince Charles 1948Historia/Shutterstock

1948: The pregnant Princess Elizabeth

During the summer of 1948, Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, are snapped arriving at Ballater Station en route to Balmoral for a family vacation (or “holiday,” as they say in England). At this time, Elizabeth is six months pregnant with her first child, who would grow up to become King Charles III.

Queen Elizabeth Ii With Prince Charles Of Wales On Train. September1950 This Evening Hrh Princess Elizabeth Left For Scotland To Join The King And Queen At Balmoral. With Her Were Her Children Prince Charles And Princess Anne Who Was On Born On AugusDaily Mail/Shutterstock

1950: The Princess and her toddler

In September 1950, Princess Elizabeth is seen with the future King Charles III, age 2, on the train on their way to visit her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, at Balmoral in Scotland.

Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and Prince CharlesFox Photos/Getty Images

1950: King Charles III

Princess Elizabeth and the future King Charles III are pictured watching a procession during the visit of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, from the wall of Clarence House in London.

VARIOUS BRITISH ROYALTY PRINCESS ELIZABETH WITH PRINCESS ANNE - 1951Shutterstock

1951: Princess Elizabeth and her baby daughter

Princess Anne is the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Born Her Royal Highness Princess Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise of Edinburgh on Aug. 15, 1950, Anne will later become Princess Royal, a title the monarch may bestow on his/her eldest daughter.

Historical Collection 170 Princess Elizabeth (queen Elizabeth Ii) Dancing A Canadian Square Dance at Government House Ottawa During He Royal Tour of 1951 1951Historia/Shutterstock

1951: The Princess cuts a rug

In 1951, during the Royal Tour, which she did in place of her ailing father, King George VI, Princess Elizabeth dances a traditional Canadian square dance at Government House, Ottowa.

Royal FamilyFox Photos/Getty Images

1951: Family photo

Princess Elizabeth is pictured here with her husband, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, along with their two oldest children, the future King Charles III and Princess Anne, at Clarence House in London.

ROYAL PARK TOUR 1952, NAIROBI, KenyaAP/Shutterstock

1952: A last look at the Princess

On Feb. 2, 1952, Colonel Mervyn Cowie opens the visitors’ book for Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh to sign upon their arrival at Nairobi National Park for a tour, during which they slept in a hotel built as a treehouse. Philip is chatting in the background with Cowie’s daughter, Mitzie. Four days later, King George VI would be dead, and the Princess would ascend the throne as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Read more to discover why, on that trip, Elizabeth was one of the last to know she had become Queen.

Sources:

  • History.com: “8 Things You May Not Know About Queen Elizabeth II”
  • TIME: “Elizabeth Didn’t Expect to Be Queen. Here’s How It Happened”
  • Royal.uk: “Wartime broadcast, 1940”

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.