Nobody since Queen Victoria has held the British throne longer than Queen Elizabeth II, and no British monarch has survived to her age. Still active at 85 and with no apparent interest in stepping down, she may well surpass the 63 years of Victoria's reign.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York was born on April 21, 1926, at her maternal grandparents' home in London, the first child for the Duke and Duchess of York. While the Queen's birthday falls in April, it is officially celebrated in June, continuing a long British tradition of celebrating the monarch's birthday in that month.
Her reign has been remarkable, starting in an era when television was a novelty — her coronation was the first in Britain to be televised — and continuing through the days of Beatlemania, Swinging London, Thatcherism and Cool Britannia.
The Queen has seen colonies gain independence, the Commonwealth emerge as a respected international organization, and the United Kingdom evolve into a dynamic, multicultural country far different than the one she knew in her youth. She has also kept pace with technology, with Buckingham Palace launching its own YouTube channel and the monarchy embracing social media as a way of communicating with citizens.
Elizabeth's accession to the throne was something of a fluke, the result of the dramatic abdication by her uncle, Edward VIII, to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Her father became King George VI on Dec. 11, 1936, when Elizabeth was 10 years old.
Born April 21, 1926
Head of state of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and 15 other realms in the Commonwealth, including Canada.
Queen Elizabeth has four children: Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward. Charles, the heir to the throne, became Prince of Wales in 1969. Prince Andrew's birth in 1960 marked the first child born to a reigning British monarch since Queen Victoria gave birth to Princess Beatrice in 1857.
The Queen has eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
The Queen is patron to more than 600 organizations and charities.
Elizabeth gave her first radio address at 14, on Oct. 13, 1940. In her four-minute talk, she told the world that British children were "full of cheerfulness and courage" as bombs rained down on London during a Second World War air raid. Five years later, she learned how to drive a car when she enlisted in the army.
Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh, at Westminster Abbey on Nov. 20, 1947. On Feb. 6, 1952, her father died of cancer while she and Prince Philip were touring Africa, making the princess the Queen. Although the royal couple rushed home, Elizabeth's coronation wasn't held until more than a year later, on June 2, 1953.
Since then, the Queen has kept a busy travel schedule. She has made more than 250 official overseas visits, and in 2010 completed her 22nd royal tour of Canada, her most frequent Commonwealth destination. In 1959, she and Phillip visited every province and territory over six weeks. She also officially opened the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Spontaneous start to 'walkabout'
It was during one of her overseas trips that the Queen embarked on the first "royal walkabout." The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were visiting Australia and New Zealand in 1970 when they began mingling with the crowds that had lined up to see them. Meeting and greeting regular people, instead of just dignitaries and invited officials, proved so popular that the walkabout became a fixture of the Queen's public appearances.
Although the Queen has generally avoided scandal, her family has been frequently been known to cause controversy and make news. There was Charles's divorce, Diana's fatal car crash in a Paris tunnel, Princess Margaret's stroke, the antics of her daughter-in-law Sarah Ferguson and a series of tabloid-ready embarrassments involving Prince Harry, who once wore a Nazi uniform to a costume party.
The Queen herself has made news she would rather forget, including a 1982 security breach in which an intruder managed to scale a wall outside Buckingham Palace and find his way into the royal bedroom, where he sat at the foot of the Queen's bed.
The Queen memorably described 1992 as an annus horribilis, after a fire at Windsor Castle and marital problems among three of her children.
She had hoped that the 2002 would be a year of celebration, marking 50 years on the throne, but the year was overshadowed by the deaths of her sister, Princess Margaret, and the Queen Mother, who was 101.
The Queen is known to love animals, especially dogs and horses. She has owned more than 30 corgis, starting with Susan, which was a gift on her 18th birthday. One of her corgis had to be put down in 2004 after it was mauled by a bull terrier owned by Princess Anne.
She has also run afoul of animal rights activists. In November 2000, Elizabeth was photographed wringing the neck of a wounded pheasant that a hunting dog had dropped at her feet. The next day, she showed up at church wearing a red hat accented with pheasant feathers.
Elizabeth is one of the wealthiest women in the world, with an estimated net worth in 2011 of $500 million, according to a Forbes magazine ranking. That's down sharply from a previous Forbes count of about $818 million in 2004, and considerably smaller than other estimates, which have exceeded $4 billion (and as much as $16 billion, if the Royal Collection, which includes the Crown jewels, are included). Buckingham Palace routinely scoffs at such reports, calling them all "vastly exaggerated."