Book review: Queen Elizabeth II: Her Life in Our Times by Sarah Bradford

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The Abdication crisis, the Blitz and World War Two, the sex and spy scandals of the Swinging Sixties, the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall ... not since Queen Victoria has a British monarch lived through a period of such momentous events and profound change.

As the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee approaches, royal biographer Sarah Bradford takes us on a fascinating journey through the life of a woman who was not born to ascend the throne but who took to her role with dedication, determination and dignity.

Queen Elizabeth II: Her Life in Our Times opens a revealing window onto the key moments of British and world history during a 60-year reign defined by the monarch’s outstanding commitment to Britain and the Commonwealth.

Bradford offers vivid insights into royal life in general as well as the Queen’s own family experiences which have seen a mixture of happiness and tragedy, weddings and divorces and, in the case of Diana, a sudden death with far-reaching consequences.

Princess Elizabeth was born at Bruton Street, Mayfair, on April 21, 1926 to Albert, Duke of York, and his wife, the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.

She was christened the following month just as the dark days of the General Strike were ending and people were glad of a royal distraction from the dull grind of everyday life.

Four years later she was joined by a sister, Princess Margaret, and the two young girls enjoyed a warm and happy upbringing, albeit one that was cloistered and typically upper class.

Their education was not considered as important as their manners and despite their parents expressing a wish to give them a ‘normal’ childhood, they never mixed with ‘ordinary’ children and during the war years, they barely left the confines of Windsor Castle.

The key change in Elizabeth’s future came in December 1936 when her uncle David, later Duke of Windsor, abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson and the princess became heir to the throne of her father, now King George VI.

By 1946, rumours began about a husband for the princess but she had already met and fallen head over heels in love with the handsome but impoverished Prince Philip of Greece.

Self-reliant, self-assertive, ‘cocky to the verge of being arrogant,’ Philip proved to be the perfect foil for his wife ... while he was forward-thinking and inventive, the princess was traditional, conservative and serious-minded.

Ever conscious of her royal role and duty, Princess Elizabeth could have had no premonition of the family trials and tribulations, and changes in moral and social attitudes that would lie ahead when she became queen on her father’s death in 1952.

Feted as a breath of fresh air, her first Prime Minister Winston Churchill was as besotted with his new young queen as Lord Melbourne was in 1837 with the young Queen Victoria.

Little did either know what a long and rocky road lay ahead in the new Elizabethan age...

Bradford’s definitive account guides us through the end of Empire, the rebranding of the monarchy, the political turbulence of the Seventies, the Charles and Diana crisis and on into the Queen’s new role as a 21st century monarch.

Fully illustrated and using material from a unique collection of archives and interviews, Bradford’s book is an authoritative and entertaining portrait of a remarkable woman.

(Viking, hardback, £20)