Queen Elizabeth II

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It's an inarguable fact: Queen Elizabeth II has lived a remarkable life.

And never was there before, nor ever will there be, another royal quite like her.

The reigning queen of the United Kingdom (and Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and Head of the Commonwealth turns 90 on Thursday—though, as always, the official celebration will come in June—and impossible is the only fair word to describe the task of encapsulating her inimitable legacy in a few paragraphs.

But we'd be remiss if we didn't try!

Not only has her range of experience as a monarch been one for the books, but she also happens to be one badass family matriarch.

Queen Elizabeth, Gun


And not just because the world's most famous corgi and Land Rover enthusiast has launched nearly two dozen ships and her face is on all the money.

Even the most pedestrian things the queen has ever done, from riding the subway to sending an email, are rendered extraordinary when you consider that her life has bridged not only two centuries, but practically two separate worlds.

Queen Elizabeth

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The queen, who last year surpassed the tenure of her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria to become the longest-reigning queen regnant of all time, survived the London Blitz as a teenager, rationed fabric coupons for her wedding dress, ascended the throne in 1952 at the age of 25 in the first coronation to be televised, sent her first email in 1976, joined Facebook in 2010 (but you are not allowed to poke her) and now Skypes with her grandchildren and has visited the set of Game of Thrones.

Queen Elizabeth II

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Anyone would be hard-pressed to find many more examples of a life that has embodied such a range of the human experience. The queen is the consummate survivor, having balanced not just work with family for the past 65 years, but rather balanced being the face of a nation with the sort of scrutiny—of both her professional and personal lives, as well as the personal and professional lives of her sprawling family—that not too many characters are emotionally or mentally equipped to not only survive but thrive under.

While the crown has always had its critics, some more biting than others, Elizabeth II's reign has encompassed both the era of a citizenry that still looked to the queen (and her father, King George VI, before her and so on) for guidance when global affairs threatened national security or its identity and the more recent decades in which the question of whether the monarchy shouldn't be dissolved once and for all is asked increasingly frequently.

Queen Elizabeth

Pool/Anwar Hussein Collection/WireImage

And while the queen is overwhelmingly beloved by those who don't mind millennia-old tradition that's ripped from a fairy-tale, she's also perhaps one of the more misunderstood public figures of her (and the next) generation.

But that's what maintaining an air of majesty throughout your entire life will get you.

Elizabeth's steely resolve in the face of controversy and family tragedy has been the subject of endless debate, her seemingly cool yet deeply personal reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1997 being the focus of Peter Morgan's 2006 film The Queen. Helen Mirren won an Oscar for her portrayal of the inscrutable royal.

Helen Mirren, The Queen


Never since girlhood has the queen not had an entire kingdom to think about in addition to her husband of now 68 years, Prince Philip; her four children, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward; eight grandchildren, including Princes William and Harry; and, more recently, five great-grandchildren—let alone think about herself.

"1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure," Elizabeth said in a speech to the Guildhall marking the 40th anniversary of her ascension to the throne. "In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis."

Royal Christening, Prince Harry, Prince William, Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Queen Eliabeth

Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

The queen's marriage may have remained solid, but she watched the marriages of Anne and Andrew fall apart almost simultaneously as the extent of Charles and Diana's dysfunction was revealed, all in 1992, which she herself agreed was her "annus horribilis."

And with that, she also became Her Royal Highness of Sarcasm.

Known as Lilibet when she was a child and then 2nd Lt. Elizabeth Windsor when she served in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) during World War II. The future queen sat for her first official portrait when she was 7 and went on to be a Girl Guide (like a Girl Scout) and Sea Ranger, an avid sailor, huntress and photographer, and, of course, a dog lover and equestrienne.

Queen Elizabeth

Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

She was close to her sister Princess Margaret, her only sibling, who died in 2002. She and Philip first fell in love years beforehand but her father preferred they not announce their engagement till after Elizabeth's 21st birthday.

Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret

Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Getty Images

She's opened Parliament every year except 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with Andrew and Edward, respectively. She's had a standing weekly meeting with 12 prime ministers, starting with Winston Churchill and still ongoing with current P.M. David Cameron.

Queen Elizabeth

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She has at times carried the weight of the royal family on her shoulders, hers being the name at least always associated with dignity when the rest of the family couldn't keep their names out of the tabloids if they tried. (As if trying would have helped.) And through it all, she presumably got a little hot under the impeccably tailored jacket collar, but kept her progeny close and remained fiercely protective of all of them, whatever their transgressions.

As for beyond the palace walls, the queen's been all over the world and, while with regard to modern politics she is more of a figurehead, she keeps abreast of foreign affairs and has thumbed her nose at injustice in her own way. In 1998 she famously made sure that she was behind the wheel of her Land Rover when touring the grounds of her Balmoral estate in Scotland with the visiting Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia—where women to this day are not allowed to drive cars.

Queen Elizabeth

James Whatling/Splash News

She hosted Women of Achievement, the first-ever women's-only event held at Buckingham Palace, in 2004. In 2011 she tacitly approved a change in the law that would have allowed the firstborn daughter of Prince William's (if he had had one) to become queen; and in 2013, the queen decreed that Kate Middleton and William's second child (sex then unknown) would officially be a prince or princess along with his or her elder sibling, Prince George, the Letters Patent overturning a nearly 100-year-old tradition in which a second-born daughter to the Prince of Wales was not a princess.

Queen Elizabeth Offical Portrait

2016 Annie Leibovitz / PA Wire

But that's the queen for you, never one to live in the past, always pressing forward—and bringing the nation with her whenever possible.

"There has been significant economic and social change since 1915," the queen said in an address last year marking the centenary of the Women's Institute. "Women have been granted the vote, British women have climbed Everest for the first time and the country has elected its first female prime minister.

"In the modern world, the opportunities for women to give something of value to society are greater than ever, because, through their own efforts, they now play a much greater part in all areas of public life."

So though Queen Elizabeth II's poise has been misconstrued as coldness, and she can come across as an out-of-touch figurehead, being the only person in England who can legally drive a car without a license and the technical owner of all the dolphins, whales and sturgeon within three miles of U.K. shores...

But she is actually the consummate Mum—and she's been quietly blazing a feminist trail for the better part of her 90 years, dutifully balancing her public and private lives with such grace that you're forgiven for wondering where one ends and the other begins.

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