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A Decade in the Queen’s Reign: The 1950s

Queen Elizabeth II succeeded to the throne on February 6, 1952, while on duty in Kenya. Since then, the Queen devoted her life and reign to the service of the Crown and of the people. During the first decade of her reign, the queen reached out to far-flung member-countries of the Commonwealth and personally met millions of her subjects, one thing her predecessors have not done.


Even before succeeding as Queen, Elizabeth was already actively involved in various engagements in support to his father, King George V. Her 1948 visit to Paris ended a successful affair. In 1951, she embarked on a six-week tour of Canada before flying to Washington, D.C. (Oct. 31), where she met President and Mrs. Truman at Blair House.

The royal couple were just starting their five-month tour of the Commonwealth countries when news of King George VI’s death (Feb. 6, 1952) reached in Kenya. Elizabeth and Prince Philip immediately returned to London and took her oath of accession as Queen on February 8.


In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned at Westminster Abbey. Not even the damp London weather prevented thousands of Britons from rejoicing the coronation of their new sovereign. For this event, about 10 thousand servicemen from all the parts of the Commonwealth  joined in the coronation procession. Heads of states also converged in London to honor Her Majesty. About 100,000 seats were built along processional route aside from the 7,000 seats reserved at Westminster Abbey.

The Commonwealth World Tour

In  November 1953, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip began the longest tour she ever embarked on her reign. Dubbed the World Commonwealth Tour, it lasted until May 1954, one that took them to West Indies, Australia, Asia, Africa, and Gibraltar. This was an opportunity to meet-and-greet the locals. She was the first reigning sovereign to have stepped foot in Australia and New Zealand to the warm welcome of a loyal crowd. It is believed that majority of the Australians were able to have personally seen her during this tour.  The trip to Gibraltar, meanwhile, was Her Majesty’s first and only visit to the disputed territory.

Queen Elizabeth II arriving at Leura on board the royal train. Source: State Archives NSW.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip en route to Eagle Farm Airport, Brisbane. Image:Wikimedia

Queen Elizabeth II and the Lord Mayor of Brisbane at the Royal Ball in the Brisbane City Hall. Source: State Library of Queensland

Elizabeth II on the Royal Tour of New Zealand with the Mayor of Gisborne and the Duke of Edinburgh in the background. Source: National Archives of New Zealand

The House of Mountbatten-Windsor

When Elizabeth succeeded to the throne, it was believed that the British Royal Family would change its name from Windsor to the House of Mountbatten, following the custom that the wife takes her husband’s name after marriage. However, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Elizabeth's grandmother, Queen Mary, made it known that the House of Windsor should retain its name. By 1960, though, with Queen Mary dead and Churchill no longer the prime minister, Queen Elizabeth II announced that her male-line descendants who do not carry royal titles should carry the name Mountbatten-Windsor.

The Suez Crisis

In November 1956, Britain and France unsuccessfully attacked Egypt in a bid to capture the Suez Canal. Lord Mountbatten claimed that the Queen opposed the invasion while her prime minister, Sir Anthony Eden denied it. Two months later, Eden resigned, resulting in the Queen appointing Harold Macmillan.

The Suez crisis and the choice of Eden's successor led in 1957 to the first major personal criticism of the Queen. In a magazine, which he owned and edited, Lord Altrincham slammed her for being "out of touch," although Altrincham himself was publicly criticized for his comments.

Royal Tour of Canada and the US

In 1957, she became the first sovereign to personally open the Parliament in Canada. She also visited the United States, where she spoke before the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of the Commonwealth.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip at the opening of Parliament in Ottawa.
Source: Library and Archives Canada via Wikimedia


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