GREAT BRITAIN (NEWS10) — It was a day for the history books. But it was not in her majesty’s temperament to make much of a fuss.
On Wednesday, September 9, 2015, about 5:30 p.m., Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in Britain’s proud history, dating back more than a millennium to the days when kings and queens enjoyed absolute power.
PHOTO GALLERY: Queen Elizabeth II sets record
Serving as sovereign for 23,226 days (about 63 years and 7 months), according to the Buckingham Palace, Elizabeth surpassed Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother, a woman so powerful that she stamped an era with her name.
She has served longer than Henry VIII (37 years), longer than any of the various King Richards, far longer than her own father, King George VI (15 years). She certainly reigned longer than King Edward VIII, her uncle, who abdicated after less than a year so he could marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced American.
Elizabeth was there before the Beatles, there as the nation coped with postwar rationing, there during what she called the “annus horribilis” in 1992, in which the monarchy appeared threatened as three of her four children became separated or divorced. She was there in 1997, when the nation mourned the untimely death of the late Princess Diana.
Now a great-grandmother, Elizabeth has overseen a blossoming of the British monarchy, symbolized by her grandson, Prince William, whose royal wedding in 2011 was watched around the world and who has produced two popular children, including a future king.
Wednesday was a day of astonishing achievement, but the 89-year-old queen marked it as she has done so many times before: Quietly going about her business, opening a railway line, unveiling a plaque, meeting her subjects.
She did acknowledge the event, however, telling an adoring crowd at a Scottish railway station on Wednesday it was not a milestone she had sought out.
“I thank you all, and all of the many others at home and overseas, for your touching messages of great kindness,” said Elizabeth, wearing a two-tone blue coat and matching hat. “(It was) not one to which I have ever aspired.”
Elizabeth didn’t say much — her “speech” lasted perhaps a minute or two. She certainly didn’t boast about her longevity, reflect on her reign, or comment on the statesmen she has known, from wartime leader Winston Church to the current Conservative prime minister, David Cameron.
That just wouldn’t be Elizabeth, who’s modest quietude has, paradoxically, developed a grandeur all its own over the decades. In her silence lies mystery. What does she really think? Few really know and those who do aren’t saying.
If the queen found it unseemly to boast of her accomplishment — her reign did, after all, begin with the abrupt death of her father — others in the British establishment showed no hesitation in praising the only monarch most Britons have ever known.
Oversize photographs of Elizabeth dominated most newspapers, with the tone set by The Daily Telegraph, which called the queen “our rock of stability for 63 years” in its headline.
“Opening a railway captures the same sense of understatement, but we should not doubt that today is a great moment in our national story,” it said.
Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952 at age 25 upon the death of her father, King George VI. Her official coronation the following year marked one of the first major public events to be televised.