The Royal Mint has unveiled a series of new commemorative and collector coins observing a once-in-a-lifetime event: the day on which Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II will become the longest reigning English monarch. The event will occur on the September 9, when Her Majesty will surpass the previous length of reign set by her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, who ruled a total of 63 years and 216 days, from June 20, 1837 to January 22, 1901.
Princess Elizabeth of York was born on April 21, 1926 and was the first child of Prince Albert, the Duke of York, and his wife Elizabeth, the Duchess of York. Princess Elizabeth was the first grandchild of King George V; he was third in the line of succession at the time of her birth, but it was unlikely that she would someday be queen.
After the death of her grandfather in January of 1936, her uncle Edward, Prince of Wales, an immensely popular member of the royal family, succeeded his father as King Edward VIII. Unfortunately for Edward, he was in love with a twice-divorced American woman who was seen as entirely unsuitable to become Queen consort of Great Britain and the many realms within the British Empire. By December 1936, it was clear to King Edward VIII that he could not be both king and married to the woman he loved, so he did the unthinkable: he abdicated in favor of his younger brother, the Duke of York.
Prince Albert took on the regnal name of George VI in honor of his late father. On the same day that the new reign of King George VI was proclaimed on the balcony of St. James Palace, his young ten-year-old daughter became heiress presumptive to the British Crown. For this reason, 1936 is remembered in British history as the “Year of Three Kings.”
During the next few years, Princess Elizabeth, her younger sister Princess Margaret Rose, and their parents were chiefly responsible for restoring the image and reputation of the royal family with their dedication to duty and the nation. This dedication was tested during the years of the Second World War, when the royal family was in the direct firing line of the Luftwaffe bombing in London. The king refused to leave the capital, instead preferring to remain in Buckingham Palace along with the queen and the princesses until it became too dangerous for them to remain and were evacuated to Windsor Castle.
At the age of 19, Princess Elizabeth served in the British Army as part of the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service and trained as a driver and mechanic. She joined in the celebrations in May 1945 when Hitler and the Nazis were defeated, standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace next to her father and Winston Churchill to receive the cheers of an elated British public.
In 1947, during a tour of Southern Africa with her parents, Princess Elizabeth celebrated her 21st birthday and addressed the British Empire, making a pledge that is closely associated with her today:
I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.
It is a vow that the queen has remained devoted to. In November 1947, the young princess married her fiancé, Prince Philip, Prince of Greece and Denmark, who was a descendant of Queen Victoria and a grandson of Greece’s King George I. The dashing prince, who had joined the Royal Navy and was at the time of his marriage a lieutenant, had renounced his succession rights to the thrones of Greece and Denmark shortly before his marriage and was created the Duke of Edinburgh by his soon-to-be father in law. Within one year of marriage their first child was born. Prince Charles Philip Arthur George became second in line to the British throne behind his mother, and in 1950 their second child, a Princess, joined their little family.
Their time together as a young family was precious to Princess Elizabeth as it became known within the royal family that the king was in poor health. It had been said that the stress of the succession and the Second World War had taken its toll on the king, who was also a heavy smoker. In 1951, the king had undergone a surgery directly related to his smoking, but his condition was hidden from the public. It was decided that in late January, 1952, Princess Elizabeth along with her husband the Duke of Edinburgh would visit Australia on behalf of her father. On a cold winter morning, King George VI said his farewells to his beloved daughter at the airport. It would be the last time they would see one another.
On February 6, while on a stopover in Kenya, the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth learned of her father’s death and that she had succeeded to the British throne. She and Prince Philip made the journey back to the United Kingdom immediately. She was now Queen Regnant and would be received by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a memorable scene at the same airport at which she said goodbye to her father only days earlier.
The government announced in late 1952 that the queen’s coronation would take place on June 2, 1953. At this time, the UK was still observing rationing, a hold-over from the Second World War. On this occasion, however, it was felt that the nation was ready for a national celebration; by the time of the coronation rationing would be over. The coronation was a splendid occasion with most every crowned head of state and VIP from around the world attending. The centuries-old ceremony was held in Westminster Abbey and, as the crowning of the young queen was watched on television for the first time by an international audience, the congregation proclaimed:
Vivat! – Vivat! – Elizabetha Regina.
The day had seen a down pouring of rain for much of the day but the weather could not put a damper on the spirits of the crowds who had lined up for almost two days to see the procession. From this day, the era of the new Elizabethan age began and has so far lasted longer than any other British monarch.
Since then, Queen Elizabeth II has presided over the independence of several colonies and has received more prime ministers than any other British monarch. She has met every American president since Dwight Eisenhower and is the only British sovereign to address a joint session of the United States House and Senate. She has addressed the United Nations and has been the only head of state to open Olympiads on two continents, that of the Montreal Games in 1976 and the London Games in 2012. Queen Elizabeth has presided over almost every Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting since her accession and has visited every member country. In 1977, the British nation and her other realms celebrated her Silver Jubilee, followed in 2002 by the queen’s Golden Jubilee. In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II became only the second British monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee, and now she becomes the longest reigning monarch in British history.
Aside from this momentous milestone, Queen Elizabeth II, who will celebrate her 90th birthday in 2016, is the oldest British sovereign, as well as the longest married at nearly 68 years. From her accession in 1952, the Queen has arguably been the most recognizable and photographed woman in the world and has had her image placed on more coins, banknotes, and stamps in more countries than any other living person in history. Although her involvement in government is constitutionally limited, Queen Elizabeth II has become an immensely respected stateswoman and is considered one of the most influential heads of state today.
The coin collection includes five 5 pound crowns made of cupro-nickel, sterling silver, 22 carat gold, and platinum; two coins of five ounces – one in gold and one in silver; and two one-kilo coins, also in gold and silver. A “£20 for £20” silver coin is also included in the new range.
Five Pounds: The crown coin of five pounds includes a new obverse commemorative portrait which is the ninth time this has occurred for Elizabethan crown coins. The portrait of the queen is created by James Butler, a respected sculptor with a prolific portfolio. The portrait depicts the queen wearing the diadem, which was included in the portrait used on British and commonwealth coins from 1985 to 1997 and revived for the most recent portrait unveiled in March of this year. The reverse includes an image of St. Edward’s crown, which has been used during the crowning at every coronation since that of King Charles II in 1661. The years 1952 and 2015 are included above the crown and the text ONE CROWN is placed below. This design is shared on all four versions of the crown coin of five pounds. The edge around the crown includes the inscription LONG TO REIGN OVER US.
Ten Pounds: The five ounce coins in both gold and silver include the commemorative portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The reverse includes a design created by Royal Mint Senior Graphic Designer, Stephen Taylor. He has combined each of the five definitive coin portraits of the queen’s reign from 1953 to the present in a semi-circle to tell the story of a monarch maturing on the coins of the nation. The text THE LONGEST REIGN is placed below the portraits along with the queen’s cypher of E II R. This reverse design is Steven Taylor’s first work to be included on coinage.
Five Hundred & One Thousand Pounds: The two kilo weight coins include the commemorative obverse portrait with the coin’s denomination below the portrait in numerals. The reverse includes the five definitive coin portraits of the queen’s reign from 1953 to the present in a semi-circle. The text THE LONGEST REIGN is placed below the portraits along with the queen’s cypher of E II R.
Twenty Pounds: The coin includes the fifth definitive portrait of Queen Elizabeth II created by Royal Mint engraver Jody Clark, introduced in March of this year. This is the first “£20 for £20” coin to bear the new portrait. The reverse design includes the five definitive coin portraits of the queen’s reign from 1953 to the present in a semi-circle. The text THE LONGEST REIGN is placed below the portraits, along with the queen’s cypher of E II R.
The coins have been unveiled and the Royal Mint is now taking orders for some items to be dispatched shortly. For more information on these and other coins offered by the Royal Mint, please visit their Web site. Information is offered in English, with international orders dispatched where applicable.