She's been on the throne seemingly forever, but Queen Elizabeth II has a keen eye for how much society has changed in the years since she was crowned and has modernized the palace accordingly. Now, as we celebrate Queen Elizabeth's 91st birthday (yes, she is 91 years old!), it's only right that we look back on all that she has accomplished. As the longest reigning monarch in British history, the queen has had the opportunity to revolutionize the monarchy and the United Kingdom along with it. Here are a few ways she made sure the royals kept up with the times.
Up until just a few years ago, males were given precedence in the line of succession to the British throne. The queen — probably realizing she's done a pretty great job ruling the kingdom despite her lack of a Y chromosome — did away with the rule, allowing whichever gender happens to pop out first to claim their stake. We likely won't see another ruling queen in our lifetimes, since the next three in the direct line of succession — Prince Charles, Prince William, and little Prince George — are all males.
The queen has kept the monarchy up-to-date with modern technology literally since the day she was crowned. In 1953, she allowed TV cameras into Westminster Abbey for the first time to cover her coronation, and her annual Christmas address was televised for the first time in 1957. "That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us," she said.
The queen sent her first email over 40 years ago, long before most of the general public even knew such a thing had been invented. At an event launching the U.K.'s first network, she sent this: "This message to all ARPANET users announces the availability on ARPANET of the Coral 66 compiler provided by the GEC 4080 computer at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment, Malvern, England. Coral 66 is the standard real-time high-level language adopted by the Ministry of Defence."
The queen launched the monarchy's first website in 1997, allowing people from all over the world to learn more about the royals and their palaces. She created the royal YouTube channel in 2007 and a Twitter account in 2009 (although it took until 2014 for her to send a tweet of her very own). Facebook and Flickr accounts appeared in 2010, with an Instagram for Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge in 2013.
The general public was not allowed inside Buckingham Palace until 1993, when the queen allowed visitors for the first time in the summer, while she was at Balmoral. The entry fees were used to pay much of the cost of repairing Windsor Castle, which was damaged by a massive fire the year prior. Today, the palace is open for tours from the end of July through the end of August and again for the entire month of September. The same year, Queen Elizabeth also started paying taxes on her private income.
There was a time when a monarch marrying a divorcée caused a crisis that nearly collapsed the monarchy and caused an abdication. But times have changed, and the queen's views have had to change with them. With all but one of her children divorcing their spouses in public spectacles — including Prince Charles, the heir to the throne — the queen has had to adopt a much more modern view of marriage. Prince Charles is now married to his divorced former mistress, Camilla, following his very public and bitter divorce from Princess Diana. Additionally, Prince William (in line to the throne after Charles) married a woman of non-noble birth, Kate Middleton.
The "stiff upper lip" of generations past may be falling out of fashion with the working royals. It seems the queen has realized that allowing the younger generation to admit to their own imperfections not only makes them more relatable but can be immensely helpful to the public. Take, for example, Prince Harry's recent revelation that he went to counseling two years ago to get help with unresolved issues stemming from the untimely death of his mother. A previous generation may have seen such a confession as a weakness; today's public sees it as a strength. The queen must, as well, because she gave the OK as part of Harry's support of Heads Together, a mental health initiative.
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