> Event: Ascension to the throne
When Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, passed away in 1952, she became Queen Elizabeth II. (Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland, ruled from 1558 to 1603.) She had already been standing in for her father at public events as his health declined. Her ascension ceremony was held in Westminster Abbey and was the first such event to be televised.
> Event: Discovery of DNA
In the Queen’s second year on the throne, scientists Francis Crick of the U.K. and James Watson of the U.S. published a groundbreaking scientific article in which they claimed to have discovered “the secret of life” while working in a laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Other researchers collaborated with the two to identify the now famous double helix structure of life’s “building blocks” — the deoxyribonucleic acid molecule, otherwise known as DNA. Crick and Watson announced their discovery at a Cambridge pub. Crick was later awarded the Queen’s Medal.
> Event: Crash of the Comet
The DH.106 Comet was the world’s first commercial jetliner. The major British aviation company de Havilland, based in Hertfordshire, launched the Comets in 1952. However, due to structural problems, the planes crashed three times in their first two years of flying. Nonetheless, the Queen traveled on one in 1953. In 1954, 20 minutes after take-off, a Comet broke up mid-air off the Italian coast, killing all 35 passengers on board. Successive iterations of the plane, with improved safety measures, continued flying until 1997.
> Event: Resignation of Churchill
In 1953 Winston Churchill was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Two years later, citing declining health, Churchill retired from his position as prime minister but remained an MP until a year before his death in 1964. Over the years, Churchill developed a close friendship with the Queen. She even offered to create the title Duke of London for Churchill, but he declined.
> Event: Suez Crisis
On July 26, 1956, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Company, which had been owned by British and French interests. The importance of the canal led the two declining colonial powers, along with Israel, to invade the Sinai Peninsula to retake control of the crucial waterway. After some initial successes, heavy pressure from the U.S., USSR, and UN caused them to withdraw and acknowledge Egypt’s control of the canal. The Queen did not comment publicly on Britain’s plan to retake control but some sources suggest she was against it.
> Event: Resignation of Anthony Eden
Anthony Eden was prime minister of the United Kingdom during the Suez Crisis. A majority of the oil supplies of Western Europe were transported through the canal at the time, and Eden’s government feared they could be cut off from their crucial supply. After domestic and international pressure forced Eden to pull his troops out of Egypt, and despite his unpopularity, Eden tried to stay in office. However, he resigned in January of 1957 when his doctor warned him that his health was declining rapidly. The Queen accepted his resignation.
> Event: Opening of the motorway system
Motorways (modern highways) were first built in the U.K. in the late 1950s. The M6, currently the nation’s longest one, was first opened in December of 1958, functioning as a high speed bypass around the town of Preston in Lancashire. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan oversaw the its opening. The motorway system has been expanded extensively over the years.
> Event: Election of Harold Macmillan
Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigned in 1957 but his Conservative Party had no mechanism for choosing the next prime minister. On advice from Winston Churchill, the Queen appointed Harold Macmillan as Eden’s successor. In 1959, when the Conservative Party won another election and chose Macmillan to continue leading their government. Macmillan is credited with repairing relations with the U.S. following the Suez Crisis, and he presided over the decolonization of Africa. He continued as PM until resigning in 1963.
> Event: Birth of Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew is the third child and second son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, and was the first born since Elizabeth took power. Andrew is ninth in the line of succession to the British throne. He served in the Royal Navy and saw action in the Falklands War. Andrew was thrown into the media spotlight when he separated from his wife, Sarah Ferguson, in 1992 and then divorced in 1996. He is currently facing accusations of child sexual abuse, linked to deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein.
> Event: Profumo Affair
John Profumo was Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s government. In 1961, it was revealed that he had been having an extramarital affair with a 19-year-old model named Christine Keeler. Profumo would try to deny the accusations but a police investigation brought the truth to light. Further, it was then revealed that Keeler had also had a relationship with an attachÃ© at the Soviet Embassy in London, creating a potential national security risk. The Profumo affair would lead to the downfall of Macmillan in 1963 and the Conservatives would go on to lose several seats and control of the government in the 1964 elections. Along the way, Keeler claimed that Prince Philip had been unfaithful to Elizabeth.
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