How the world changed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth



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How the world changed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of England in 1953 upon the death of her father, King George VI. The world was a very different place than it is today when Queen Elizabeth took the throne. The British Empire still had colonies around the world and the World Wide Web would not be invented until decades later. There has never been a female Prime Minister and all the countries of Europe still have their own currency.

Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-reigning monarch in UK history, and since taking the throne, the UK and the world have changed enormously. Gay and women’s rights around the world grew dramatically, and landed gentry and nobility saw their positions of power and influence decline. The world became, in some ways, more homogenized – as with standardized currency and cooperative unions – and in some ways less, with colonial declarations of independence that only officially ended when Britain ceded control of Hong Kong in 1997.

Following the recent death of Queen Elizabeth, Stacker used news reports and historical sources to compile a list of the many ways the world has changed during her 70 years on the throne. Keep reading to learn just how different the world is to what it was at the start of his reign.

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Decolonization is sweeping the world

The British Empire was so vast at its height in the 19th century that it has been said that “the sun never sets on the British Empire”. But starting in 1947 – with the independence of the former colony of India – and accelerating through the 1950s and 1960s, the British Empire slowly crumbled under a wave of decolonisation. From Egypt to Iraq to Malaysia, former British colonies achieved independence, culminating in Hong Kong in 1997.

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TV takes over

All over the world, television has captured the hearts and minds of people seeking entertainment and information. Whereas previously many people got their news from radio and newspapers, television became increasingly dominant in the 1950s. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 was watched more widely on television than it heard on the radio – a first for such an event.

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The decline of country houses

For centuries, the landed gentry of the United Kingdom held vast estates. These estates served either as primary residences or as weekend and vacation getaways, but in the changing fortunes of the post-war aristocracy many of these homes fell into disrepair or were destroyed. Many were used as headquarters or field hospitals during World War II, and after the war many were in disrepair. Combined with heavy taxes and the cost of upkeep, many homeowners have chosen to sell their home or let it crumble.

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Nuclear energy lights up

While it became famous for the devastating bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear energy also evolved in the 1950s into a source of electricity. Britain’s first nuclear power station was switched on in 1956. The location was at Calder Hall, and Queen Elizabeth herself flipped the switch.

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The Cold War ushers in a new kind of conflict

Far from the dark conflicts of the First and Second World Wars, the years between 1950 and around 1990 saw the world divided into a new kind of conflict. The Cold War opposed two ideologies, communism and capitalism. The war divided the Western world into spheres of influence, with superpowers vying for dominance. Under Queen Elizabeth, the UK allied with the US to support democratic capitalism around the world.

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The European Community forms

From the ashes of World War II, the European Committee was formed in 1972. Intended to promote trade, travel and cooperation in Europe, the United Kingdom was admitted in 1973. Its status has always been controversial in the United Kingdom, and in 2016 the country voted to leave the European Committee’s successor, the European Union.

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The death penalty is abolished

In 1965, Britain abolished the death penalty for murder. Homicide was one of the last crimes for which the death penalty could be applied. On November 8 of the same year, Queen Elizabeth signed the Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act, banning capital punishment.

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Legalized homosexuality and abortion

As in much of the rest of the world, LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights have grown, and the UK has also seen changes in its legislation. In 1967, abortion and homosexuality were legalized in the UK. Decades later, the Queen was reportedly ‘delighted’ to sign Royal Assent to the decree legalizing same-sex marriage.

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Airplanes are revolutionizing travel

When Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne, the trip to another continent was often a week-long journey by ship. But from the 1960s air travel became relatively common and allowed people to make such trips within hours. Queen Elizabeth took her first flight on the Concorde from Barbados to London in 1977.

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Women become heads of state

In 1978 Margaret Thatcher became the UK’s first female Prime Minister. Her Conservative reign is remembered for cutting taxes and government spending, and she shared a close relationship with US President Ronald Reagan. Many other women have since become heads of state in other countries. The United States is a notable exception.

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Privatization becomes the norm

In 1986, many industries formerly run by the government became private. British Gas, British Telecom, British Steel and many other industries were privatized to reduce government spending. The trend has not been limited to the UK – from the former Soviet Union to the United States, many countries around the world have privatized old public services.

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The World Wide Web is born

In 1989, a researcher in Switzerland had the idea for what would become the World Wide Web. His idea sparked the Internet Age, which ushered in major changes in everything from commerce to communications. Queen Elizabeth was apparently one of the first to convert to email.

[Pictured: The queen watches a demonstration by Christopher Bailey of how the royal website works during her visit to Kingsbury High School. Behind her, lady in waiting, the Duchess of Grafton, her Equerry, and at the far left, her police bodyguard Ken Atmore. March 6, 1997.]

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Women become priests

In 1994 the first women became priests in the UK. Many in the country and the faith welcomed the change. But some did not and they joined the Catholic Church, which still does not allow women to become priests.

[Pictured: Woman priest Angela Berners-Wilson breaks the bread during the service at St. Pauls Church, Clifton, Bristol. March 13, 1994.]

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Currencies change and change

In 2002, many countries of the European Union decided to abandon their national currencies for a central currency. The liras, francs and pesetas all became euros in 2002. The UK decided to stay out of the common currency and still uses the pound sterling to this day.

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A global pandemic is disrupting modern life

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended much of modern life. Entire economies and societies have come to a standstill for months and, in many cases, years. Yet rapid vaccine development has changed the course of the pandemic, providing millions of people around the world with protection against serious illness and death.

[Pictured: An image of Queen Elizabeth II and quotes from her broadcast to the nation in relation to the coronavirus epidemic are displayed on screens in Piccadilly Circus on April 10, 2020, in London, England.]

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This story was written by Stacker and has been republished under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

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