Royals, Part 1: Rise to power
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Elizabeth took to the throne in 1952 with an ancient oath and solemn promise. It was the culmination of events that had their roots 15 years before.
As daughter of the then-Duke and Duchess of York, Princess Elizabeth was never meant to be queen. To be sure, hers was destined to be royal life, but without the responsibility of the top job.
That changed when the young Princess was just 10 and the crisis that had gripped the British royal family -- whether King Edward VIII could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson -- came to a head.
When Edward abdicated the throne for his love, Elizabeth's parents became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth -- and the young Elizabeth became a child apart. Her life would be dominated by duty -- and the knowledge that one day it would all be hers.
"I think it's always been an ominous responsibility to be thinking as a child that you'll one day be sovereign of Great Britain," says royal watcher Robert Jobson.
"Her parents both were very conscious that they wanted her to have as easy a time of it as possible, because they knew what was going to happen in her adulthood."
Her nickname was Lillibet, after early unsuccessful attempts to say her own name. And Lillibet she remains today, even using it on the card accompanying the flowers on her mother's coffin.
In those early years at Buckingham Palace, it's said, she prayed that her parents would have a son -- someone who would take the future burden from her shoulders.
During World War II, when the children were sent to live at Windsor, Elizabeth was expected to play her part. There, she made her first broadcast to the Commonwealth, about life as a child in London.
Princess Elizabeth ended the war as part of the Civil Defense services, driving an auxiliary vehicle and wearing a uniform.
Marriage and children
After the war, it was back to life in the gilded cage -- and marriage to Prince Philip of Greece. If not exactly arranged, it was a marriage deemed suitable for the future queen of England.
For Prince Philip, the marriage set the seal for a lifetime spent walking behind his wife -- for 50 years always referred to as "my husband and I." At their golden wedding celebration, the queen paid tribute to the man who has been her rock.
Within a year of the marriage, Princess Elizabeth gave birth to a son and heir: Charles Philip Arthur George. A daughter, Anne, and two more sons were to follow.
But for the sake of the throne, Charles was the most important. The lineage of the Windsors -- itself a manufactured name to escape the family's Germanic background -- was established.
In 1952, a year after her father's death, the queen's coronation took place in Westminster Abbey -- where British monarchs have been crowned for more than a thousand years, since William the Conqueror in 1066.
Elizabeth's enthronement was a long, solemn ceremony in which she pledged her life to the service of her country: "God help me to make good on my vow. ... And God help all who are willing to share in it."
"There's no question that it's a difficult job to do," says Jobson. "But I think that from the moment she made that decision that she was going to serve the country and the people, that is all that she really wanted to do for the rest of her entire life."
"I think as she gets older ... she will hand more and more responsibility towards Prince Charles and her other children. But she will continue to reign as monarch until she dies."
She has been a devoted monarch, to be sure -- but with duties that some say limited her role as a mother.
"I think Prince Charles made it quite clear that he felt that he was brought up in an unemotional dysfunction state," says Jobson.
"Princess Anne was quite categoric. She said that she had a normal upbringing, and the queen was a good mother. So I think they are somewhere in between."
Heir in waiting
As a somewhat awkward adolescent, Prince Charles excelled at solitary pursuits, learning to fly airplanes as a teenager.
"I think that Charles was a shy man when he was growing up, and he did struggle in college, and he was very private and ... always seemed to be a little less comfortable in his own skin," says People magazine senior editor Anne-Marie O'Neill.
Determined that he should have a more normal upbringing, Elizabeth and Philip sent Charles to university, where, although still shy, he acted in student plays.
He was anointed Prince of Wales in a 1969 ceremony that was threatened to be disrupted by Welsh nationalists who detonated bombs around the province.
Controversy and the royals have never been far apart.
Like his Uncle Dickie Mountbatten, whom he loved dearly, Charles chose a career in the navy, eventually commanding his own ship.
In the decades since he left naval service, he has devoted his life to his favourite subjects -- agriculture, architecture and his charitable trusts. Still, with the queen showing no signs of slowing down, he waits to take over.
Seen as the world's most eligible bachelor, Charles would find attractive women waiting to say hello wherever he went.
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