The death of Queen Elizabeth II today has brought the British monarchy’s longest ever reign to an end. But though she descended from royalty, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor wasn’t supposed to be queen—until a series of historical vagaries placed her in the crosshairs of the world’s most visible monarchy.
Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother, Victoria, reigned over the British Empire for nearly 64 years, longer than any British monarch before her. And she wasn’t first in line for the throne. She was fifth in the line of succession, but a series of deaths put her in power when she was just 18.
Victoria’s eldest son, Edward VII, was heir to the throne for decades, but his long-living mother prevented his ascension to the throne until he was 59 years old. He reigned for only nine years before dying. By then, his eldest son, Prince Albert Victor, had died at just 28, so his second son took the throne.