Princess Margaret (left), Princess Elizabeth (third from left) and the Queen (third from right) with the Grenadier guards on the occasion of Princess Elizabeth's birthday, 1942.
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Princess Margaret (left), the future Queen Elizabeth II (third from left) and the Queen Mother (third from right) with the Grenadier guards on the occasion of Princess Elizabeth's birthday, 1942.David E. Scherman—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Princess Margaret (left), Princess Elizabeth (third from left) and the Queen (third from right) with the Grenadier guards on the occasion of Princess Elizabeth's birthday, 1942.
Queen Elizabeth, University of the West Indies, Jamaica, 1953.
Queen Elizabeth II watches a University of Maryland vs. University of North Carolina football game at Maryland's Byrd Stadium during her 1957 official visit to the United States.
Queen Elizabeth with Prince Charles and Elizabeth II at Princess Margaret's wedding, 1960.
Queen Elizabeth II speaking at a State Dinner in Ghana, 1961.
Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with a well-wisher while standing next to the General and Governor of Bermuda, Sir Alexander Hood, 1961.
Queen Elizabeth II upon her arrival in India in 1961, the first British monarch to visit since George V in 1911.
Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to Sudan, 1964.
Queen Elizabeth II in Ethiopia, 1965.
Queen Elizabeth II in Ethiopia, 1965.
Queen Elizabeth II in Ethiopia, 1965.
Queen Elizabeth II (right) and Prince Philip on a tour of Trinidad and Tobago, 1966.
Queen Elizabeth II during her 1966 tour of the Caribbean.
Princess Margaret (left), the future Queen Elizabeth II (third from left) and the Queen Mother (third from right) with the Grenadier guards on the occasion of Princess Elizabeth's
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David E. Scherman—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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LIFE With Elizabeth II: Rare and Classic Photos of the Queen

Jun 02, 2012

Anyone who has remained in power for longer than many people remain alive — even if that power is far more symbolic than practical — is worth paying attention to. And when it comes to England's Elizabeth II, paying attention is something the world has been doing for a long, long time.

"Her current Majesty," TIME's Belinda Luscombe once noted, "is very likely the most portrayed woman on the planet. Billions of stamps, millions of coins and notes and hundreds of thousands of postcards bear her likeness. Her face, especially in profile, is recognized in every English-speaking land and is ubiquitous in several. Hers is not the exotic, come-hither face of a Marilyn or an Angelina. It's the face of distant historic authority, a literal figurehead, having no real power but oodles of symbolic supremacy."

[Buy the LIFE book, The Royal Baby.]

Here, LIFE.com offers a series of informal portraits of the Queen, including several that never ran in the magazine. And while some of these images do convey "oodles of symbolic supremacy," it's also worth noting that, in at least a few of these shots, there's also a flicker of something that one hardly ever associates with Elizabeth: namely, a quite self-aware and yet wry sense of fun.

Now that's something to celebrate.

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