LONDON : Queen Elizabeth II became Britain's oldest monarch on Thursday, overtaking her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria, although in discreet royal fashion she passed the milestone without fanfare.
"This is just another normal working day for the queen," a royal spokeswoman told AFP, adding that the 81-year-old was spending the day in Buckingham Palace dealing with routine paperwork and some Christmas correspondence.
"There's nothing the queen is doing to mark the occasion," she added.
Victoria died in 1901 aged 81 years and 243 days. Elizabeth passed Victoria's record at around 5:00 pm (1700 GMT), taking into account times of birth and death, according to Buckingham Palace.
She is the world's second-longest serving monarch alive, after Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej. She has outlasted 11 prime ministers - the first was Sir Winston Churchill - and is the first to have a prime minister, Tony Blair, born during her reign.
Victoria will retain the record for longest-serving monarch ever for some time, though: she ruled Britain and its empire for nearly 64 years. Elizabeth will surpass that if she is still on the throne on September 9, 2015.
Coincidentally, the youngest member of the British royal family, the newborn son of the queen's youngest child, Prince Edward, left hospital on Thursday following his birth on Monday.
Despite her age, the queen shows little sign of slowing down - last month, she and her husband Prince Philip visited Uganda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and she carried out 425 official engagements last year.
"Even allowing for the improvement in medicine since Victoria, it is remarkable," Peter Hennessy, professor of contemporary British history at Queen Mary's college, University of London, told the Daily Telegraph.
Any sign of ageing is pored over by the media, such as when she appeared at an official engagement this week with a large bruise on her neck. Royal officials said it was the result of a knock and was "nothing to worry about".
Notwithstanding her gruelling timetable and the high respect which most Britons have for her, there are signs that the monarchy is starting to think about what will happen when she dies, even if she is currently in good health.
Heir to the throne Prince Charles went to Uganda last month with his parents, attending his first Commonwealth leaders summit outside Britain.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper quoted an unnamed senior Commonwealth source at the time as saying the question of whether Charles would become head of the 53-nation body was being actively considered.
Charles's own position in Britain has strengthened thanks to the successful integration of his second wife Camilla - with whom he had an affair during his
marriage to the late princess Diana - into the royal family.
Thanks to her low-key charity work and seemingly warm relations with stepsons princes William and Harry, public opinion of the woman Diana dubbed "the Rottweiler" is beginning to thaw.
Some 28 percent of people say they want her as queen when Charles takes over, compared to just seven percent in 2005.
Insiders including Elizabeth's cousin Margaret Rhodes say it is highly unlikely she will step down early - the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, which forced her father to take over, is a painful chapter in royal history.
"Abdication I don't think is an issue, or something that's even in consideration to the Queen," said Robert Jobson, a journalist and author of books on the royal family.
So while the queen could still, in the words of the national anthem, be "long to reign over us", the royal family seems determined to make sure that when the inevitable does finally happen, the transition is smooth.
Buckingham Palace said the Queen's next public engagement is on Christmas Day (December 25), when she will attend a church service on her Sandringham country estate in the county of Norfolk, eastern England. - AFP/de