Celebrating the life of Queen Elizabeth II through photographs
10+ minute read
By Ellie Ayton
A statement from Findmypast on the death of Queen Elizabeth II:
Elizabeth II was never meant to become queen. And yet, her 70-year-reign made her the longest-lived and longest-reigning British monarch in history. She witnessed great change, progress, heartache and tragedy during seven decades on the throne. We took to our historical newspapers to celebrate her incredible life through photographs.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born in Mayfair, London on 21 April 1926, to parents Albert, Duke of York and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. At the time of her birth, her grandfather George V was reigning, with her father’s elder brother Edward, Prince of Wales, as the heir. If you need a refresher on the Queen's family tree, you can find this here.
‘The Princess Elizabeth: The little daughter of T.R.H. the Duke and Duchess of York taken shortly before they arrived back from their six months tour to Australia. During her parents’ absence the little Princess has been with her grandmother, H.M. the Queen, who is naturally devoted to her. The little Princess is in the direct line of succession to the Throne and stands third to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales provided H.R.H. does not marry and has no children.’ - The Tatler, 6 July 1927.
But in 1936, a constitutional crisis shook the monarchy. Edward VIII wished to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American socialite. He followed his heart and abdicated, leaving Albert to ascend as George VI. And so, young Princess Elizabeth, aged only 10, became the heir presumptive. Even now, however, she was not the heir apparent - if a younger brother came along, he would move ahead of her in the line of succession.
‘Wearing the badge of the Grenadier Guards – Princess Elizabeth, Colonel. Last week, Princess Elizabeth inspected the Grenadier Guards, of which she was appointed Colonel last February. This is her first official position and her introduction to the Army, and for the first time in its history this famous regiment has a lady for its Colonel. ‘ - The Sketch, 3 June 1942.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, it was suggested that Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret be evacuated to Canada. This idea was quickly dismissed by the Queen. Young Princess Elizabeth undertook her first solo public appearance in 1942 when she visited the Grenadier Guards. She later joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service and trained as a driver and mechanic.
‘Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret: The Princesses at the bottom of the staircase which leads to their own apartments in the Palace. Princess Elizabeth is wearing a printed flower chiffon dress with a white ground, while Princess Margaret’s frock is in pale shell pink. Princess Elizabeth will be twenty in April, and Princess Margaret sixteen in August.’ - The Tatler, 20 February 1946.
‘Princess Elizabeth comes of age: Princess Elizabeth will be eighteen years old on Friday next, April 21, and while not of age in the full legal sense she becomes, under the amended Regency Act of last year, a potential Counsellor of State. Her Royal Highness will now take a much larger part in public life a number of official tours have been arranged. Visiting South Wales with the King and Queen last month, she received from the Principality the charming and unofficial title of “Ein Tywysoges” = “Our Princess.”’ - The Sketch, 19 April 1944.
Elizabeth came of age in 1944, and a quiet countryside celebration was held with the Royal family.
‘Princess Elizabeth’s coming-of-age birthday spent in the country: This royal group was photographed during a family party held in the country to celebrate Princess Elizabeth’s eighteenth birthday and coming-of-age on April 21. The back row represents (L to R): The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Princess Margaret Rose, the Princess Royal, the Duchess of Kent and Lord Harewood. Front row (L to R): Queen Mary, H.M. the King, Princess Elizabeth and H.M. the Queen. ‘ - Illustrated London News, 29 April 1944.
The Second World War ended in 1945, and the country celebrated after six years of war and uncertainty. Princess Elizabeth took to the balcony of Buckingham Palace on VE Day with the King, Queen, her sister Margaret and Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. It would be a day to go down in history.
‘On VE Day, May 8, T.M. the King and Queen, with Princess Elizabeth, Princess Margaret and Mr Churchill, acknowledged the cheers of the vast, enthusiastic crowds who had come to share with them the joy of peace in Europe after Germany’s unconditional surrender. Eight times their Majesties came on to the balcony of Buckingham Palace in response to insistent calls of their people who thronged the precincts for many hours on the two days of holiday.’ - The Sketch, 16 May 1945.
But the future queen needed a consort. In 1947, Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten announced their engagement. They first met in 1937 and began exchanging letters in 1939. Even at a young age, Princess Elizabeth knew herself to be in love, and it was a love that would last decades. Prince Philip died in 2021 aged 99.
The happy couple were married at Westminster Abbey on 20 November 1947. Believe it or not, even this royal princess needed ration coupons to buy material for her wedding dress in post-war Britain.
‘Their royal highnesses Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.’ - The Sketch, 26 November 1947.
Their first child, Prince Charles, was born in 1948. Other children followed: Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward helped the royal family tree bloom.
‘Four generations together in 1950 – The Royal family group taken at the christening of Princess Anne, the second child of the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh. Queen Mary, Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II), holding the baby Princess, Prince Charles (now Duke of Cornwall), and Queen Elizabeth (now the Queen Mother). King George VI stands in the background with the Duke of Edinburgh. All four generations of the Royal family were thus represented. The christening ceremony took place in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace, which was decorated with pink and white flowers in honour of the baby Princess, who wore the Honiton lace robe made for Queen Victoria and used at the christening of all her children as well as most members of the Royal family.’ - The Sphere, 4 April 1953.
‘Family group at Clarence House: This delightful photograph, taken during the Duke of Edinburgh’s last visit to England on leave, shows him with Princess Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne in the Princess’s sitting-room at Clarence House. The Duke is wearing his uniform of Lt.-Cdr in the Royal Navy, with the aiguillettes of an A.D.C. to the King. At present the Princess is on a visit to Malta, where she spent Christmas with the Duke, and is expected to return at the end of the week. The Duke has recently taken his frigate Magpie on exercises with the Mediterranean Fleet, with which he has served for fifteen months.’ - The Tatler, 17 January 1951.
Tragedy struck while the royal couple was on a tour of Kenya in 1952. News reached them that George V, Elizabeth’s beloved father, had died. At that moment, young Princess Elizabeth, aged just 25, became the Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. At the time, she also became the queen of Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
‘The New Queen emerges from the B.O.A.C. airliner at journey’s end: As she descended to set foot for the first time as Sovereign on English soil the Queen was greeted by the Premier, Mr Churchill, and other members of the Privy Council.’ - The Sphere, 16 February 1952.
Excitement filled the air at the prospect of another queen. The Tatler commented:
‘Under her queens, England has nearly always risen in the scale. If then there is any truth in omens, we may hail the advent of another Elizabeth with joy.’
On 2 June 1953, Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey. It was the first time in history a British monarch’s coronation was televised, and it was watched by people around the world. She was 27 years old.
‘The Queen is crowned: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II enthroned in King Edward’s Chair and with the Crown of St Edward upon her head. On June 2, 1953, in Westminster Abbey, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, and she is seen in this dramatic picture wearing the Crown of St Edward and holding in her hands the Sceptre with the Cross and the Rod with the Dove or Mercy.’ - The Sphere, 6 June 1953.
‘Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who will be crowned at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, succeeded to the throne on February 6, 1952, on the death of her father, King George VI, and two days later her accession was proclaimed throughout the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth. Her Majesty was born at 17, Bruton Street, London, on April 21, 1926.’ - The Sphere, 30 May 1953.
During her long reign, Queen Elizabeth was served by 15 prime ministers, from Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson.
‘Symbol of Commonwealth: Queen Elizabeth is the second monarch of Britain to be the Head of the Commonwealth. Her father was given the title in 1949, when the post-war emergence of the Commonwealth countries began. This photograph of the Queen was taken in 1961, shortly before she set out for her tour of India and Pakistan, two Republics which demonstrated in ample manner how Queen Elizabeth is personally appreciated as the Symbol of the Commonwealth.’ - The Sphere, 23 May 1964.
Queen Elizabeth reigned as a constitutional monarch through The Troubles in Northern Ireland, devolution, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and the decolonisation of Africa. Many of her realms gained independence. She oversaw great change and innovation.
The Queen lived through troubling times in her own family too: the death of Princess Diana in 1997, the breakaway from the royal family of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and the allegations against Prince Andrew.
She reached her Golden Jubilee in 2002, her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, and became the first British monarch to reach a Sapphire Jubilee in 2017 and a Platinum Jubilee in 2022.
'Her charm and beauty are self-evident; her capability as a ruler as been proved in the first few months of her reign. The second Elizabethan era promises to be no less turbulent than the first, but our Monarchy is stronger it has ever been.'
Elizabeth leaves four children, eight grandchildren, including Prince William, and twelve great-grandchildren. May she rest in peace.
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