We are at The Archive are deeply saddened by the passing of Her Majesty The Queen. During her seven decades on the throne, she witnessed great change. With her calm determination, her sparkling humour and an unwavering sense of duty, she stood as a beacon of constancy and comfort to millions.
To honour the memory of the late Queen, we have looked back at her extraordinary life through our newspapers, from when she was born, when her destiny was set to be altogether something different, all the way through to her marriage, coronation and rule, as she became the longest reigning monarch Britain has ever witnessed.
The Queen’s Early Life
The Queen was born on 21 April 1926 to her parents HRH the Duke and Duchess of York, at 17 Bruton Street, London. The birth of the little princess was front page news, with the headline on the front page of the Dundee Evening Telegraph noting in particular her grandmother Queen Mary’s ‘interest in the new arrival.’
The interest in the birth of the little, as yet unnamed, Princess was clear. But at this time, it was not expected that this newly born child would ever accede to the throne. Her uncle, first in line to the throne after King George V, the then Prince of Wales, was a bachelor, and was expected to have children of his own. And still, crowds flocked to Bruton Street to celebrate the arrival of a new royal baby, getting a glimpse of the ‘extremely happy’ Duke of York as he looked out of a window.
The birth of the new Princess led to a wave of speculation in the press over what her name would be, the Aberdeen Press and Journal on 22 April 1926 plumping for ‘Elizabeth’ as its favourite, with Mary (‘after the Queen, who is expected to be the child’s grandmother’) and Victoria (‘after Queen Victoria, the child’s great-great grandmother, and the modern founder of the Royal House’) also in contention.
It was later officially announced, as reports The Tatler on 26 May 1926, that the young Princess would be named Elizabeth Alexandra Mary. Elizabeth was the name of her mother, whilst Alexandra honoured her great-grandmother Queen Alexandera, who has passed away a few months previously.
Our newspapers then trace the earliest months of the young Princess Elizabeth, from the first ever portrait of her, taken with her mother, the Duchess of York, to another ‘pleasing’ portrait published by The Tatler on 22 December 1926, which demonstrated how much she had grown.
A lady who had the privilege of meeting the Princess Elizabeth the other day says her Royal Highness is now one of the prettiest babies she has ever seen – and not in the heavy manner of advertised fine babies, but with a charming effect of energy and intelligence.
The public were enchanted by their young Princess, with photographs of Princess Elizabeth reaching the pages of the press on a regular basis, like this ‘delightful picture’ of her ‘trying out her new tricycle in the grounds of her Piccadilly home,’ which was published in the Sheffield Independent on 9 May 1930. Princess Elizabeth had just turned four, and her birthdays were always marked as important milestones in the pages of our newspapers.
Even the most seemingly trivial encounters with the young Princess also hit the pages of the press. For example, the Dundee Courier on 17 October 1932 reported on Princess Elizabeth’s visit to her ‘favourite sweet shop’ in Forfar, whilst she was staying at the home of her maternal grandmother the Countess of Strathmore at Glamis Castle.
Her shopping trip including a visit to Mr Shepherd’s, ‘bookseller and stationer,’ where she bought a ‘number of kiddies’ books,’ before she paid a visit to ‘the famous Peter Reid rock shop,’ where the Princess bought ‘some of Peter Reid’s well known candies.’
‘A New Chapter’
But things soon were to be all change for the young Princess Elizabeth, as events in December 1936 would alter the course of her life forever. Her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated on 11 December 1936 in order to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson, meaning that Princess Elizabeth’s father, the Duke of York, now became king. This meant that Princess Elizabeth was now heir to the throne.
On 27 February 1937, a few months after these events, a special correspondent for the Dundee Courier detailed how Princess Elizabeth was starting ‘a new chapter,’ as she was now preparing ‘for the heavy responsibilities which will in all probability fall upon her shoulders.’
The newspaper reported how the Princess’s favourite subject was geography, and how she could speak French and some German. Most importantly, the Princess was ‘very fond of out-of-door life,’ and was already, at the age of just ten, noted to be an ‘accomplished rider.’ But now, with her proximity to the throne, Princess Elizabeth would now ‘have to be trained specially for the duties she may have to face in later years.’
The article for the Dundee Courier concluded:
As Heiress-Presumptive to the Throne, she is now a very important young lady, but her parents are thoroughly opposed to that fact being thrust too much into her childhood days and ways. They feel that when she attains her majority – 18 is the customary age observed in the Royal Family – will be time enough to make public appearances and for individual mention of her name to be made in royal toasts.
But later in the year the young Princess would be undertaking one of the most traditional of royal duties – planting a tree. The Dundee Courier on 25 September 1937 pictured the now eleven-year-old Princess planting an ash tree in the Friendship Garden at Elsick House, Kincardineshire, the home of Lord and Lady Carnegie, to honour the eighth birthday of their son. Her little sister, Princess Margaret Rose, stands to the left.
The newspapers would go on to report on the now heir to the throne’s birthdays, the Aberdeen Evening Express detailing Princess Elizabeth’s thirteenth birthday on its front page on 21 April 1939. According to the newspaper, she was able to plan her own day,’ as she ‘arranged to spend the morning riding in Windsor Park with the King and Princess Margaret,’ after receiving ‘telegrams and messages of congratulation…from all over the world.’
Meanwhile, the education of the young Princess continued. The Illustrated London News on 13 May 1939 pictured Princess Elizabeth with her younger sister Princess Margaret alongside their grandmother Queen Mary, during a visit to the London Docks. This visit was one of the ‘Princesses’ afternoon education tours,’ where they visited the Port of London Authority’s head office, in North Woolwich, as well as a ‘number of the largest basins.’
A Wartime Princess
By the time that Princess Elizabeth turned sixteen, on 21 April 1942, Britain had been at war with Germany for nearly three years. As such, the Dundee Evening Telegraph reported how there would be ‘no special celebrations’ for the Princess’ birthday, but she would have ‘a few friends to tea.’
Meanwhile, Tommy Handley and his ‘variety company’ were set to give a performance in the evening, with ‘troops stationed in the district’ asked to attend from the ‘personal invitation of Princess Elizabeth.’
The article also notes a landmark in the young Princess’ life; namely her appointment as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, in ‘succession to the late Duke of Connaught.’ The Dundee Evening Telegraph writes how the appointment was ‘her first link with the fighting services,’ and this would prove to be the first link of many.
Later that year, on 30 December 1942, The Tatler reported how Princess Elizabeth ‘discharged her first public engagement by inspecting the Grenadier Guards in her capacity of Colonel of the Regiment,’ marking ‘her entry into the official life of the nation.’ The publication pictured her wearing a ‘brooch in the form of the regimental cipher,’ which had been presented to her ‘on behalf of the regiment,’ as well as the ‘grenade badge of the Grenadiers in her hat.’
As the nation was at war, this tying of the Princess together with the military was an excellent way of raising morale, and Princess Elizabeth was keen to do her bit. The Tatler relates how ‘shortly after her birthday Princess Elizabeth went to the local Labour Exchange to register for national service with others of her age group.’ She may have been a Princess, but she was prepared to undertake war service just like everybody else was doing at the time, a time of national emergency.
Her tie with the Grenadier Guards was to prove a strong one, as she was pictured by the Aberdeen Press and Journal on 15 April 1943 inspecting an ‘armoured division’ of the regiment.
And a year later, the Princess ‘came of age,’ the same newspaper marking the eighteenth birthday of the heir to the throne on its front page. Meanwhile, the Illustrated London News on 22 April 1944 marked the occasion by publishing a colour picture of the Princess, alongside her ‘pet Welsh corgi dog,’ who was named ‘Crackers.’ Crackers got his name having been born on Christmas Eve, alongside his sister, who also had the seasonal name of ‘Carol.’
By 1945, Princess Elizabeth was truly doing her bit for the war effort. She was appointed honorary second subaltern in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), with the service number of 230873. It was during this time that the Princess trained as a driver and a mechanic in the service.
To mark her war service, The Tatler on 25 July 1945 published a portrait of the Princess in her A.T.S. uniform. Like so many other women during the war, Princess Elizabeth had done her bit, an important figurehead during the Second World War alongside her father King George VI. And by the time Victory in Europe was declared, her and her sister Princess Margaret mixed with the celebrating masses in the streets of London, completely incognito, a rare moment of anonymity for a woman who would go on to be one of the most recognisable personalities in the world.
Princess Elizabeth had met her future husband Prince Philip of Greece in Denmark three times, the first time in 1934, the second in 1937, and then for the third time in 1939, when she was thirteen and he was at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. It was that third time that the Princess reportedly fell in love, and it was a love that would last through the decades to come.
The couple’s engagement was announced on 9 July 1947, with their wedding taking place on 20 November 1947 at Westminster Abbey. Photographs of the special occasion filled the pages of our newspapers, as the nation came together to celebrate a happy event, just two years after the end of the war. It would have been a colourful point of those austere years; but even Princess Elizabeth herself had to use ration coupons for her Norman Hartnell designed dress.
The happy couple would honeymoon at Broadlands, in Hampshire, the home of Philip’s uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten. The Sphere featured photographs of the newlyweds ‘riding through the Hampshire countryside,’ with Princess Elizabeth’s corgi Susan following behind. The couple were also shown walking through the ‘leaf-strewn grounds’ of Broadlands, the ‘November sunlight’ shining through the trees. Again, Susan the loyal corgi followed the Princess and her new husband.
One year later, Princess Elizabeth would give birth to her first child, Princes Charles, now King Charles III, and in August 1950 the couple’s first and only daughter, Princess Anne, was born.
It was during this time that Princess Elizabeth and her husband, who was now known as the Duke of Edinburgh, lived a relatively normal existence. Philip was stationed in Malta with the Royal Navy, and his wife Princess Elizabeth lived there with him, throwing herself into a naval officer wife’s life on the island.
The Illustrated London News on 3 December 1949 writes how the arrival of Princess Elizabeth in Malta was greeted with ‘the greatest enthusiasm,’ and the couple were pictured together taking in the sights of the island.
‘A Shock To The Nation’
And just as Princess Elizabeth was enjoying married life, going on tour with her husband, the unthinkable happened. On 6 February 1952, whilst the Princess was in Kenya, her father, King George VI, passed away. She had left Britain a Princess, and when she returned, she would return as Queen, England’s second Queen Elizabeth.
The death of the King filled front pages of newspapers across the United Kingdom and the world. The Shields Daily News on 6 February 1952 ran with the headline ‘King George Sixth Dead,’ noting how the monarch had passed peacefully, ‘in his sleep.’ The newspaper also described how:
Princess Elizabeth who a week ago waved from her aircraft at London Airport to her father King George the Sixth, standing bareheaded to wish his daughter Godspeed on her journey to Africa, is today flying back to England as Queen. Tonight she will be proclaimed sovereign.
The whole nation was ‘stunned,’ with tributes pouring in to the late sovereign, as a new monarch prepared herself to take on the crown. The Ballymena Weekly Telegraph on 8 February 1952 described the ‘King’s sudden death…as a shock to the nation,’ as the new Queen wept upon hearing the sad news, the sad news that ‘was at first withheld from her until hard confirmation was obtained.’
The Ballymena Weekly Telegraph reported how:
The Royal couple had come back happily to the Lodge from ‘Tree-Tops Hotel,’ totally unprepared for the blow that was to befall them. In an instant all the elaborate plans for their tour fell to the ground. In the midst of sorrow they had to prepare their minds for vast new responsibilities.
The Princess’ life had been turned upside down, as she succeeded to the throne at the age of just 25, the same age Queen Elizabeth I had been when she inherited the throne from her sister Queen Mary I in 1558.
Long Live The Queen
Nearly eighteen months had passed since the tragic death of King George VI, when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned at Westminster Abbey, on 2 June 1953. This event was marked by street parties across the country, as a new monarch was welcomed upon the throne.
The Sphere on 6 June 1953 captured the moment the newly crowned Queen, ‘wearing the imperial state crown, and carrying the orb and the sceptre,’ left Westminster Abbey, ‘her Coronation over,’ but a life of service and of duty was just beginning.
As Queen Elizabeth II ’emerged from St. Edward’s Chapel,’ the National Anthem was played, the whole congregation joining together to sing it. In all, 7,000 people from across the Commonwealth attended the historic ceremony, which brought many nations together in celebration.
After the Coronation, the new Queen left Westminster Abbey in the ‘golden Coach of State,’ returning to Buckingham Palace. Once back at Buckingham Palace, she appeared on the famous palace balcony, accompanied by Prince Philip and their two children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, to receive the applause of the assembled crowds.
The Sphere pictures the Royal family, who were also accompanied by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, standing on the balcony. In a particularly sweet moment, Prince Charles is shown taking a ‘keen interest in the Queen’s bracelets,’ with little Princess Anne also being distracted by her mother’s Coronation finery.
In another picture, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother is seen leaning in towards her grandchildren on the balcony, The Sphere noting how Prince Charles had provided ‘much amusement’ for the gathered crowds, as well as for his grandmother.
One notices the new Queen’s rather serious expression in this photograph. It is little wonder, as she contemplated her new role and the literal and metaphorical weight of the crown she was wearing, as she prepared to officially enter a new life as Head of State, a figurehead for many thousands of people.
A Life of Service
Queen Elizabeth II’s reign had begun, and during her reign she was queen regnant of 32 sovereign states, visiting more than 120 countries across the world, as well as towns and villages across the United Kingdom.
The newspapers, of course, tracked all of her many tours and engagements. The Sphere, for example, in April 1955 tracks the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to Lancashire. This trip saw the first time that a ‘reigning Monarch had visited a provincial police headquarters,’ the Royal couple visiting County Police H.Q. at Hutton, near Preston, where they met one of the force’s police dogs.
During this trip, the Queen also visited a cotton factory in Nelson, namely the Malvern Mill, a moment that was captured, like many of the moments in her life, by photographers.
From urban visits, to the countryside, later that year Her Majesty visited Wales, adding to the ‘history of the Principality,’ as The Sphere relates. Landing from the Royal Yacht Britannia at Milford Haven, in August 1955 the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attended a service at St David’s Cathedral. The Queen also attended the Brecknockshire Agricultural Society’s Show at Brecon, where she inspected sheep within their pens, observed by a crowd of onlookers. The visit to Wales also saw the Queen opening a new reservoir, before she travelled to Aberystwyth.
The Queen, of course, made many overseas visits too, beyond the borders of the United Kingdom. The Illustrated London News, for example, devoted pages to the Queen’s tour of Australia in 1963, showing the Monarch on tour in the cities of Sydney and Brisbane, as well as her visit to Tasmania.
Her Majesty also visited non-Commonwealth countries during her reign, travelling on state visits across the world. The Illustrated London News in 1968 captured the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, where gifts were exchanged between Her Majesty and President Artur da Costa e Silver, the Queen giving a ‘silver-wine cooler.’ Her final day in Brasilia was marked by a ‘state banquet and a reception for 5,000 guests.’
But the Queen’s reign was not all plain sailing. There were difficult points, of course, with the divorces of her children, a fire at Windsor Castle, and a rise in Republican feeling all representing times of stress through her rule.
One of those difficult moments came in March 1965, when the Queen finally came face to face with the Duchess of Windsor, perhaps better known as Wallis Simpson, for the very first time. They came together at the bedside of the Duke of Windsor, the Queen’s uncle, at the London Clinic. This was fodder for the headlines, and foreshadows the treatment of the Royal family in the tabloid press in the years to come, a favourite subject for headline writers and for paparazzi alike.
But despite these difficult moments, Queen Elizabeth II remained committed to her duty, and her impartiality. She was a figurehead who guided the nation and beyond through difficult times, whose remarkable reign saw her touch the lives of so many. She will be remembered for her devotion, and her service, being the longest reigning monarch in British history. We mourn her at this time, also celebrating her remarkable life. Thank you, Your Majesty.