Princess Elizabeth became Queen 70 years ago whilst staying in a remote area of Kenya on 6 February 1952 whilst on a tour of the Commonwealth.

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, 1954, also known as the ‘wattle painting’, by William Dargie. National Museum of Australia

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were forced to postpone a forthcoming visit to Australia and New Zealand as he was now in poor health, as World War II, loss of empire and heavy smoking had taken their toll.

King George seemed to be in better health so the heir-presumptive Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip set out on a five-month tour of East Africa, Australia and New Zealand on 31 January.

So King George, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret waved farewell as the royal couple boarded the plane at London Airport for their journey, despite doctors advising against it.

‘The King is dead, long live The Queen!’

The King had gone shooting on the Sandringham estate on 5 February but died, sometime after midnight, he died peacefully in his sleep from a coronary thrombosis, aged 56.

Formal photograph: George VI in the uniform of a field marshal, c 1940-1946

Royal valet James MacDonald had knocked on the door, around 7.30 am, and received no response, so he entered the King’s room to discover George VI was no longer alive and his daughter, aged 25, was now Queen.

Bulletins announcing the King’s death were posted on the railings at Buckingham Palace and Sandringham House and flags were flown at half-mast, with the exception of the Royal Standard which represents the continuity of the monarchy.

Members of the Privy Council, the Great Officers of State, the Lord Mayor and City of London Civic party, Realm High Commissioners and civil servants attended an Accession Council at St James’s Palace later that day as they formally proclaimed the new Queen.

The House of Commons had been adjourned out of a mark of respect, after Prime Minister Winston Churchill offered their condolences, saying, ‘We cannot at this moment do more than record the spontaneous expression of grief.’

Royal Tour Postponed

Princess Elizabeth’s Assistant Private Secretary Martin Charteris heard the news from a member of the press, confirmed the devastating news before telling equerry Lieutenant-Commander Michael Parker, who then told Prince Philip.

Prince Philip broke the news as they walked around the Gardens of Sagana Lodge. Whilst the new Queen had lost her beloved father, Prince Philip’s naval career came to an end and, in some sense, his freedom.

While Queen Elizabeth remained outwardly calm and composed, but, privately, she was said to be ‘shocked and grief-stricken’ whilst writing letters and telegrams to family and apologies to those in Australia and New Zealand for postponing the tour before the royal party flew back to London.

Coronation Day, 2 June 1953. Photograph: Cecil Beaton. Royal Collection Trust/ (C) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

When Martin Charteris asked what she wished to be called as Queen, she said, ‘My own name, of course.’

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was among the solemn officials who greeted Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip when they disembarked from their flight two days later, on 8 February, at London Airport.

Queen Elizabeth took an oath on 8 February known as the Accession Declaration in which she pledged to maintain the established Protestant succession, before Garter King of Arms read the public proclamation, in the presence of the Earl Marshall and two Sergeants-at-Arms, at St James’s Palace.

The public proclamation was also read in similar ceremonies in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

A New Elizabethan Era – God Save The Queen

The new Queen was raising a family at the time of her accession. Her heir, Prince Charles, was only three years old, and her daughter, Princess Anne, only one, so it meant her new duties took precedence over family life.

During the rest of the year, the Queen prepared for her Coronation on 2 June 1953, with Prince Philip as chair of the Coronation Committee – which was the first to be televised live by the BBC – except during the anointing of the monarch.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip on the royal train at Central Railway Station, Sydney (NSW), in 1954. Source: State Records NSW

In 1954, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip resumed their long overseas tour of the Commonwealth, including Australia and New Zealand, arriving in Sydney on 3 February for a gruelling schedule by air, car and on special royal trains, visiting all capital cities (except Darwin) and many country towns to allow as many as 75% of Australians to see the royal couple at least once.

The Queen and Prince Philip have visited Australia 16 times, with their last visit in 2011 to Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth.

The Queen’s Commitment Fulfilled

On her 21st birthday in Cape Town, during a tour of South Africa, Princess Elizabeth gave a broadcast on 21 April 1947, which included her pledge, ‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.’

Princess Elizabeth’s 21st Birthday Speech 21 Apr 1947. Photo: Royal Collection Trust

Queen Elizabeth has faithfully kept her great promise of lifelong service during her 70-year reign, despite the highs and lows.

Her third child, Prince Andrew was born in 1960 – the first since Queen Victoria gave birth to her youngest child Princess Beatrice in 1857 – and Prince Edward in 1964.

Her Majesty has played host to many world leaders during state visits and hosting communist dictator President Nicolae Ceaucescu of Romania in 1978 was regarded as one of the ‘less agreeable’ parts of her job.

According to the documentary Inside the Crown: Secrets of the Royals, Queen Elizabeth was out walking one of her corgis and hid in a bush when she saw the Romanian President and his wife Elena coming in the other direction.

In 1979, personal tragedy stuck the Royal Family when the IRA assassinated Prince Philip’s uncle and the last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountain, during a summer holiday at his home, Classiebawn Castle, in Ireland – an event which highlighted threats to the monarchy during the 1970s and 1980s.

Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 and produced the heir, Prince William, and the spare, Prince Harry. However, the marriage ended in divorce in 1992, as part of Queen Elizabeth’s ‘annus horribilis’, along with the marriages of Princess Anne and Prince Andrew, as well as a devastating fire at Windsor Castle.

Australia was preparing to welcome Princess Elizabeth in 1952. Photo: © Carolyn M Cash

The monarchy reached a low point following the tragic death of Diana Princess of Wales in a car crash in Paris.

Queen Elizabeth was accused of ‘lacking compassion’ for remaining at her Scottish country estate, Balmoral, where the royal family mourned in private whilst supporting Prince William and Prince Harry, instead of returning immediately to London. She was criticised for not lowering the royal standard on Buckingham Palace’s roof to half-mast.

In November 1997, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary – 50 years of marriage.

The Queen described her husband as ‘my strength and stay all these years’.

Queen Elizabeth is the second monarch in British history to celebrate her Golden Jubilee in 2002, but she lost both her sister Princess Margaret on 9 February and her mother, Elizabeth The Queen Mother, the following month on 30 March.

Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Her grandson Prince William (who is second in the line of succession) married commoner Catherine Middleton and produced another heir to the throne, Prince George, born in 2013.

On 9 September 2015, Queen Elizabeth beat Queen Victoria’s record as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and the second to reach a Platinum Jubilee.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand commemorated his Platinum Jubilee in 2016.

In another 2 years and 110 days, Queen Elizabeth is set to become the longest-reigning monarch in the world on Sunday, 29 May 2024, overtaking King Louis of France at 72 years and 110 days.

In recent times, Queen Elizabeth has lost her husband of 73 years, dealing with the scandal surrounding Prince Andrew, her grandson Prince Harry and his wife, former actress Meghan Markle, stepping down from official duties for a so-called ‘private life’ only to regularly make media appearances criticising the Royal Family, along with allegations of racism.

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Emblem 2022 in English. Source: The Royal Family

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