A version of this story appeared in the February 4 edition of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.
Queen Elizabeth II is adding yet another achievement to her record-breaking reign, becoming the first British monarch to mark a platinum jubilee on Sunday.
But despite an unprecedented seven decades of service, we won’t see the usual fanfare just yet.
Instead, we know the 95-year-old monarch will be at her home in Sandringham, remembering her father, King George VI, on the anniversary of his death. In keeping with previous years, no public engagements are expected on the day.
The most we might anticipate is a new image or message to mark the significance of this particular milestone. Formal military salutes are slated for the following day – Monday – as is traditional.
This weekend’s landmark moment emphasizes a familiar dilemma for the monarchy: commemorating the unwavering commitment of the sovereign but recognizing the personal loss. It’s something in which the institution is well practiced, but which remains as sensitive as ever.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson summed it up this week, saying in the House of Commons that “while it is a moment for national celebration, it will be a day of mixed emotions for Her Majesty,” before expressing his gratitude for her “tireless service.”
The last time Elizabeth saw her father was as she and Philip set off for a Commonwealth tour in 1952.
Her family had turned up at the airport to see the couple off, with the King cheering her on from the tarmac. Days later, while the pair were in Kenya, she received devastating news – her father, who was only 56, had died in his sleep from a coronary thrombosis.
“Significantly, we do have to remember that when she came to the throne in 1952, it was really not a very enlightened time in terms of working women,” said CNN historian and royal expert Kate Williams. “A lot of people thought that a woman wasn’t up to the job despite the fact that Queen Victoria and all the queens before had been great queens on the throne.”
Williams added that she “really has proved, over and over again, that a woman can do the job of a constitutional monarch, just as well as, if not better than, a man.”
This weekend, the Queen will probably be reflecting on her father’s legacy and how his reign helped define her own.
Like her, Albert Frederick Arthur George – or Bertie, as he was known to the family – was not born to be monarch. That was the job of his older brother, who became King Edward VIII when their father died in 1936.
But that all changed when Bertie stepped up to take his sibling’s place, after Edward abdicated so that he could marry Wallis Simpson. It’s a part of royal history we all know well, having been immortalized for the screen in movies like “The King’s Speech” and shows like “The Crown.”
Inheriting a monarchy in crisis, Bertie opted for the regal name George VI in a nod to his father and to establish continuity between their reigns. As historian Jane Ridley said in CNN original series “The Windsors: Inside the Royal Dynasty,” George’s challenge was “to restore the monarchy to something like the stability that it had before his brother sat on the throne.”
And despite reportedly never wanting the top job, George VI upheld the crown through scandal and war. Upon news of his death, US President Harry Truman said George VI had “shared to the end of his reign all the hardships and austerities which evil days imposed on the brave British people. In return, he received from the people of the whole Commonwealth a love and devotion which went beyond the usual relationship of a King and his subjects.”
The Queen is known to have been particularly close to her father, and she may have inherited her indefatigable work ethic and practice of putting duty before self from him.
During her historic reign, she has appointed 14 Prime Ministers and met with 12 US Presidents. She has been a beacon of continuity through an unprecedented period of change, adapting and modernizing the royal institution with the times. Her greatest achievement is perhaps her ability to remain relevant and popular, despite facing some of the most tumultuous years in modern royal history.
With no plans to retire even as she approaches her 96th birthday, a series of celebrations will take place throughout the year, culminating in a blockbuster four-day public holiday in June when the nation can join in the jubilee-themed festivities.
The unwavering and revered figurehead of the House of Windsor will want to put the family’s recent rifts and scandals aside.
“There’s going to be some surprises up their sleeve, really the palace are aware just as much as everybody, as this has been a long time coming, no one’s really been able to party for quite a long time, so hopefully there’s going to be a big party. Covid will be behind us and people can celebrate outdoors and indoors in the way they like,” Williams said.
Prince Charles will probably play a major role during the nationwide festivities, as will Camilla, William and Kate. As the future of the monarchy, they will be front and center alongside the Queen – a show of renewed strength from the institution.
And if all goes well, perhaps we’ll soon be looking to her next milestone, when the Queen would surpass France’s Louis XIV to become the longest-reigning monarch in world history.
(With reporting from CNN’s Robert Iddiols)
WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING?
Kate replaces Harry as patron of English rugby.
The Duchess of Cambridge has become the official patron of English rugby, a role previously held by her brother-in-law, Prince Harry. On Wednesday, she became the figurehead for the Rugby Football League and the Rugby Football Union – patronages bestowed upon her by the Queen. The honorary titles were returned by Harry after he stepped down as a working member of the royal family in early 2020. The move makes Kate the first royal to officially receive one of the Sussexes’ former patronages. Read the full story.
Sussexes express ‘concerns’ to Spotify over misinformation.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex expressed their concern to Spotify over Covid-19 misinformation on the streaming service. Criticism from the couple, who are involved in projects with the platform, comes after multiple artists asked that their music be pulled from Spotify. A spokesperson for their Archewell foundation said the couple started “expressing concerns to our partners at Spotify” last April and were continuing to do so. “We look to Spotify to meet this moment and are committed to continuing our work together as it does,” the spokesperson added. Their remarks follow protests by singers Neil Young and Joni Mitchell over Spotify’s handling of anti-vaccine misinformation from popular podcaster Joe Rogan. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced a multi-year collaboration with Spotify in December 2020.
PHOTOS OF THE WEEK
Huge crowds of royal fans lined the streets of Chinatown in London on Tuesday as Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall dropped by to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The pair were greeted with a display of dancing lions before embarking on a walkabout, visiting local shops and organizations. They also tried their hand at calligraphy after a demonstration from an expert, writing the Chinese symbol for “harmony.”
Later, the Prince of Wales joined a roundtable conversation with members of the local community on the impact of rising hate crime directed at the Chinese and wider East and Southeast Asian communities amid the pandemic. Separately, Charles released a message to those marking the new lunar year, saying, “As we enter the Year of The Tiger, known for courageous action and rising to challenge and adventure, I hope the whole world will make this a year of action.”
IN THE ROYAL DIARY
Charles to honor medieval Jewish figure.
The heir to the throne will next week unveil a statue in Winchester, the former ancient capital of England, Clarence House has announced. The new effigy is of Licoricia, a prominent businesswoman in the city’s Jewish community in the 13th century. Following the death of her second husband, David, she continued his business dealings and became a major financier to Henry III and his wife, Eleanor. She also used her substantial wealth to contribute to the construction of Westminster Abbey. Tragically, her life was cut short in 1277 when she was murdered under mysterious circumstances.
The new statue by renowned British sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley depicts the local personality holding her son’s hand. It will be installed on Jewry Street, where Licoricia is believed to have lived. The project hopes to educate people about Winchester’s royal medieval past and its little-known but important Jewish community, as well as to promote tolerance and diversity, which Licoricia is seen to symbolize.
FROM THE ROYAL VAULT
This week we’re dipping into the CNN archive to bring you this video segment from CNN’s David McKenzie. He spoke to Nahashon Muriithi, a retired porter from Kenya, who recalled his encounter with then-Princess Elizabeth shortly before she found out she would be queen. Have a watch…
As Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, the Queen is both a cherished and consistent part of public life – and her image is synonymous with stability and tradition to the British people. While her love of color and pops of pattern in her outfits is well known, there are much deeper reasons for why she dons such fabulously vibrant hues.
For example, did you know that the vivid color blocks for which she is famous are a deliberate choice, to help those of us who line the streets to see her? “She needs to stand out for people to be able to say ‘I saw the Queen,’” according to the Countess of Wessex in the 2016 documentary “The Queen at 90.” But don’t just take Sophie’s word – even the Queen once reportedly said: “I can never wear beige because nobody will know who I am.”
There is an art to dressing one of the most photographed women in history. Over her 70-year reign the Queen has amassed an army of staffers, but few have been trusted with the task of royal dressmaker.
Angela Kelly, who has been dressing the Queen since 1994, has helped craft an airtight strategy for ensuring the sovereign looks effortless at every engagement she attends. That approach includes weighted hem-lines and a signature hat, in addition to researching weather forecasts and local customs. Read the story here.
POSTCARDS FROM ROYALS AROUND THE GLOBE
Italy’s former royal family want the crown jewels back.
On June 5, 1946, a representative of Italy’s royal family deposited the crown jewels in the Bank of Italy. The move came three days after Italians voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy. And that is where the pieces have remained to this day. Now, the family wants the gems returned. The grandson of former King Umberto II, Emanuele Filiberto of the House of Savoy, represented the family at a mediation session last week, according to the family’s lawyer, Sergio Orlandi. But while bank representatives were present, the Prime Minister’s office and the Ministry of Economy and Finances were not. In a statement sent to CNN last week, the Prime Minister’s press office said the family’s request was “unfounded, given that it concerns assets constituting the ‘endowment of the Crown of the Kingdom of Italy’ and not personal assets of the House of Savoy.” Find out more on this story.