Royal Rewind: the day Elizabeth II acceded to the throne

The Princess had been visiting Kenya on behalf of her father

6th February 1952 was a date that saw the United Kingdom enter the new Elizabethan era – it was the day Elizabeth II acceded to the throne. 

The UK and Commonwealth had a new Queen – something that hadn’t happened in the UK since the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901). 

How did Elizabeth II find out she had become Queen? Where was she? How did George VI die? Find out below…

George VI and Princess Elizabeth

In 1952, George VI had to abandon his Commonwealth tour of Australia and New Zealand via Kenya, due to poor health.

Instead Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, married five years previous, took his place and departed London of 31st January 1952. 

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Just a week later, however, on 6th February at 2.45pm in Kenya, Elizabeth and Philip were resting at Sagana Lodge, having spending the previous day at the Treetops Hotel in Aberdare Forest. The couple had been taking films from the hotel of elephants at a nearby watering hole.

A message was given to Philip by his equerry, Mike Parker, that George VI was dead. His close aide said that when the Prince found out the news, he looked as if ‘half the world’ had dropped on him. 

George VI passed away in his sleep at Sandringham from a coronary thrombosis (a blocking of blood flow to the heart, as a result of a blood clot in an artery).

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British hunter Jim Corbett, who was also staying at Treetops alongside the couple, later wrote in the visitors’ log book: ‘For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and, after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen.’

Following the news of the King’s passing, Lord Charteris, the Queen’s private secretary, noted how he saw in the lodge appearing ‘very composed, absolute master of her fate’. When asked what name she wished to use as Queen, since Monarchs can use a middle name instead of their first, she replied: ‘My own name, of course.’

Within hours, the couple were heading back to London.

Princess Elizabeth arrives back in London after the death of her father, George VI (Royal Collection Trust)

After the long journey back to the UK, the young Elizabeth II set foot on the runway of a London airport – her first time on British soil as Sovereign.

She was greeted by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, alongside the Opposition Leader, Clement Attlee, and the Duke of Gloucester, Elizabeth’s uncle.

Dressed in black mourning clothes, Elizabeth paired the look with one of her brooches. For the occasion, she wore the flame lily brooch. The brooch takes the simplified form of the national flower of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

It was presented to Princess Elizabeth during a tour of the country in 1947, the of her marriage, for her 21st birthday. It was a birthday present from 42,000 children in Southern Rhodesia, with each child having donated some money to the cause. With this money, a 301 diamond and platinum brooch was created for the young Royal.

Flame lily brooch

She was proclaimed Queen by the Accession Council on 8th February 1952, with her Coronation taking place on 2nd June 1953 at Westminster Abbey.

Throuhgout her reign, the late Queen marked the day of her accession quietly at Sandringham.

The reign of Elizabeth II would last for over 70 years, becoming the longest reigning Monarch in British history, celebrating her Platinum Jubilee in 2022.

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