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Queen Elizabeth, Her Accession

Sixty years ago, Queen Elizabeth II succeeded as sovereign. 

News of King George VI's death reached court officials in Kenya through news agencies. However, they waited for confirmation from Buckingham Palace before informing Princess Elizabeth of what had happened. Michael Parker, the Duke of Edinburgh's private secretary contacted sources in Nairobi and London for further information, while news via wire services were passed around among royal servants. Bobo MacDonald, the princess' hairdresser, and John Dean, the duke's valet, were the first to know that princess was now queen. They were sitting on the doorstep and cleaning shoes when the new queen's detective informed them of her accession. They must have been saddened and glad at the same time, but they carried on with their duties, having nothing else to think of but serve their masters.

The new queen still knew nothing about his father's passing. She emerged from her room to talk to them. She informed them that wanted to go for a ride before she and Prince Philip leaves for a tour in Mombassa in the afternoon. She requested Bobo to make the arrangements. Bobo and Dean had no idea was to do but they kept on doing their things, not showing hints as if everything was alright.

Meanwhile, Michael Parker, slipped to the side to call the attention of Prince Philip who was in a window. The prince came outside and Parker whispered news of the king's death. Parker recalls: “He looked as if you've dropped half the world to him. I never felt sorry for anyone in all my life.” Shocked, the Prince went inside and told Elizabeth that she was now The Queen. In fact she was already queen for several hours but for how long no one knew. It is unknown on what hour she succeeded because no one was around when King George died. It was 2:45 pm in Kenya, 11:45 in London, 25 years old, Elizabeth was the first monarch to ascend the throne while in a foreign land since King George I succeeded Queen Anne in 1714.

The queen received the news calmly, herself being trained and prepared for this moment all her life. She held her composure and immediately took matters into her own hand. She signed the documents of her accession, which was taken along in her luggage. She then dispatched a message to Australia and New Zealand, sending her apologies because her trip had to be cut short. As it became clear that she had taken over the duty as the new sovereign, telegrams and messages began to arrive. She dealt with it all, because duty calls her to do it, even if it meant having no time to grieve of the king's death in private. After all, he was her father. But before that, she was Queen as such, she has to be seen to rule as soon as possible.

The Queen had taken with her, as with any other member of the royal family, a suitcase containing mourning outfits, a dreaded suitcase that no one dared to open. They were included in her luggage, reserved in the event that they have to go back to London upon the death of a royal or statesman.

Prince Philip ordered for a quick flight home. Everything was settled speedily and within an hour, the new queen was on her way to her kingdom. However, a thunderstorm delayed the flight for one hour but nevertheless, the trip progressed and the queen arrived in a country still mourning the death of her beloved king.

The queen arrived at Heathrow Airport 4 pm, Feb. 7. She stepped down from the airplane, dressed in black. Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh, diplomat, likened the Queen's accession to that of Queen Victoria more than a century ago: “There was a touching picture of [The Queen] walking down the steps from the aircraft with the Privy Council lined up to greet her. One could just see the backs of their poor old heads: Winston, Attlee, A.E. [Eden], Woolton and so on. The 20th-century version of Melbourne galloping to Kensington Palace, falling on his knees before Victoria in her nightdress. The mystery is, where did she get her black clothes from? I have since heard that Queen Mary has laid it down as a principle of life never to go anywhere without a black dress – ‘in case something should happen.’”

Lady Pamela Mountbatten, the queen's lady-in-waiting, said of the big black Palace cars: “I remember the Queen saying: ‘Oh, they’ve sent the hearses.’”

The queen was immediately driven to the center of the capital, passing through the Mall, and eventually taken to Clarence House. At 4:30 pm, a limousine emerged from the gates of Marlborough House heading to Clarence House. It carried Queen Mary, who said, “Her old grannie and subject must be the first to kiss her hand.” She curtsied her grand daughter, while the new royal standard was raised for the first time. Queen Elizabeth II's reign was welcomed by a peculiar event. For a short period in the history of the monarchy, the country had three queens, the reigning sovereign, Elizabeth II, her mother, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and Queen Mary, who would die shortly before her coronation.

Ever the impassioned, Churchill, broadcasted a speech that could be likened to any wartime speech he did a few years ago. It was one of his finest, a tribute to the king whose image became an immortal figure in boosting the morale of the Britons in the darkest of the great war. Nevertheless, Churchill also reminded that the new queen is Elizabeth, named after the greatest queen England has ever had.

He ended his speech in words that inspired the nation to move on and embrace a new sunshine as he welcomed the reign of the new monarch with zest and youthful vigor: “I, whose youth was passed in the august, unchallenged and tranquil glories of the Victorian era, may we feel a thrill in invoking once more the prayer and the anthem, 'God Save the Queen.”


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