The Death of Queens

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Queen Elizabeth famously called 1992 her “annus horribilis,” but that was before she lived through 2002 which saw the passing of both her mother and her sister in short order. Fifteen years ago today the Palace announced the death of Queen Elizabeth (née Bowes-Lyon), wife of King George VI, known more commonly as the Queen Mother.

The official statement read:

“The Queen, with the greatest sadness, has asked for the following announcement to be made immediately: her beloved mother, Queen Elizabeth, died peacefully in her sleep this afternoon at Royal Lodge, Windsor. Members of the royal family have been informed.

“Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother had become increasingly frail in recent weeks following her bad cough and chest infection over Christmas.

“Her condition deteriorated this morning and her doctors were called. Queen Elizabeth died peacefully in her sleep at 3.15 this afternoon at Royal Lodge. The Queen was at her mother’s bedside.”

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The Sapphire Jubilee: 65 Years Ago Today, Elizabeth II Ascended the Throne

Today marks the Blue Sapphire Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, commemorating her 65 years on the throne. Of course, there has never been a Sapphire Jubilee before, with the Queen surpassing the record of 63 years held by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, in September 2015. So how will the Queen be celebrating? She won’t be. Instead she will spend the day quietly at Sandringham and neither she nor the Duke of Edinburgh will undertake any public engagements.

Indeed, this is how the Queen usually marks February 6th, which to her is not only the anniversary of ascending the throne, but the day she lost her much-beloved father, George VI. Thus the passage of 65 years is not only a milestone of her own career, but a reminder that its length is due to his premature death. For similar reasons she declined to make hay out of breaking Queen Victoria’s record to avoid the awkwardness of essentially celebrating a relative’s death.

Recently, Netflix debuted “The Crown,” following the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s marriage and reign. The series dramatized the reality of a young wife and mother shedding whatever semblance of domesticity or privacy she had been able to cultivate for the endless duty and isolation of the throne. The heart of that story is well-captured by the series, but today it’s worth examining the real figures and events behind the story.

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The Death of Queen Victoria

Today, January 22, in 1901, Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight after 63 years on the throne. Victoria had been at Osborne since Christmas, as per her tradition, however by the New Year she didn’t feel well enough to leave. Within three weeks she had passed away at the age of 81.

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Three days later, her body was lifted into her coffin by her eldest son and successor, Edward VII; her eldest grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II; and her third and favorite son, Arthur, Duke of Connaught. Per instruction written out by the Queen in 1897, the funeral was white, she was dressed in a white gown with her wedding veil, and within her coffin was placed a dressing gown that had belonged to her long-dead husband, Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; a lock of her Scottish servant’s, John Brown, hair; a ring from the Brown family that Brown had given to her; and various other mementos. The trinkets related to Brown were placed so as to be concealed by her left hand in the hopes they couldn’t be viewed by her family, the majority of whom detested the deceased servant.

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