Seventy years after becoming monarch far sooner than she could have anticipated, the Queen will mark the anniversary of her accession on Sunday at Sandringham, where her father George VI died aged 56 in 1952.
Though it has long been her custom to mark this milestone at the Norfolk estate, this year has added poignancy. The Duke of Edinburgh, her “strength and stay” during 73 years of marriage, and who broke news to her of the king’s death while they were thousands of miles away at a Kenyan game lodge, is no longer at her side.
The times they spent together privately at Wood Farm on the Sandringham estate were, perhaps, the nearest the couple ever got to normality, with a lack of formality, and where the liveried army of staff ever present at other royal residences are absent, allowing for greater privacy.
So it is at Sandringham that she will spend the day in private, without him, and with none of the fanfare of June’s planned platinum jubilee bank holiday celebrations.
But a platinum jubilee is unprecedented in British history, and rare elsewhere. So, to mark accession day, Buckingham Palace on Friday released images and footage taken two weeks ago of the monarch viewing memorabilia from bygone royal jubilees.
Taken in the Oak Room at Windsor Castle, they show the Queen, accompanied by her dorgi, Candy, laughing at cards, including a golden jubilee letter from a nine-year-old boy called Chris, titled “A Recipe for a Perfect Queen”. Its list of ingredients included “500ml of royal blood”, a “dab of jewels and posh gowns” and “a dash of loyalty”. “That’s quite fun, isn’t it,” the 95-year-old monarch remarked.
Platinum jubilee cards were also on display, as was a fan presented to Queen Victoria to mark her golden jubilee in 1887 and signed by members of her family including her eldest child, the Princess Royal, known as Vicky to her relatives, and granddaughter Princess Alix, later the Tsarina of Russia, and the then prime minister, the Marquess of Salisbury.
The celebrations come at a difficult time for the monarch, who has been seen less in public since being ordered to rest by doctors, and who spent a night in hospital in October undergoing tests.
She will soon mark the 20th anniversaries of the deaths of her sister and mother, who died during her golden jubilee year in 2002; Princess Margaret on 9 February, and the Queen Mother on 30 March. The first anniversary of Prince Philip’s death, aged 99, is on 9 April.
The Duke of York’s legal travails have also intensified in recent weeks as he fights a civil sexual assault lawsuit in the US, forcing his mother to make the difficult decision to strip her second son of his royal patronages and official use of his HRH style, to distance the monarchy from the court case. Prince Andrew has denied the allegations.
The fall out from any trial, should it proceed in the autumn, threatens to tarnish her jubilee year. Another possible cloud on the horizon is the publication of the memoirs of the outspoken Duke of Sussex, also planned for the autumn.
“Obviously 70 years is a massive milestone for a British monarch, but for the Queen on a personal level it is still, even after 70 years, a time for reflection, it also being the anniversary of her father’s death,” said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine. “Clearly, with the passage of time that becomes easier to bear, but nevertheless their bond was close and she has said herself he died far too young.”
Her mind will, no doubt, cast back to the dramatic – and traumatic – time when, at the very beginning of an official overseas tour, she famously climbed up the ladder to Treetops Lodge, Nyeri, on the night of 6 February and descended the next morning a Queen, changing into mourning black during the hurried journey home.
“The irony was, she was among the last to learn of the death of the king because of how isolated she was and how communications were at that time,” said Little. “This is a year of first for the Queen as a widow, I’m sure adding the poignancy for 6 February.”
The extended four-day bank holiday platinum jubilee weekend will begin on 2 June and will include trooping the colour, a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s cathedral, a day at the Derby, a star-studded concert at Buckingham Palace, and the Big Jubilee Lunch.
In the tradition of royal jubilees, following coronation chicken and victoria sponge, a platinum pudding competition is under way to create a dessert fit for royalty. The Queen browsed through images of some early entries during the Windsor display. Her verdict? “Looks like they’re all going to end with crowns on them,” she said.