The day Elizabeth became queen in a tree house in Kenya

The day Elizabeth became queen in a tree house in Kenya

It had been “a perfectly happy day,” a newspaper later wrote of February 5, 1952.

King George VI, who had been ill, felt well enough to go hare hunting at his Sandringham estate.

“The King, a great shooter, was in top form,” neighbor Lord Fermoy said.

George dined with his wife and youngest daughter, Princess Margaret, before retiring to his bedroom at 10.30pm.

Thousands of miles away in Kenya, his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, had also spent a wonderful day seeing and filming with her pocket camera rhinos, warthogs, baboons and a herd of elephants, roses from rolling in the dust.

But the next day, February 6, when Elizabeth became sovereign? The Queen always commemorated him with a day of quiet reflection. This date marks the death of her beloved father, King George VI, 56, in his sleep.

“It is a day which, even after 70 years, I still remember as much as the death of my father, King George VI, as the beginning of my reign,” she wrote in an anniversary post. statement in February.

Queen Elizabeth died Thursday at age 96. She reigned longer than any other British monarch, 70 years.

The story of the day and time of Elizabeth’s accession to the throne has been told many times, but it remains a gripping tale. It is history with echoes of Arthurian romance.

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The morning her father died, Elizabeth, 25, was perched in a treehouse in Kenya from where she had seen a herd of elephants led by matriarchs arrive at a waterhole.

“There has been much speculation, particularly due to historical parallels, about when exactly Elizabeth became queen,” Sally Bedell Smith wrote in her biography of the monarch. “It undoubtedly happened when she was atop the African fig tree, which draws a romantic line with the moment in 1558 when Elizabeth I, seated beside an oak tree at Hatfield House, heard that the death of her sister, Queen Mary, meant she was the monarch, also at twenty-five.

For many months, King George – known to generations today for overcoming a debilitating stutter in the 2010 Oscar-winning film ‘The King’s Speech’ – was in declining health.

“The King, a heavy smoker, underwent a total left pneumonectomy in September 1951 for what were euphemistically called ‘structural abnormalities’ of his left lung, but what in reality was a carcinoma,” wrote Rolf F. Barth from Ohio State University in a “re-evaluation of pathologists” last year.

“His doctors hid this diagnosis from him, the public and the medical profession,” he and co-author L. Maximilian Buja wrote.

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Too ill to travel, George, 56, tasked Elizabeth and her husband, Philip, with undertaking a months-long tour of the Commonwealth in the twilight of the British Empire.

George saw his daughter depart at London Airport on January 31, 1952. Newspapers said the King looked “good and cheerful”. One of his biographers would later suggest “haggard” as a better description. The crowd cheered as he said goodbye to Elizabeth.

This would be the last time the two would see each other.

The young couple traveled to Kenya, where a BBC newsreel shows Elizabeth in a printed dress and Philip in a white navy uniform, adorned with medals, stepping out of the BOAC Argonaut plane.

“When the royal couple left in the scorching Nairobi sun, no one knew then that the girl who had arrived here as Princess Elizabeth would leave as Queen five days later,” reported the British broadcaster.

From the Kenyan capital, Elizabeth and Philip, accompanied by a small entourage, traveled three hours to Sagana Lodge, a villa by a trout stream, presented to them as a wedding present by the Kenyan state.

“It was a dangerous time in the British colony. The Mau Mau campaign had just broken out in the White Highlands,” historian Nicholas Best wrote in The Observer. “The Princess’s tour officials in Kenya, Australia and New Zealand felt unable to guarantee her safety while in Kenya. It was only fear of ridicule that kept them from canceling the party. African travel.

On February 5, the couple traveled further into the forest, to the Treetops Hotel, a wildlife viewing lodge. Their three-bed cabin was accessible by a rickety ladder and built into the branches of an ancient fig tree, overlooking a waterhole and salt lick.

“Treetops are old hat now, but in 1952 it was the only place of its kind in the world,” wrote Best, who researched lodge founder Eric Sherbrooke Walker, a high-spirited character. color, former smuggler and friend of the royal family.

In an interview, Best told The Washington Post that Walker positioned local men with spears at the edge of the forest to deter reporters, out of concern for Elizabeth’s privacy and also because the smell of more d humans would scare away wildlife.

Naturalist and big game hunter Jim Corbett, who accompanied the pair, spent the darkest hours of the night at the entrance to the lodge with a shotgun, to ward off curious leopards, Best said.

On February 6, due to distance and communication difficulties, it took hours for news of the king’s death to reach rural Kenya. The message was passed on to Philip’s private secretary, and from Philip to his wife when they returned to Sagana Lodge.

Without ceremony or even awareness, but in keeping with British tradition, Elizabeth had become queen.

The front pages of the newspapers rang: “Long live Queen Elizabeth”, while noting: “Her Majesty, pale with grief, is flying home”.

The new queen remained calm, except for a moment on the flight back to London. “The queen left her seat after a while. Her face was frozen when she returned, but it was obvious to other passengers that she was in the toilet, crying at length,” Best wrote in the Guardian.

When the plane arrived, a black dress was quickly brought on board so she could disembark in proper mourning attire.

The next day she read a proclamation declaring her rule:

“By the sudden death of my dear father, I am called to assume the duties and responsibilities of sovereignty. My heart is too full to tell you more today that I will always work as my father did throughout his reign, to further the happiness and prosperity of my peoples, widespread as they are in the whole world.


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