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Queen's accession day: Why the Queen doesn't celebrate coming to the throne

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·6-min read

Watch: The Queen through the decades of her 69-year reign

On Saturday, the Queen will mark 69 years on the throne.

She became Queen on 6 February, 1952, after her father died following a long illness. She was 25.

Each year, she marks the day she became Queen quietly. There are no parades, no official photographs or statements, and no celebrations.

Instead, the Queen continues to privately mourn for her father, King George VI, who was 56 when he died.

The Queen has never celebrated her accession to the throne because it also marks the anniversary of her father’s death.

Dickie Arbiter, her former press secretary, said in 2017: “It’s important to understand that for the Queen this marks the anniversary of the day her father died.

“She has always made it clear that her long reign is a consequence of her father’s early death and so it is not a day for celebration.”

This will be the first year in decades that she has marked the day in Windsor Castle, instead of Sandringham.

Queen Elizabeth II of England at Balmoral Castle with one of her Corgis, 28th September 1952. UPI color slide.
Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle with one of her Corgis, in September 1952. (PA/UPI)

Read more: Queen's friend of many years dies just months after losing his wife

Since the early 1990s, the Royal Family has spent Christmas in Sandringham House, and the Queen stays there until after 6 February, remembering her father in a home which he loved.

George VI was devoted to Sandringham and once said he had been “so happy” there. It was there he died in his sleep after battling lung cancer.

It’s thought the last time the Queen was away from Sandringham on the important date was 1990 when she was on tour in New Zealand.

Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine, said: “It would seem to be 31 years since the Queen wasn’t at Sandringham on Accession Day.

“She likes to spend the day quietly in reflection on the passing of her father so it’s certainly not a day to celebrate, which is why the big Jubilee milestones take place in the summer, partly because of the weather, but also because it would not be appropriate.”

Queen Elizabeth II with Princess Margaret returning to London from Windsor, where the Queen took up residence in Buckingham Palace for the first time since her accession.   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II with Princess Margaret returning to London from Windsor in 1952, where the Queen took up residence in Buckingham Palace for the first time. (PA Images)
Dressed in black Queen Elizabeth II sets foot on British soil for the first time since her accession as she lands at London Airport after her day and night flight from Kenya following the death of her father, King George VI.   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Dressed in black Queen Elizabeth II sets foot on British soil for the first time since her accession in 1952. (PA Images)

Read more: Queen's third gin launched with ingredients from her Northern Irish palace

Mr Little suggested: “Given the passage of time and that this is now 69 years since her father died, the poignancy must have dissipated a bit.

“It’s less of a tug on the heartstrings than it would have been in the early years of her reign.

“But clearly, it is a very important day for her and it always will be.”

She spent other years away from Norfolk too, as she was often on tours during the busy years of the 1950s and 1960s.

The Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, was on royal tour with her husband in 1952 when the King died.

She was flown back to the UK, as she had become Queen the moment her father died.

How the Queen will mark 69 years of her reign

The Queen might not be able to spend the day exactly as she would in Norfolk while she is in her Windsor home.

Little said the Queen would usually be visited by the vicar at Sandringham, so may take private prayers in the chapel in Windsor Castle.

“I think whatever she does privately by way of commemoration at Sandringham will be transferred to HMS Bubble and that it will take place there, but I’m sure it will be an incredibly low key thing,” he said.

“It might just be her and a member of the clergy saying a few prayers in memory of the King and maybe the Queen Mother as well.”

HMS Bubble refers to the smaller group of staff who the Queen has kept with her during the pandemic, at Windsor Castle.

Buckingham Palace has not commented on her plans.

Members of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) fire a 62-round gun salute from the wharf at the Tower of London, to mark the 68th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne in 1952. (Photo by Luciana Guerra/PA Images via Getty Images)
Members of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) fire a 62-round gun salute from the wharf at the Tower of London, to mark the 68th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne in 1952. (Luciana Guerra/PA Images)

There may be particular sadness for the Queen this year because she is mourning the death of a close friend.

Lord Samuel Vestey’s death was announced on 4 February, only two months after his wife died.

Both of them were friends of the Queen’s, and a part of her racing circle.

The Queen has spent most of her time in Windsor Castle since March 2020, when she left London a week before the UK was put into a national lockdown.

She and her husband Prince Philip were able to have a brief trip to Balmoral, their Scottish home, in the summer, and stopped into Sandringham on the way back to the south of England.

Although they have been together for the one of the longest periods of time in their lives, Little said it has probably still been an “isolating” time for the Queen.

He said: “It must be quite a solitary existence because I don’t imagine that she and the duke are in each other’s pockets all day, every day.

“I’m sure they overlap for lunch and dinner perhaps but the rest of the time they must presumably be off doing their own things.”

What will happen for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee?

In 2022, the Queen will mark 70 years on the throne and there are bigger plans for her Platinum Jubilee year.

However the main events won’t be in February, which will remain the day of private reflection, but in June.

This is closer to the date of her coronation, and also helps ensure better weather.

The coronation of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, took place on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey, London. Queen Elizabeth II, with the Duke of Edinburgh, at Buckingham Palace shortly after their return from Westminster Abbey. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
The coronation of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, took place on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey, London. (Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group)

In 2022, there will be a four-day Bank Holiday weekend, with celebrations for the historic event taking place from 2-5 June.

One of those days off will be moved from May, but the other will be a bonus.

While all the plans have not yet been confirmed, there will be a tree planting initiative, and street parties are almost certain to take place.

A Platinum Jubilee medal will be awarded to people who work in public service, and there will be a range of coins and memorabilia for the occasion.

There will also be a present for the Queen, funded via a whip round of MPs and members of the Lords.

Watch: A look at the Queen’s homes