So much of Queen Elizabeth's life was played out on the world stage. But she also had other roles that not everyone could see as a much-loved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. From her childhood spent with her parents and sister to her later years surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren, family life was always very important to her.
Many of the family traditions she observed were ones she enjoyed as a little girl, including summers spent in the family’s Scottish retreat, Balmoral Castle. Despite her position, the Queen enjoyed simple pleasures such as walking and picnics and has been known to do the washing up while off duty. Christmases spent on the Sandringham Estate, in Norfolk, were another cherished opportunity for her to be surrounded by those closest to her.
"She always leaves a little gift or something in their room when we go and stay and that just shows her love for her family,” Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge once said about the Queen’s relationship with Prince George and Princess Charlotte. And Prince Harry told ABC News in 2012, "Behind closed doors, she's our grandmother. It’'s as simple as that."
Following her death today at the age of 96, take a look back at the Queen's life with her family.
Happy Childhood – 1933
Princess Elizabeth plays with her doll on the grounds of the Royal Lodge, in Windsor. She enjoyed a happy childhood and was known as Lilibet to those closest to her. The family’s main home was a large townhouse at 145 Piccadilly in central London and was described by governess Marion Crawford as “a homelike and unpretentious household” in her book, The Little Princesses. Crawford wrote of taking the sisters out to explore the city, including traveling on the London underground.
The King's Granddaughter – June 1934
Princess Elizabeth with her grandparents King George V and Queen Mary. Elizabeth had an affectionate relationship with the King, whom she called Grandpa England. When Elizabeth’s parents toured Australia and New Zealand in 1927, when she was a baby, she was cared for by her grandparents and her nanny, Clara Knight, who was known as Allah.
Education – July 8, 1941
Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth, and Princess Margaret enjoy the grounds of Windsor Castle. The princesses were educated at home and learned, French, history, art, and music. When it became apparent that she would one day become queen, Elizabeth received schooling in constitutional history and law. She had tutoring sessions with the vice provost of Eton and also studied religion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The palace created a Girl Guides group, which Elizabeth and Margaret joined along with their friends and the daughters of palace staff.
Christmas Pantomime – December 21, 1941
Performing a pantomime at Windsor Castle, Princess Elizabeth plays Prince Charming while Princess Margaret takes on the role of Cinderella. Throughout their time at Windsor Castle during World War II, the sisters made friends with other village and evacuated children. At Christmas, they performed in pantomimes alongside them.
We Four – April 11, 1942
The royal family relax at the Royal Lodge, in Windsor. They were a close family, with the king affectionately referring to them as “we four.”. Despite their busy schedules, King George VI and his wife always made sure they saw their children in the mornings and evenings. “Nothing was ever allowed to stand in the way of these family sessions,” wrote Marion Crawford. Crawford, whom the royal sisters referred to as Crawfie, worked for the family for 17 years but was ostracized after her book was published, in 1950.
A Young Mother – October 21, 1950
The royal family poses for photographs after Princess Anne’s christening. The photograph shows four generations of the family; Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, and their children Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Charles and Anne were just three and one when their mother became queen. Almost two years later, in November 1953, the Queen and Prince Philip embarked on a six- month tour of the Commonwealth, leaving their children in the care of the Queen Mother and staff.
A Sister's Love – June 13, 1951
The Queen with Princess Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend at Royal Ascot. Margaret fell in love with Peter Townsend, who was an equerry to her father, King George VI, and later her sister, the Queen. He was 16 years her senior and married with two children, but divorced his wife in 1952. He proposed to Margaret in 1953; however, at the time the Church of England was opposed to divorce. The Queen’s approval was needed for the marriage, and she asked her sister to wait for at least a year. In October 1955, Margaret announced in a statement that she would not marry Townsend.
Family Fun – 1952
The Queen, Prince Charles, and Princess Anne enjoy family time at Balmoral Castle, in Scotland. During their annual summer holidays in the Scottish Highlands, they had the opportunity to relax and unwind in private. The Queen took a break from public duties during her summer in Balmoral, although she traditionally hosted prime ministers there in September.
Behind The Wheel – 1957
The Queen drives her children Prince Charles and Princess Anne in Windsor. Although she was almost always driven to official engagements, Elizabeth enjoyed being behind the wheel in her private time and continued to drive in her 90s.
Mother of Four – June 1965
The Queen with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. In a 2002 BBC interview, Princess Anne hit back at critics who suggested the Queen’s role implied she was a distant and uncaring mother, saying, "I don’'t believe that any of us for a second thought she didn’t care for us in exactly the same way as any other mother did. I just think it's extraordinary that anybody could construe that that might not be true."
Royal TV – 1969
The Queen has lunch with Prince Philip, Prince Charles, and Princess Anne. The scene was filmed for the BBC documentary Royal Family. The programme revealed the family going about their daily lives and exchanging small talk during official visits. It was hugely popular and had an estimated audience of 350 million people worldwide. Not long after, however, the film was locked away and could no longer be viewed in its entirety. Princess Anne later admitted in a 2002 BBC interview that she “never liked the idea” of the documentary.
Honoring Her Heir – July 1, 1969
The Queen invests Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales during a ceremony at Caernarfon Castle, in Wales. Charles was made Prince of Wales when he was nine, but he was not formally invested until he was 20. The title is given to the eldest son of kings and queens, and Charles was the longest-serving Prince of Wales. The investiture ceremony is similar to a coronation, with the prince being presented with the symbols of the position; the sword, coronet, ring, rod, and mantle.
Royal Photographer – April 20, 1972
Prince Edward lies on the roof of the royal family’s car as the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Andrew stand below. The family was attending the Royal Windsor Horse Show. The Queen holds a camera to take her own pictures, something she enjoyed doing in her spare time.
Daughter and Sister – April 1973
The Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, and the Queen attend the Badminton Horse Trials. Elizabeth remained close to her mother and sister throughout their lives. When she became Queen, in 1952, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret moved out of Buckingham Palace and into Clarence House. Margaret died on February 9, 2002, at the age of 71, after suffering from a stroke. A few weeks later, on March 30, the Queen Mother also passed away, at the age of 101, after suffering from a chest infection.
Royal Sportswoman – July 1976
Princess Anne, at the age of 25, competes as a member of the British equestrian team in the 1976 Olympic Games. The Queen opened the Games in Montreal, and the whole family came to cheer Anne on. She was the first member of the royal family to participate in the Games and rode the Queen's horse Goodwill in the equestrian three-day event. Anne passed on her love of horse riding to her daughter, Zara, who competed in the 2012 Olympics in London, winning a silver medal.
Prince Charles and Diana's Wedding – July 29, 1981
The bridal party gathers at Buckingham Palace on Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer's wedding day. The wedding of the heir to the throne took place at St. Paul’s Cathedral, in London, and was celebrated around the world. Billed as the “wedding of the century,” crowds of around 600,000 lined the streets of London for the marriage while an estimated 750 million people worldwide watched the event on television. However, there were ominous signs about the future of the relationship early on. During their engagement interview, when asked if they were in love, Charles answered, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.” They announced their separation in 1992 and divorced in 1996.
Her 'Favorite' Son – September 17, 1982
Prince Andrew returns from the Falkland Islands. The Queen welcomed her second son when he came home from serving in the Falklands war between the United Kingdom and Argentina. During the conflict, he flew a Sea King helicopter and acted as a decoy to protect warships from missile attacks. He ended his Royal Navy career in 2001, after 22 years. Andrew was often referred to as the Queen’s favorite son, and she showed her support for him throughout several controversies. In 2019, Andrew took the unprecedented move of stepping down from royal duties. It followed the fallout from his disastrous BBC television interview in which he had attempted, and failed, to explain away his controversial friendship with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
A Loving Grandmother – January 3, 1988
Prince Charles, Princess Diana, the Queen and Prince Philip watch, as the royal children play on a fire engine. The Queen’s grandchildren adored her and spoke of having a deep respect for her. Prince William told ABC News in 2012, “As I learned from growing up, you don’t mess with your grandmother.” In 2016, he also recounted an anecdote to Sky News about how he and cousin Peter Phillips chased Peter’s sister, Zara, into a lamppost on a go-kart: “I remember my grandmother being the first person out at Balmoral running across the lawn in her kilt,” he said, continuing, “(She) came charging over and gave us the most almighty bollocking, and that sort of stuck in my mind from that moment on.”
Tragedy – September 4 1997
The Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry and Peter Phillips view the floral tributes left outside Balmoral Castle, in Scotland, following Princess Diana's death on August 31, 1997. The Queen remained at Balmoral with her grandsons despite criticism that she should return to London and address the nation's mourning. In 2017 BBC documentary Diana, 7 Days, which marked the 20th anniversary of the Princess's death, William said how the Queen "felt very torn between being a grandmother to William and Harry and her Queen role."
Prince Edward's Wedding – June 19, 1999
Members of the royal family congregate on the steps of St. George's Chapel, in Windsor, following the wedding of Prince Edward to Sophie Rhys-Jones. Edward is the only one of the Queen's children not to get divorced.
Prince Charles and Camilla's Wedding – April 9, 2005
Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles arrive for their wedding at the Windsor Guildhall. The couple, who were both divorced, were married in a civil service followed by a blessing at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. The Queen and Prince Philip did not attend the wedding but were at the blessing. Once reviled as the “other woman” in Charles and Diana’s marriage, Camilla has gradually become more accepted by the public. At the couple’s wedding reception at Windsor Castle, the Queen made a touching speech, during which she said, “My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.”
Prince William's Wedding – April 29, 2011
Prince William and Kate Middleton walk down the aisle of Westminster Abbey after saying their marriage vows. Once married, they became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. After the service, the Queen hosted a reception for 600 guests at Buckingham Palace. William told an ITV documentary in 2012 that his grandmother had offered helpful advice about the guest list: “Start from your friends, and then we’ll add those we need to in due course. It’s your day.”
A Gentle Guide – June 13, 2012
The Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge, share some levity during Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee year visit to Nottingham. The Queen frequently undertook official visits alongside other members of her family. They often spoke of how they learned from her. “I would like to take all of her experiences, all of her knowledge, and put it in a small box and to be able to constantly refer to it,” William told ITV in 2012. And in a 2016 ITV documentary, Kate described the Queen’s “gentle guidance.”
The Women's Institute – June 4, 2015
The Queen with Princess Anne and the Countess of Wessex at an event to mark the centenary of the Women's Institute at London's Royal Albert Hall. The Queen became a member of the Institute's Sandringham branch in 1943 and continued to visit annually well into her 90s.
A Great-Grandmother – July 5, 2015
The Queen bends down to talk to great-grandson Prince George at Princess Charlotte’s christening. In a 2016 interview for the ITV documentary Our Queen at 90, the Duchess of Cambridge said, "George is only two and a half, and he calls her Gan-Gan." Shortly before George’s birth, in 2013, the Queen gave royal assent to The Succession to the Crown Act, which granted males and females equal rights to the throne.
Price Harry and Meghan's Wedding – May 19, 2018
The wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. The couple made it clear early on that they wanted to do things their own way and January 8, 2020, they released a statement saying that they would step back as senior members of the royal family. Following the announcement, the Queen issued a rare personal statement saying, “Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the royal family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.”
Family Gathering – June 8, 2019
The royal family gather on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s official birthday parade, Trooping the Colour. This is one of the few times throughout the year that the whole family is seen together in public. There is much excitement when royal children make their first appearance on the palace balcony during Trooping, which is always held on a Saturday in June. There are no designated spots, but the Queen usually stood in the center. During the family appearance in 2016, she scolded Prince William to “stand up” when he knelt down to talk to Prince George.
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