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After 68 years on the British throne, Queen Elizabeth II is as much a national symbol as she is a real person. The world has watched her graduate from child princess to seasoned head of state with the skillful grace of someone who has never known life outside the public eye.
Since most of us have watched that evolution from afar, we’ve relied heavily on photographs to help us understand who Elizabeth actually is. Forming an impression of a person through images alone can seem reductive, especially when so many of them are staged. Indeed, at times, it can seem like every facet of the Queen’s existence has been meticulously choreographed—right down to each colorful suit and careful wave. But photos have also revealed certain indelible characteristics of England’s longest-reigning ruler; she smiles easily, for example, and she seems most at home when riding one of her horses.
Her Majesty, a new book from TASCHEN, tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s legendary life and career through stunning photos that date all the way back to her christening in 1926. She’s been photographed by countless professionals over the last 94 years, and this compilation features some of the best, including Cecil Beaton, Yousuf Karsh, Dorothy Wilding, David Bailey, Annie Leibovitz, and even her former brother-in-law, Antony Armstrong-Jones.
There’s no shortage of glamour shots depicting the Queen in various crowns and gowns, posing by herself or flanked by foreign dignitaries. Others, meanwhile, capture her candid moments. In one photo taken during a voyage to South Africa in 1947, a 20-year-old Princess Elizabeth laughs with abandon as she tries to outrun a crew member while playing tag on deck. Six years later, she looks solemn—maybe even a bit nervous—as she sits amidst a large crowd of clergymen and nobles at her coronation.
The 368-page volume also includes a number of images that show the public response to key royal moments. When Queen Elizabeth II was sitting stone-still at her coronation, no doubt trying to keep the heavy crown from toppling off her head, a small crowd of New Yorkers had gathered around a storefront television in Rockefeller Plaza to watch the ceremony.
Though the photos themselves already reveal much about the monarchy, it is useful to have a few words here and there to give context to each scene and provide an overview of the Queen’s political and personal trajectory. That job is particularly well-suited to Christopher Warwick, esteemed royal historian and authorized biographer for the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret. In addition to the introduction to the book, Warwick also wrote the photo captions, which help readers distinguish between all the royal family members, royal traditions, and royal estates, while offering plenty of little-known details, too.
In the photo below, Princess Elizabeth is acting as her father’s proxy during 1951’s Trooping the Colour. Her horse, a 16.1-hand chestnut gelding borrowed from her father, is named Winston.
Overall, the book functions as an artistic tribute to both sides of Queen Elizabeth II: the regal, imperturbable sovereign who has devoted her life to her country, and the good-humored matriarch who adores Corgis and always strives to make her companions feel at ease.
Her Majesty is available for $70 on the TASCHEN website or Amazon.
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