On her 21st birthday: April 21, 1947
Princess Elizabeth was on a tour of South Africa, with her parents and younger sister Margaret, when she turned 21 years old. In a speech broadcast on the radio from Cape Town, she first dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth, in one of her earliest public addresses.
“This is a happy day for me; but it is also one that brings serious thoughts, thoughts of life looming ahead with all its challenges and with all its opportunity,” the young Elizabeth said.
Still a princess, she went on to make a profound royal pledge: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
On her Coronation Day: June 2, 1953
The queen succeeded to the throne on Feb. 6, 1952, after the death of her father, King George VI, but her coronation took place in 1953 when she was age 27. Her husband, Philip, had encouraged the event to be televised for the first time, with millions in the United Kingdom and abroad watching the broadcast by the BBC from London’s Westminster Abbey.
Following the event that placed the royal family firmly in people’s living rooms, Elizabeth gave a broadcast in the evening to the nation where she reflected on the day’s momentous events.
“Although my experience is so short and my task so new, I have in my parents and grandparents an example which I can follow with certainty and with confidence,” she said. “As this day draws to its close, I know that my abiding memory of it will be, not only the solemnity and beauty of the ceremony, but the inspiration of your loyalty and affection. I thank you all from a full heart.”
‘Annus Horribilis’: Nov. 24, 1992
In 1992, the queen gave a speech in London to mark the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne, wherein she famously defined the year in Latin as an ‘annus horribilis’ — or a horrible year.
She remarked: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘Annus Horribilis.’ I suspect that I am not alone in thinking it so.”
Her speech came days after a major fire at Windsor Castle, a royal residence, as well as a year that saw the collapse of three of her children’s marriages, including that of Prince Charles and Diana, and reams of tabloid headlines that cast a critical spotlight on British royal life.
Maintaining a quintessential British stiff-upper lip, the monarch welcomed scrutiny of her role, saying that “criticism is good for people and institutions that are part of public life. No institution — City, Monarchy, whatever — should expect to be free from the scrutiny of those who give it their loyalty and support, not to mention those who don’t.”
She added, “But we are all part of the same fabric of our national society and that scrutiny, by one part of another, can be just as effective if it is made with a touch of gentleness, good humor and understanding.”
She did not repeat the Latin phrase again publicly but some royal pundits speculated that she may have been tempted to do so in 2019, after her husband was involved in a public car crash, her grandsons Princes William and Harry publicly fell out and her second son Prince Andrew became entangled in links to the disgraced American, financier Jeffrey Epstein.
On the death of Princess Diana: Sept. 5, 1997
After the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in Paris shook the world, the queen spoke to the nation live from Buckingham Palace.
“Since last Sunday’s dreadful news we have seen, throughout Britain and around the world, an overwhelming expression of sadness at Diana’s death. We have all been trying in our different ways to cope,” she said.
“I want to pay tribute to Diana myself. She was an exceptional and gifted human being. In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness. I admired and respected her — for her energy and commitment to others, and especially for her devotion to her two boys,” the queen said in an effort to comfort a stunned nation and facing media criticism for being slow to publicly react.
“No one who knew Diana will ever forget her. Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her. I for one believe there are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death,” she added.
Diana died at age 36 and left behind two young princes who have both since spoken about how her death impacted the way they shape their royal roles and public life.
On the death of Prince Philip: April 9, 2021
Buckingham Palace announced the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, on April 9, 2021.
“It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband,” the palace statement said. Philip died at Windsor Castle and his funeral just days later and during the coronavirus pandemic was televised globally. The event saw moving images of the elderly queen, now a widow, starkly sitting alone in keeping with pandemic restrictions.
Elizabeth, whom Philip affectionally called Lilibet, had spoken of him in 1997 when the couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary calling him her “strength and stay.”
At the time, she recounted events over the 50 years of their marriage, including the end of the Cold War, the Beatles, humans traveling to the moon, the onset of television, mobile phones, the internet and England winning the soccer World Cup as well as “the joys of having children and grandchildren,” together, she said.
“All too often, I fear, Prince Philip has had to listen to me speaking. Frequently we have discussed my intended speech beforehand and, as you will imagine, his views have been expressed in a forthright manner. He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”
After her husband’s death, she did not directly address the nation but a phrase resurfaced that the queen had previously sent in a message to the United States following the 9/11 attacks: “Grief is the price we pay for love,” she said.
Annual Christmas speeches
The queen gave thousands of speeches at royal engagements to heads of state, diplomats, when inaugurating buildings and boats and annually at Christmas. The latter grew to become a social staple and British holiday tradition, as her yuletide speeches were peppered with words of wisdom, faith and occasionally personal reflections from the nonagenarian.
“In the old days the monarch led his soldiers on the battlefield and his leadership at all times was close and personal. Today things are very different,” she said in her first televised Christmas broadcast in 1957. “I cannot lead you into battle, I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else, I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.”
In 1974, her Christmas message alluded to violence in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East, and she encouraged people globally to seek the path of peace and reconciliation. “We may hold different points of view but it is in times of stress and difficulty that we most need to remember that we have much more in common than there is dividing us,” she said.
In 2002, despite celebrating 50 years on the throne during her Golden Jubilee, she also mourned the death of her mother and sister within a few weeks of each other. In her Christmas message that year, she reflected on the need for humanity amid crisis.
“Our modern world places such heavy demands on our time and attention that the need to remember our responsibilities to others is greater than ever,” she said.
And finally, perhaps for many, a quip that the queen made to her aides, as reported by her royal biographer, may be her most charming comment, when she joked: “I have to be seen to be believed.”
Celebration of her Platinum Jubilee: Feb. 6, 2022
In February, the queen reached a historic milestone becoming the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years of her reign. The United Kingdom celebrated with a four-day holiday in June with pomp and ceremony, street parties, musical concerts and military parades.
It was the last time the queen would publicly stand on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, alongside her family, waving to millions of people who had flocked to see her.
“I continue to be inspired by the goodwill shown to me,” she said, adding, “and hope that the coming days will provide an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved during the last seventy years, as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm.”
Elizabeth previously celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977, Golden Jubilee in 2002 and Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
She died at her home in Balmoral Castle, Scotland, age 96.