The queen had smiled broadly but looked frail, clutching a cane in her left hand, as she greeted Liz Trussthe 15th prime minister of her 70-year reign, in the drawing room of Balmoral Castle on Tuesday.
An official photograph of the milestone also showed an ominous dark purple bruise on the top of the 96-year-old monarch’s right hand. Whether it was the result of a fall or perhaps the removal of a cannula, the palace was not commenting and it had caused public concern.
After all, the event was already a break from tradition in that accepting Boris Johnson’s resignation and “kissing the hands” of the new prime minister took place at the Queen’s Scottish retreat rather than Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle. That decision, the palace had said, was due to the Queen’s “episodic” mobility issues. The next day, another unusual announcement was made.
A virtual meeting of the privy council to be held via video link to allow new cabinet ministers to be sworn in was postponed. “After a full day yesterday, Her Majesty accepted this afternoon the doctors’ advice to rest”, said the palace. “This means that the privy council meeting that was due to take place this evening will be rescheduled.”
By Thursday morning, the assessment from Sir Huw Thomas, head of the medical family and physician to the Queen, was more severe. “Following further assessment this morning, the Queen’s doctors are concerned about Her Majesty’s health and have recommended that she remain under medical supervision,” the palace said. “The Queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral.”
The Queen, unlike her father – a heavy smoker who died of lung cancer aged 56 – has enjoyed robust health for most of her life. continuing to ride horses in her 96th year, even when it is against the advice of doctors. While she loves a gin and Dubonnet, her drinking has been moderate. Prince Philip left his heavy smoking habit at her behest on their wedding day, and the episodes of illness during her long life have not been more numerous or serious than might be expected.
There was a bout of measles contracted by an infant Prince Charles in 1949. A worrying wisdom tooth was extracted in July 1982 and in 1993 the cautious monarch reluctantly missed a Commonwealth Day service due to flu.
There was a broken left wrist in 1994 when her horse stalled during a walk on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, and knee surgery in 2003 and again in 2004. And a case of gastroenteritis landed the Queen in hospital in 2013.
It was only in 2016, aged 90, that she finally appeared to be closing in on the country’s longest-living monarch, when she was forced to use a lift rather than take the 26-step royal staircase at the entrance to the sovereign, to enter the parliament. for the state opening. That year, the royal couple were also struck down by a cold that left them unable to attend the Christmas service for the first time in 28 years. Two years later, the Queen underwent successful cataract surgery in one of her eyes as a day patient at King Edward VII Private Hospital in London.
While she fully supported her husband’s decision to retire from public life in 2017 at the age of 96, there was never any doubt that the then 91-year-old would hand over the reins to Charles. However, the pace of her work schedule was inevitably slowing down.
The Queen visited 117 countries during her reign, the equivalent of traveling around the globe 42 times, but in 2015 she and her husband made a touching last royal trip abroad to Malta, where the couple had lived between 1949 and 1951, to attend a meeting. of Commonwealth Heads of Government. While this was one of 341 royal events that year, in 2016 the number of engagements fell to 332 and in 2017 it was reduced to 292. The following two years she had 293 and 295 engagements respectively before Covid left its mark on the kingdom. calendar in early 2020. The couple went into isolation, but the Queen told the British public: “We’ll meet again,” in a special televised address on the pandemic in April 2020, echoing the words of Vera Lynn’s song of the time of the war.
However, while the palace sometimes seemed to not accept it, the last two pandemic-stricken years saw one deterioration of the sovereign’s health – especially since Philip’s death on April 9, 2021. In October of that year, the Queen used a walking stick at a Westminster Abbey service marking the centenary of the Royal British Legion – the first time she had done so at a major engagement.
A week later the palace canceled a visit to Northern Ireland with the advice of doctors. The Queen was in “good spirits” but had “reluctantly accepted medical advice” to rest for the next few days, Buckingham Palace said. In fact, she was secretly hospitalized for “preliminary investigations”. It was her first overnight stay in hospital since her bout with gastroenteritis eight years ago.
The BBC’s royal correspondent, Nicholas Witchell, was among those to criticize the lack of transparency. “We were led to believe on Wednesday by Buckingham Palace that the Queen was resting at Windsor Castle,” he said at the time. “And as we were being told this from Buckingham Palace, and of course we were broadcasting it to our viewers and listeners, and the newspapers to their readers, she was actually in hospital undergoing what are now described as ‘preliminary investigations’. . There was no further explanation offered by the royal family.
A series of other cancellations followed. Queen would not travel to Glasgow to speak the Cop26 climate summit in October 2021 but would instead film a short speech for a leaders’ reception. She urged those gathered to act to tackle the climate crisis: “The benefits of such action will not be there to be enjoyed by all of us here today: none of us will live forever.”
Until the last moment, the Queen was hoping would attend Remembrance Sunday commemorations the following month, but again the palace was forced at the last minute to complain that she would not appear at the Cenotaph in London on November 11, having sprained her back. The Queen had only missed six other cenotaph ceremonies during her reign: four times when she was on overseas visits – to Ghana in 1961, Brazil in 1968, Kenya in 1983 and South Africa in 1999 – and in 1959 and 1963, when was pregnant with her two youngest children.
For the next three months the Queen performed only light duties accompanied by virtual and face-to-face audiences within the confines of Windsor Castle. That year’s Christmas Day speech it was a move in light of covid. “Although it is a time of great happiness and joy for many people, Christmas can be difficult for those who have lost loved ones. Especially this year I understand why.”
In February 2022, in her first major public event since October, the Queen celebrated her platinum jubilee, meeting charity workers at Sandringham House and cutting an anniversary cake covered in thick cream. “I think I might just put the knife in it,” she joked. “Someone else can do the rest.”
She had appeared in good health, if a little stiff. But a few days later, it was the first recognition from the queen herself about her physical condition. Meeting the incoming defense secretary, Major General Eldon Millar, at Windsor Castle, she was asked how she was. Holding a walking stick, the Queen pointed to her left foot or leg and replied, “As you can see, I can’t move.”
A few days later, on February 20, the Queen tested positive for Covid. She had mild cold-like symptoms, but the virus was said to have left her.”very tired and exhausted“. She pulled out of the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in March, an important date in the royal calendar, and did not attend the Maundy Thursday service. But the Queen gathered to honor her late husband. At the last minute a decision was made that she would lead her family on a memorial in Westminster Abbey for the Duke of Edinburgh. Leaning on her son, Prince Andrew, for support, she walked slowly to her seat.
Special arrangements had been made for the Queen’s comfort, with the service limited to 40 minutes and the monarch seated in one of Canada’s chairs, but with an extra cushion. Television cameras avoided filming her walk. Two months later, the Queen missed the State Opening of Parliament for the first time in nearly six decades.
The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge opened parliament in the name of the sovereignwith Charles reading the Queen’s speech for a historic first.
Since then, royal appearances have been short and sporadic. She attended the Windsor Horse Show in May and was shown as guest of honor at the horse extravaganza A gallop through history, near Windsor, the first major event of the Jubilee celebrations.
The Queen is understood to have moved to Scotland in July, as is a summer tradition, but it was announced that the army reception at Balmoral would be held privately for her “comfort”.
The intention had been to return to London for the change of Prime Ministers – but two weeks ago those plans changed. It was to be at Balmoral, said to be her favorite royal residence, where the Queen, whose first prime minister was Winston Churchill, delivered her final constitutional duty and asked Liz Truss to form a government – before stepping down to rest.