Grief, troubles and jubilee for royals and nation ahead of Queen’s death

·8-min read

The death of Queen Elizabeth II signals immense and historic change for the monarchy and the country, with the loss of the UK’s longest reigning sovereign and the start of a reign by a new king.

And it has come in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the worst global public health crisis for generations, and amid the war in Ukraine – Europe’s largest land conflict since the Second World War.

The UK was left bruised from the devastation the Covid-19 outbreak caused, with thousands losing loved ones to the virus, and the nation having to readjust following months of lockdown.

And in recent months, the public has faced the growing cost-of-living crisis with the threat of rising energy bills.

A year with Covid
Infection control nurse Colin Clarke looks out from a Covid-19 recovery ward at Craigavon Area Hospital in Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, in May 2020 (Niall Carson/PA)

The royal family has already mourned the Duke of Edinburgh, the royal patriarch and the Queen’s beloved consort, who died in April 2021 aged 99.

Now the Windsors are grieving for the Queen – their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother – and the country for its steadfast head of state, who has died in her Platinum Jubilee year.

The Queen became the first monarch in British history to reign for 70 years when she reached her milestone on February 6 2022.

Major celebrations took place in June, with as many as 18 million people gathering in honour of the monarch on the special four-day bank holiday weekend.

It was hailed a triumph and the Queen took to Buckingham Palace’s balcony to wave to well-wishers despite appearing frailer and facing mobility problems.

Jubilee lunches, a Palace pop concert, a carnival pageant and the Queen’s cameo with Paddington Bear were among the highlights, with the antics of a lively Prince Louis stealing the show.

Platinum Jubilee
The Queen speaks to Prince Louis on the balcony of Buckingham Palace as they watch the Platinum Jubilee flypast (Aaron Chown/PA)

The milestone celebratory 2022 has now turned into the year the nation lost its much-loved Queen, bringing an end to the modern Elizabethan era.

The start of 2022 had seen the Queen experiencing great personal turmoil.

There was the furore sparked by the Duke of York’s civil sexual assault case, the Prince of Wales dealing with a cash-for-honours police investigation, and then the Queen caught Covid.

She tested positive on February 20 and experienced mild symptoms, soon after Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall contracted the virus.

The Queen had already appeared noticeably thinner and remarked during one audience that she had trouble moving.

Days earlier, her second son, Andrew, had settled his sexual assault case out of court, agreeing to pay millions of pounds to Virginia Giuffre, who he has insisted he never met.

The Queen and Andrew
The Queen and the Duke of York at the Epsom Derby 2013 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Ms Giuffre accused the duke of having sex with her after she was trafficked by Andrew’s friend, billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, at the age of 17 – a minor under US law.

The Queen had already taken steps to distance the royal family from Andrew and protect the monarchy brand.

She made the difficult decision in January 2022 to finally strip her son of his honorary military roles, with the duke also giving up using HRH – a style he was born with.

Ms Giuffre, who was suing Andrew in the US, previously said in an interview with the BBC’s Panorama programme that she was left “horrified and ashamed” after the alleged sexual encounter with the duke in London in 2001.

Andrew stepped down from public duties in 2019 following his “car crash” Newsnight interview about his friendship with Epstein.

Virginia Giuffre lawsuit
The Duke of York, Virginia Giuffre, and Ghislaine Maxwell (US Department of Justice/PA)

The settlement in Andrew’s case was followed the next day with Charles hitting the headlines when the Metropolitan Police launched an investigation into an alleged cash-for-honours scandal linked to his Prince’s Foundation.

His former most trusted aide, Michael Fawcett, who has since resigned as chief executive of the foundation, has been accused of promising to help a Saudi billionaire donor receive British citizenship and a knighthood.

Charles and Mr Fawcett were formally reported to police in September 2021 when allegations first surfaced in newspaper reports.

The royal family, like the British public, spent months separated from one another during the Covid-19 crisis, with Charles and the Duke of Cambridge contracting the disease before vaccines were available.

A year with Covid
The Queen’s words from her broadcast to the UK and the Commonwealth are displayed in lights in London’s Piccadilly Circus (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Queen and Philip moved to Windsor for their safety during lockdown, and the monarch gave two rare televised addresses.

She reassured the country that the virus would be overcome, telling those in isolation: “We will meet again.”

In March 2021, Philip spent a month in hospital and underwent heart surgery before returning to Windsor, but he died peacefully at the castle on April 9 2021.

The grieving Queen described it as a “period of great sadness” but said she was “deeply touched” by the tributes paid to her husband of 73 years and the support and kindness shown to her family.

At the duke’s funeral, amid Covid restrictions, the Queen poignantly sat alone, in a face mask, socially distanced from her loved ones, in mourning for Philip.

Duke of Edinburgh funeral
The Queen sat alone for the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The monarch, as she had always pledged to do, continued with her duties as head of state, and within weeks appeared in public for the State Opening of Parliament.

The reopening of some of the Queen’s much-loved pastimes consoled her in the months following the duke’s death.

She was pictured smiling and enjoying herself at Royal Ascot and the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

Royal Windsor Horse Show 2021
The Queen at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in July 2021 (Steve Parsons/PA)

But concern for her health was heightened in October 2021 when she pulled out of a number of major engagements, spent a night in hospital undergoing preliminary tests, and was ordered to rest by royal doctors.

The Queen carried out only light duties from the confines of Windsor Castle for more than three months, and the Palace confirmed she was facing ongoing episodic mobility problems.

She deputised the State Opening of Parliament and the reading of the Queen’s Speech to Charles for the first time in May 2022.

And she appointed her first Prime Minister at Balmoral – Liz Truss – in September 2022 rather than travelling back to London, and postponed the virtual Privy Council the next day, being left tired after a “full day” with doctors’ orders to rest.

Liz Truss becomes PM
The Queen welcoming Liz Truss during the audience at Balmoral (Jane Barlow/PA)

The royal family has endured some of its most turbulent times in modern history in recent years.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex plunged the monarchy into crisis with their bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021, while Philip was in hospital.

Harry and Meghan accused an unnamed member of the family of racism towards their son Archie before he was born, and the institution of failing to help the suicidal duchess.

The couple quit as senior working royals in 2020 in favour of more freedom and the ability to earn their own money in the US.

Harry said he felt let down by his father, the Prince of Wales, and that “there’s a lot of hurt that’s happened” in their relationship. His longstanding rift with the Duke of Cambridge has continued.

The brothers fell out over what Harry perceived to be William’s “snobbish” attitude to his bride.

Royal visit to Africa
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their tour of Africa (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

In the aftermath of the Oprah broadcast, the Queen issued a statement saying “while some recollections may vary”, the issues would be taken “very seriously”, but dealt with privately as a family.

But, on a podcast and a mental health Apple TV series, Harry went on to accuse his family of “total neglect” and appeared to criticise the parenting skills of Charles, and the Queen and Philip, suggesting he had suffered “genetic pain”.

Now as head of the Windsors, Charles will have to lead the monarchy forward through the challenging breakdown in relationships.

Despite the royals’ problems, there have also been times of celebration.

Princess Eugenie’s son August, Zara Tindall’s third child Lucas, Harry and Meghan’s daughter Lilibet, and Princess Beatrice’s daughter Sienna were all born in 2021.

The Queen used her historic Platinum Jubilee Accession Day in February 2022 to set her affairs in order over the Duchess of Cornwall’s future title.

It was, the Queen said, her “sincere wish” that Camilla should be known as Queen Consort at Charles’s side when the time came, and she called on the public to support them both.