Exclusive: See rare photos of Queen Elizabeth II from National Geographic’s archives

Exclusive: See rare photos of Queen Elizabeth II from National Geographic’s archives

Published September 8, 2022

10 min read

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor sat on an ancient throne, her eyes downcast. Moments before, the 27-year-old woman had been clad in white. She was now Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, Commonwealth realms. Her shoulders were covered in gold cloth, her hands held jeweled scepters and her crown hung from her head. As silver trumpets blared, Westminster Abbey heard cries of “God Save the Queen!”

At the June 1953 coronation, no one could have guessed Queen Elizabeth’s reign would last a record-breaking 70 years. James Jarche, a veteran photographer, was not unaware of the significance of the elaborate ceremony. He used a Leica camera with Kodachrome film and documented the entire event. Then he rushed the raw images to the National Geographic Society’s Washington D.C. headquarters by special air courier.

The results galvanized National Geographic editors, who dropped other coverage in their September 1953 issue to make room for the stunning color photos, alongside classic Nat Geo takes on everything from the bunting that filled a still war-scarred London to the British-bred silkworms responsible for the queen’s sumptuous regalia.

Letters poured in from around the world, begging for extra copies as keepsakes and gifts. Jarche said it was “the greatest colour story of a life time,” Kip Ross, photo editor.

And National Geographic was there to capture every step of her lifetime. Its world-class photographers captured the quiet new queen and documented the official appearances by the self-possessed public figure. They also offered rare glimpses into the private life Elizabeth kept so close to her heart.

Fashions, borders, communication, public mores–all experienced seismic shifts during Elizabeth’s years as queen. Here is Elizabeth II as National Geographic saw her: gracious, determined, curious, confident, and long-lived.

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