How Queen Elizabeth II Mastered the Art of Being Seen But Not Heard


It’s often said that a woman’s face is her currency. The face of Queen Elizabeth II, who died yesterday at her home in Scotland, was actually on the currency.

There is perhaps no more recognizable face than that of Elizabeth II, who was the longest-serving monarch in British history. For 70 years, her impassive visage and neat coif, matchy hats, pearls, dependable handbags, and sensible shoes encouraged her subjects and the world at large to keep calm and carry on, often during very turbulent times. 

Princess Elizabeth, as she was known at the time, is seen here with Lt. Philip Mountbatten at Buckingham Palace on July 10th, 1947. This marked the first time the pair appeared in public following the announcement of their engagement by her father, King George.

Getty Images

In her looks and in her manner, she had to be all things to all people. It’s no wonder she has been interpreted in such varied ways by artists (Andy Warhol) and Hollywood (The Crown). Regardless of background, we all in some way feel that we have known her. And yet, with very few exceptions, none of us has. She was all iconography. Illusion. A woman laden with jewels of dark colonial origin. A horsey lady in an Hermès scarf. A slightly frumpy grandma in cheerful British pastels. And in the end, a blank canvas.

Throughout her life, the ever-stoic 96-year-old royal, who became queen on her father’s death in 1952, and was crowned on June 2, 1953, came to represent an ideal of dignity and tradition in both her public appearance and demeanor — an impact that is unparalleled in modern history. And modern history was what she witnessed. Winston Churchill was her first Prime Minister. Mahatma Gandhi gave her a wedding present. She met every American president since Eisenhower (with the exception of Lyndon Johnson; she sent her sister to charm the Texan). Her friend Nelson Mandela reportedly called her “Lizzie.” 


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