Queen Elizabeth II never weeps in public – that’s the common perception forged over seven decades of soaring triumphs and terrible tragedies for the United Kingdom’s head of state.
Even if many people believe it, it’s not strictly true, royal historians say.
“There have been more times she’s been in tears than people recognize or choose to remember,” says Sally Bedell Smith, the acclaimed American biographer of the queen and other senior royals.
Bedell Smith ticks off a half-dozen occasions when the queen was in tears, and not just in 1997 when the beloved royal yacht, the Britannia, was retired. She cried when she went to Aberfan, Wales, in 1966 to meet with survivors of a horrifying avalanche of coal waste that killed 144 people, most of them children, Bedell Smith says. At her sister Princess Margaret’s funeral in 2002, people who were there and seated near her told Bedell Smith she was “very tearful,” and “the saddest I’ve ever seen her.”
“She has shed tears but it’s been at appropriate times, such as the Remembrance Sunday commemorations” for Britain’s war dead every November, adds longtime royal commentator Victoria Arbiter, who spent part of her childhood in Kensington Palace as the daughter of a former press secretary to the queen.
But the widespread impression that the queen rarely shows emotion gets to the underlying role of the longest-serving reigning monarch in British history: After 69 years on her throne, she’s had a lot of practice at hiding her feelings when necessary – and often it is necessary.
The queen held back her undoubted sorrow on Saturday at the funeral of her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who died April 9 at 99. The 94-year-old monarch kept her composure as she exited her Bentley and entered St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, a tiny, stooped figure dressed in black and wearing a matching face mask. She sat alone at the service, her head bowed, and left with the Dean of Windsor, who officiated.