Queen Elizabeth II attends a government celebration in Winnipeg

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

From ancient ceremonies to American football games, these 20 rarely or never-before-published images from our photographers span the monarch's storied life.

Queen Elizabeth II attends a government celebration in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1970. Canada didn’t gain independence from Britain until 1982. At the height of the British Empire, it was estimated that one in four people was a British subject. During her reign, the British territories shrank from 70 to 16 countries.
Photograph by W.E. Garrett, Nat Geo Image Collection

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor sat on an ancient throne, her eyes downcast. Moments before, the 27-year-old woman had been clad in white. Now she was Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth realms—shoulders wrapped in golden cloth, hands clasping jeweled scepters, and head heavy with a crown. Cries of “God save the Queen!” echoed throughout Westminster Abbey as silver trumpets blared.

At the June 1953 coronation, no one could have guessed Queen Elizabeth’s reign would last a record-breaking 70 years. But the significance of the elaborate ceremony was not lost on veteran photographer James Jarché. Using a Leica camera loaded with Kodachrome film, he documented every moment of the age-old ritual, then rushed the undeveloped images to the National Geographic Society’s Washington, D.C., headquarters via 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. It was “the greatest color story of a lifetime,” photo editor Kip Ross told Jarché.

And National Geographic was there to capture every step of her lifetime. Its world-class photographers documented the demure new queen, chronicled the official appearances of the self-possessed public figure, and offered rare glimpses of the private life Elizabeth guarded so carefully.

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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