The Heartbreaking Way Queen Elizabeth Discovered Her Father King George Died

Queen Elizabeth is the longest-reigning monarch in history even though she was never supposed to become queen in the first place.

The whole history of her rule is fascinating to consider — if her uncle King Edward VIII had never abdicated the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, we wouldn’t have Queen Elizabeth as a monarch at all. And if her father hadn’t died young, she probably wouldn’t have broken the record for the longest rule.

All the circumstances in Queen Elizabeth’s life have contributed to her legacy and to her unique habits. And even though her father King George VI died a long time ago, the impact of his death is still prevalent today.

King George and Queen Elizabeth
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth | Studio Lisa/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth and her father King George were very close

Not all daughters have close personal relationships with their fathers, but young Elizabeth had a special bond with King George VI.

Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926, a full decade before her father would unexpectedly take the throne. Once George became king, he began grooming his daughter for the role he knew she would inherit. This shared destiny helped solidify their close relationship.

King George VI began entrusting young Elizabeth with more and more royal responsibilities, proving how much he trusted her judgment even in her youth. The king named her counselor of state when she was just 18. This gave her the power to represent the United Kingdom in her father’s absence.

Also, King George expressed his dismay with Elizabeth’s decision to marry Prince Philip. Like so many protective fathers, he didn’t believe Philip was worthy of his daughter.

King George and Princess Elizabeth
King George VI with Princess Elizabeth | Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

King George died unexpectedly while Elizabeth was abroad

It’s always a tragedy when a world leader dies. But when King George VI died from lung cancer on February 6, 1952, citizens were shocked and saddened to hear the news. And no one was more heartbroken than Princess Elizabeth.

Everyone knew that King George had lung cancer and was suffering from failing health for years before his death. But they didn’t know his time was imminent. Elizabeth wasn’t present at her father’s deathbed because she was on an important royal tour of Kenya at the time. She attended the tour in King George’s place because he was too ill to travel.

But despite that fact, Elizabeth expected her father to recover from that illness. She never forgave herself for being away when he died.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Kenya
Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in Kenya | Chris Ware/Keystone/Getty Images

Elizabeth was having a great time up until the moment of her father’s death

Just before learning of her father’s death, Elizabeth was enjoying herself taking photos with elephants as part of the excursion along with her husband, Prince Philip. Time reported that she was “too excited to sleep” thanks to these gentle giants and “kept leaving her cot to watch other nocturnal visitors at the watering hole.”

But the mood quickly turned somber when the news of King George’s death broke. Prince Philip heard from a local reporter and had the unfortunate task of informing his wife that her father was dead.

After hearing the news, Elizabeth cut her trip short and returned home. She assumed responsibility for the United Kingdom the next day. Elizabeth mourned his death privately but presented a brave face in the wake of the tragedy.

“By the sudden death of my dear father I am called to assume the duties and responsibilities of sovereignty,” she said, via Good Housekeeping. “My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than I shall always work, as my father did throughout his reign, to advance the happiness and prosperity of my peoples.”

One year later, she officially became the queen and began her long-lasting reign.

She still honors her late father in surprising ways

Queen Elizabeth at Christmas
Queen Elizabeth at Christmas | John Stillwell – WPA Pool/ Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth doesn’t talk much about her late father these days. But she does observe a few traditions that were inspired by his untimely death.

For one thing, all royal family members always travel with at least one black outfit in their suitcase just in case someone important dies while they’re away. This is in remembrance of the time the queen was in Kenya and had no somber clothing to wear on her journey home.

Queen Elizabeth also leaves her Christmas decorations at Sandringham up until February 6 — the anniversary of King George’s death — each year. In a way, it’s like keeping a piece of her father alive in her memory during the holiday season.