The Story Behind TIME’s Queen Elizabeth II Cover

When Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8 at 96, it was not unexpected—she had been under medical supervision at Balmoral Castle and members of the royal family traveled to Scotland to be near her. A reverent silence fell across the globe at the passing of this historical figure.

Sir Cecil Beaton—a British fashion, portrait and war photographer—took the photograph that appears on a commemorative issue of TIME. Beaton, who passed away in 1980, was a veteran photographer of British royals. It is his photographs, which are both grandiose yet intimate, that helped mold the image the monarchy of mid-1900s. He was first invited by Queen Elizabeth I to photograph the royal family around 1939, when he wrote in his diary: “In choosing me to take her photographs, the Queen made a daring innovation. It is inconceivable that her predecessor would have summoned me—my work was still considered revolutionary and unconventional.”


An article by the then-Princess Lilybet on April. 29th, 1929. TIME cover


Beaton developed a lasting relationship with Queen Elizabeth II. Beaton was still a princess when they first met. Beaton went on to capture monumental events, including the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953.

Learn More: What Queen Elizabeth II Said About Why Britain Still Haves a Monarchy

Beaton’s last photo of Queen Elizabeth II was taken in summer 1968 when she was only 42. In it, the Queen wears the Admiral’s Boat Cloak against a blue backdrop, a powerful and simple image often regarded as timeless. Beaton aimed for the series of portraits to which this one belonged to be “stark and clear and bold”—and most observers in the ensuing decades would deem him successful.

Queen Elizabeth, as Person of the Year for 1952, on the Jan. 5, 1953, cover of TIME (Boris Chaliapin)

On the January 5, 1953 cover of TIME, Queen Elizabeth was named Person of the Year 1952.

Boris Chaliapin

On the cover, Beaton’s photograph is bordered by a ribbon of silver, a rare occurrence for TIME, which rarely deviates from its iconic red border. In 2008, Barack Obama became president. The magazine’s last silver cover featured Beaton.

Learn More: Elizabeth II: Classic and Rare Photos of Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth II has a storied history of appearing on TIME’s cover: She first graced the front of the magazine in 1929 as “Princess Lilybet.” She has since been on the cover at least 10 times before now, including in January 1953 as TIME’s Person of the Year for 1952. Most recently, the Queen was featured on the June 4, 2012 cover of TIME’s Europe edition to mark her Diamond Jubilee.

Queen Elizabeth on the June 4, 2012, cover of TIME's Europe edition, marking her Diamond Jubilee (EQUANIMITY BY CHRIS LEVINE (ARTIST) AND ROB MUNDAY (HOLOGRAPHER))

TIME’s Europe Edition, 6/6/12, covers Queen Elizabeth. This is her Diamond Jubilee.


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