She’s the Queen of 16 realms, including Canada. She’s outlasted 11 British prime ministers and another 12 Canadian ones. Those constitutional roles hold great significance to a woman who has been on the throne for more than 64 years—yet it’s not her top responsibility.
The most important role for Queen Elizabeth II is to be a matriarch. The head of the house of Windsor is in the ultimate family business, one passed down through generations, dynasties and centuries.
So for her 90th birthday on April 21, it was only fitting that the Queen would be surrounded by her family in a series of official portraits taken by the American celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz over Easter. They were taken in her childhood home, Windsor Castle, a place in which she’s perhaps the most comfortable. It’s where her grandchildren, including Princes William and Harry, know they can drop by for a tea, a chat and a ride. (Well, as much as her schedule allows, though it’s easier for William and Harry as they were educated in Windsor.)
Interestingly, the Queen is photographed wearing relaxed “off-duty” outfits, not her usual sovereign uniform. The photographic results are a far cry from the imperial grandeur of the portraits that Annie Leibovitz took of the Queen in 2007.
But to the younger generations, she’s simply “Gan-Gan.” In this picture, she’s surrounded by her young grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. From bottom left they are:
Mia Tindall, 2, holding her Gan-Gan’s purse. She’s the daughter of Zara Tindall and her husband, Mike
James, Viscount Severn, 8, and Lady Louise, 12, the children of Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie
Savannah, 5, and Isla, 3, the children of Peter Phillips and his wife, Autumn
Prince George, 2, son of Prince William and his wife, Kate. (His sister, Charlotte, 11 months, is held in the Queen’s lap)
— BritishMonarchy (@BritishMonarchy) April 20, 2016
In a new interview with Sky TV, William opened up on the Queen’s support after his mother died in 1997, when he was 15: “Having lost my mother at a very young age, it has been particularly important for me that I had somebody like the Queen to look up to and who has been there and has understood some of the more complex issues when you lose a loved one.”
The second picture is the Queen with her only daughter, Anne. Though taken in the splendour of the White Drawing Room, it’s perhaps the most informal of all the pictures, with the Queen and Anne sitting together on a sofa. Interestingly, Anne is the only adult to be featured in these pictures with the Queen. There’s no Philip, no Charles, no William or Kate. It’s a sign of how close mother and daughter are—a relationship not often on public display.
As Anne, 65, has aged, the comparisons to her mother have grown. Not only does Anne look like her mother, but she shares her mum’s ferocious work ethic and steel-backed discipline. Then there’s their love of horses and the British countryside. The Queen has always supported Anne, who refused titles for her children, Peter and Zara, and brought them up with her ex-husband to be confident, well-mannered adults. While Peter Phillips works in sports management, Zara Tindall is a professional three-day event rider who won a team silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012.
The final just features Her Majesty—well, except for the dogs that are always snapping at her heels. For the record, they are, from top left, are Willow (corgi), Vulcan (a dorgie, or a corgi-dachshund mix), Candy (dorgi) and Holly (corgi). She’s so devoted to them that she took her favourite, Susan, on her honeymoon in 1947. So they truly are family, as well.