Days after the funeral of her husband of 73 years, Queen Elizabeth II turned 95 on Wednesday, marking a milestone birthday without Prince Philip by her side.
While in a normal year there may have been plans for a private, low-key event to mark the occasion, the Duke of Edinburgh’s death on April 9 and his funeral on Saturday, together with ongoing coronavirus restrictions, have meant that this year there is no public plan to mark her birthday.
In a statement released by Buckingham Palace, the queen said: “While as a family we are in a period of great sadness, it has been a comfort to us all to see and to hear the tributes paid to my husband, from those within the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and around the world.
“My family and I would like to thank you all for the support and kindness shown to us in recent days. We have been deeply touched, and continue to be reminded that Philip had such an extraordinary impact on countless people throughout his life.”
The queen will spend the day at Windsor Castle during a period of royal mourning following Philip’s death, the palace said.
“Her birthday every year now will be tinged with that sadness,” said Victoria Howard, editor of The Crown Chronicles, a royal news blog.
“So many people have had to have lockdown birthdays and funerals that in a strange way it’s almost comforting that the royal family is going through it as well.”
The queen typically spends her April birthday privately without much public celebration and this is her second birthday in a row to take place under coronavirus restrictions. Last year, there were no celebratory gun salutes, which the queen felt would be inappropriate in the midst of the pandemic.
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There are still strict limits on public gatherings in the U.K. because of worries over Covid-19 spreading. Groups of only six people or fewer are allowed to meet outside, only 15 people are allowed at weddings and 30 people can attend funerals.
The queen celebrates two birthdays each year, the actual day of her birth in April, and an official birthday in June, when the traditional Trooping the Colour parade takes place featuring soldiers in ceremonial uniforms, a tradition dating back to the 18th century. This year’s parade was cancelled in March due to Covid-19.
The queen marked her last big birthday, her 90th, on the official birthday in June 2016, with a big street party near Buckingham Palace for guests from charities of which she is patron. That birthday also happened to coincide with Philip’s birthday.
This year’s milestone birthday falls as her long reign enters a new era. Next year the queen will mark 70 years on the throne, known in Britain as the “Platinum Jubilee.” She is Britain’s longest-serving monarch as well as the oldest, a quirky twist to the story of a princess who grew up not expecting to become queen. Her father, George VI, only became king when his older brother Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
Planning has already begun for a four-day celebration in June 2022, including an extra national holiday, events across the Commonwealth, as well as “events that mix the best of British ceremonial splendor and pageantry with cutting edge artistic and technological displays.”
While the queen has continued with a busy schedule until now, she has in the past few years handed over more of her roles and responsibilities to her son, Prince Charles, and his son, Prince William. Philip retired from his public duties in 2017.
“Change has been happening in the way the royal family works ever since the queen stopped traveling,” said royal expert Tim Ewart, the former royal editor for ITV, a British broadcaster.
“The queen has not let her age stop her doing those events she can. There’s no evidence she’s not going to continue, but the events do get more and more modest.”
At 72, Charles is now at an age when many people retire. Until last year, it had been assumed that Harry would share the royal responsibilities with his brother, but the palace announced in February that he and his wife Meghan will not be returning to their roles as senior royals. The couple moved to the U.S. last year.
As the queen ages, the way in which the royal family continues its work will likely continue to evolve.
“With Charles stepping up and helping dictate the way things are going to be run, more so potentially than the queen, is this going to be a change of direction, are they going to do things differently?” said Howard. “It’s a bit of a crossroads.”