Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were visiting Kenya when her father, King George VI, died — making her the new monarch
On Tuesday, the royal couple welcomed the Kenyan diaspora to Buckingham Palace for a reception celebrating the relationship between the countries and the future ahead. King Charles, 74, and Queen Camilla, 76, chatted with professionals from business, media, charity, art, sports, government and the military, plus representatives from their patronages in Kenya.
The African country is uniquely part of Queen Elizabeth’s accession story and modern royal history. Charles’ mother was on a Commonwealth tour there in 1952 when she learned that her father, King George VI, died in his sleep, making her monarch of the United Kingdom and its related realms at age 25.
During the festive reception, King Charles and Queen Camilla checked out a display table of items from the Royal Collection Trust relating to the British royal family’s connection to Kenya, including photos of then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s visit before her accession and a copy of the speech Prince Philip made when Kenya became independent in 1963. According to Rebecca English of the Daily Mail, King Charles was especially struck by one piece in particular.
“Sweet moment as The King reminisces over a photograph of Treetops, the iconic Kenyan hideaway where his late mother became Queen,” the royal reporter wrote on X, posting footage of the sovereign’s stop with Queen Camilla.
In January 1952, the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh (as Philip and Elizabeth were then known!) embarked on a Commonwealth tour of Africa, Australia and New Zealand on behalf of King George VI, who had lung cancer and was recovering from surgery. After greeting enthusiastic crowds in Nairobi, Kenya, the young couple set off on a five-day wildlife safari and arrived at Treetops safari lodge on February 5, where they observed animals at the nearby watering hole and stayed in the treehouse perched in an enormous fig tree in Aberdare National Park.
The following day, the party received a telegram that the King died in his sleep at age 56. It was Prince Philip who broke the news to his wife in the gardens.
The new sovereign’s armed escort Jim Corbett famously wrote in the Treetops logbook: "For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into the tree as a princess and climbed down as a queen."
The Duke of Edinburgh’s cousin Lady Pamela Hicks, a bridesmaid at his wedding to Princess Elizabeth, was a witness to history during the fateful trip.
"My mother remembered very clearly that when she heard the news, she paced up and down, up and down with Philip and the ladies-in-waiting and the private secretary," Lady Pamela's daughter India Hicks previously told PEOPLE.
"Finally when the Queen had gathered herself, she said, 'I'm so sorry, but we are going to have to go back to England,' " said Hicks. "That was so indicative of the Queen that she would have apologized for something like that. They all said, 'Don't be ridiculous.' "
"My mother gave her a hug and suddenly remembered, 'This is my Queen,' and dropped into a deep curtsy,” she added. Queen Elizabeth, who went on to have a historic 70-year reign, was formally crowned a little more than a year later on June 2, 1953.
The historic safari lodge closed in 2021 after tourist revenue dropped 90% in Kenya due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kenya Wildlife Service said at the time. The lodge had not hosted a visitor for more than a year, Kenya's tourism ministry confirmed to The Times.
Two weeks ago, Buckingham Palace announced that King Charles and Queen Camilla would travel to Kenya from October 31 to November 3. The visit marks the couple’s first state visit to a Commonwealth country since Charles became King following the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth at age 96 last September.
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While the state visit was coordinated by the invitation of President William Ruto and comes as Kenya prepares to celebrate 60 years of independence, the royals will also “acknowledge the more painful aspects of the U.K. and Kenya’s shared history,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement.
Between then and 1960, an uprising known as The Emergency took place. Led mostly by the Kikuyu people, the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule and internal Kenyan opposition to independence led to tens of thousands of deaths. An estimated 11,000 Mau Mau rebels and others were killed, according to the BBC, but unofficial figures put the losses at much greater numbers. Some estimates say there were as many as 90,000 Kenyans executed, while more than 150,000 were detained.
“His Majesty will take time during the visit to deepen his understanding of the wrongs suffered in this period by the people of Kenya. Together, Their Majesties will tour a new museum dedicated to Kenya’s history and will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Uhuru Gardens, as well as visiting the site of the declaration of Kenya’s independence in 1963,” the palace said as they confirmed the trip.
King Charles and Queen Camilla’s state visit to Kenya will come roughly two months after their mini-tour to France, which had been postponed since March amid unrest over changes in pensions for French workers.
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