It is a portrait not only of a monarch, but of a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother too.
Taken by renowned American photographer Annie Leibovitz at Windsor Castle last month, this remarkable picture – which, in its lighting and composition, echoes the great royal oil paintings of the past – has been released by Buckingham Palace to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday today.
It was, said one who was involved in the process, a deliberate decision by the sovereign. For as much as this day has become a national celebration, it is also very much a family event too. After all, Elizabeth is a proud great-grandmother five times over.
The Queen is seen for the first time cuddling the youngest of her family, 11-month-old Princess Charlotte, in the picture which was taken just after Easter in the Green Drawing Room at Windsor.
Cheeky little Mia Tindall can be seen proudly holding up her great-granny’s £1,000 Launer handbag in a moment, says one who was there, that was totally unscripted.
‘The moment with Mia was completely spontaneous, it was not staged at all. She just picked up her great-granny’s handbag and that was it,’ they said.
It was, they revealed, a ‘happy, chaotic, warm afternoon’ with the parents of the children all present and trying to catch their offspring’s eye.
‘Taking pictures of children is like herding cats but for that split second, it just worked. Annie [Leibovitz ] has children of her own and knows her stuff.’
The group portrait is one of three released today, the other two being of the Queen and her beloved dogs, and a rare and surprisingly warm shot of the Queen with her daughter Princess Anne.
‘There was a very definite idea behind the set,’ said a royal aide. ‘The Queen wanted a portrait of the youngest members of the family, the other end of the generational spectrum. You have the two youngest grandchildren, who are quite a lot younger than the others, and the great-grandchildren.
‘It was a happy, nice, relaxed afternoon. There was a lovely feeling to it. All the parents were helping to get the shot right – a classic composition, rather like an Old Master but with a modern twist.’
The children surrounding the Queen in this image are:
1. James, Viscount Severn, the eight-year-old second child of the Earl and Countess of Wessex. Born at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, he is currently tenth in line to the throne.
He was, in 2008, the first to be christened in a replica of the gown originally used by Queen Victoria for her children, commissioned by his grandmother the Queen, which has since been handed down the generations.
A slightly shy and cautious child by nature, as demonstrated by his sweet but awkward hands-in-pockets pose, James, like his sister Louise, goes to a small local school close to his parents’ Surrey home.
2. Lady Louise Alice Elizabeth Mary Mountbatten-Windsor, James’s protective elder sister who, despite a traumatic premature birth, is maturing into a confident and pretty young girl.
Louise, 12, who is 11th in line to the throne, was a much longed-for child for Edward and Sophie.
She was born four weeks prematurely in an emergency caesarean operation during which her life was in peril. She now bears an uncanny resemblance to her grandmother at the same age.
Last year her mother Sophie revealed that ‘premature babies can often have squints because they are the last thing in the baby package to really be finalised’. Louise required surgery to correct it but now she can see perfectly.
3. Mia Tindall, the chubby-cheeked toddler proudly holding up her ‘Gan-Gan’s’ handbag, is the daughter of former royal rebel Zara Phillips and her England rugby player husband Mike Tindall.
The two-year-old is no stranger to the world of horses thanks to Olympian Zara and was sitting on her first pony even before she could walk.
More used to jeans and wellies, here she wears a rose-pink knitted cardigan, jean skirt and smart ‘party’ shoes with pretty frilled socks and her hair swept to one side.
4. Princess Charlotte, sitting on the Queen’s lap, is the newest addition to the Royal Family and fourth in line to the throne.
She appears as ‘ladylike’ as her doting father, Prince William, says she is, sitting bolt upright and crossing her legs.
5. Savannah Phillips, elder daughter of Peter Phillips and his Canadian wife Autumn, is the eldest of the Queen’s great-grandchildren and 14th in line to the throne.
Savannah, five, who was not given any title at birth at the request of her parents, lives in what has been called ‘the family commune’ at Gatcombe Park.
She enjoys a hugely carefree existence, running around Princess Anne’s vast grounds, and was christened privately at a small Gloucestershire church.
6. Prince George hides a delightfully mischievous nature. Indeed, on their recent tour to India, his parents apologised for not bringing him but said they couldn’t have risked his running around, while his father frequently describes him as a ‘cheeky little monkey’.
Although George, two, is a future king, his parents send their son to Westacre, a small Montessori nursery school close to their Norfolk home.
7. Isla Phillips, standing to her cousin George’s left, is Savannah’s three-year-old sister.
Today the Queen will officially mark her birthday with a walkabout in Windsor and an evening event with Prince Charles in which she will light the first of 1,000 beacons across the globe.
This will be followed by a private dinner at the castle for 60 of her closest friends and relatives, thrown by the Prince of Wales.
Picture that reveals the unique bond between a devoted mother and daughter
Most Royal Family photographs are charming, innocuous and, often, a teeny-weeny bit predictable. But once in a while an official picture comes along that is not just unusual, it is also revealing.
Just such a photo has emerged to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday with this remarkable portrait of mother and daughter – unusual because most family photos show the Queen surrounded by the men in her life, particularly her sons and grandsons, and revealing because of the message it conveys.
Here the smiles are soft and open and the eyes of both Princess Anne and her mother are appealing. This, you instinctively feel, is how the two women see one another.
Anne, so often portrayed as the imperious, haughty, glove-wearing Princess Royal, looks soothingly benign. And the Queen? Her contentment suggests there’s no one else she’d rather have by her side.
That just might be the truth of this stunning photograph. For away from the formalities of royal life, the two women are exceptionally close.
Just look at the way Anne’s arm runs protectively along her mother’s back and how the Queen nuzzles into her daughter’s shoulder, both a reassuring presence in each other’s life. They are relaxed.
Yet over the years it has become almost obligatory to discuss the influence of Prince Charles, his brothers Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, and Prince Philip, of course, on the Queen.
Perhaps it was the way the fiercely independent Anne just got on with things and didn’t bring her problems home to Mummy. Even when her first marriage (to Captain Mark Phillips) went so catastrophically wrong, there was no emotional hand-wringing of the injustice of it all, as there was with the Prince of Wales at his marital woes.
There was no need for the Queen to indulge Anne, as she has had to indulge Andrew, her favourite son, through his gaffe-strewn years.
Always at her side, her most loyal little courtiers of all
They are as much a part of her cherished family as her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
And when she is with her beloved corgis and dorgis, the Queen is seldom happier or more relaxed. Smiling on the steps of Windsor Castle, a long way from the stiff formality of official portraits in glittering staterooms, she looks truly comfortable in the company of her four-legged companions.
Photographer Annie Leibovitz captured this touching vignette of Her Majesty with her two corgis, Willow and Holly, and two dorgis – corgi-dachshund crosses – Candy and Vulcan.
Four generations of the House of Windsor will feature on a set of postage stamps in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's 90th birthday. Prince Charles, Prince William, and a grinning Prince George were photographed alongside the queen in the specially commissioned family portrait, taken in secret in the Summer of 2015 in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace. Though it's not the first adorable portrait of the young prince, it will be the first time George has featured on a stamp, and he definitely looks excited to be part of such a momentous occasion!