On February 5, 1952, Princess Elizabeth climbed into a treehouse hotel for a night’s stay. The following morning, when she climbed back down, everything had changed.
Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip were in Kenya at the beginning of a planned Commonwealth tour when they received the shocking news that King George VI had died. They quickly boarded a plane to return to the United Kingdom, landing at London Airport on February 6.
The new Queen Elizabeth II stepped on to British soil for the first time wearing a black coat and hat. On her lapel, a diamond brooch in the shape of a flower sparkled against the dark background.
To be more specific, the brooch was in the shape of a flame lily. The diamond and platinum jewel had been one of Elizabeth’s 21st birthday gifts, presented to her by the people of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the royal family’s tour of southern Africa in 1947.
In a flash, the new monarch was photographed wearing the jewel, and the brooch became iconic—a reminder of both the poise she exhibited and the sorrow lurking just beneath.
The brooch had always been one of Princess Elizabeth’s favorites, and she wore it often during the mourning period that followed. Here, she sports the brooch during the Olympic Horse Trials at Badminton a few weeks later.
And here, she wears the brooch as she arrives at London Airport again in June 1952.
Indeed, she wore the brooch regularly for the rest of her long life. Here, she makes another memorable appearance in the brooch at the Chelsea Flower Show in the spring of 2019.