Queen Elizabeth II's affection for the ‘shining spirit’ of the Welsh people

The Queen on her final visit to Wales, in October 2021, at the official opening of the sixth Senedd term. Credit: PA Images

On 6th February 1952, Princess Elizabeth acceded to the throne following the death of her father, King George VI.

Her coronation was on 2 June 1953, and exactly one month and one week later - 9 July 1953 - Elizabeth II made her first official visit to Wales as Queen. 

The two-day tour began in Newport and included visits to Cardiff, Pontypridd, Caernarfon, Rhyl, Wrexham and Llangollen.

Queen Elizabeth II inspecting the Prince of Wales Company, 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards as part of her two-day Coronation tour of Wales. Credit: PA

In August 1955, the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, embarked on a royal tour to fulfill duties in Wales, the Isle of Man and Scotland.

Together, they visited spots including Brecon, the Rhondda, Llandovery, St David’s, Milford Haven, Aberystwyth and Pembroke. They were joined by a young Prince Charles and his sister, Princess Anne.

A young Prince Charles and Princess Anne prepare to accompany their parents, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, on their 1955 royal tour. Credit: PA

In August 1960, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attended the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff. During the visit, their daughter Princess Anne was presented with a Welsh doll.

In this picture, the young princess can be seen clutching the doll as the family leave Cardiff Docks on board the Royal Yacht Britannia after visiting the festival.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on board the Royal Yacht Britannia leaving the Cardiff Docks after their visit to Eisteddfod. Credit: PA

In 1966, the iconic Severn Bridge was built, allowing for safe and accessible travel between Wales and England across the River Severn.

It was officially opened on 8th September 1966 by the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh. It was hailed as the dawn of a new economic era for Wales.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh during the opening presentation of the new Severn Bridge. Credit: PA

Just weeks later, on 21 October 1966, a colliery spoil tip collapsed and engulfed the village of Aberfan, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Aberfan eight days later to pay their respects and offer comfort to the bereaved.

Those present remember the Queen - a young mother herself - being moved to tears at the scene of the tragedy.

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh pay tribute with flowers to the 144 people killed in the Aberfan disaster. Credit: PA

It has been reported that the Queen felt she had left it too late after the tragedy to visit Aberfan, deeming it her greatest regret.

By contrast, the community there say it felt like the Queen was with them from the beginning, and her visit that day gave them hope.

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh follow the point of local resident Councillor Jim Williams, who lost seven members of his family. Credit: PA

The Welshman who was Archbishop of Canterbury remembers this unfaltering sense of duty.

Rowan Williams said: "It may sound like a cliche, but there's a sense that she was the mother of the family and you knew she was there.

"I certainly felt that steadiness of affection and support in the background - and behind that, of course, I'm almost tempted to say the iron will, the sheer determination and energy that took her through all those years of unrelenting hard work."

The Queen made four further visits to the village of Aberfan - the last during her Diamond Jubilee tour of Wales in 2012, almost half a century after the disaster.

She had made a promise to the people of Aberfan that when a new primary school was built, she would return to open it.

In that final poignant visit she fulfilled her promise, unveiling a plaque at Ynysowen Community Primary School.

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive for a tour on Ynysowen Community Primary School in Aberfan. Credit: PA

On the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, the Queen paid tribute to the "fortitude, dignity and indomitable spirit" of the people of Aberfan.

She said she “well remembered” her visit to the village in 1966.

The Queen said to the people of Aberfan: "I well remember my own visit with Prince Philip after the disaster, and the posy I was given by a young girl, which bore the heart-breaking inscription, 'From the remaining children of Aberfan'”.

Synonymous with the royal family is the title ‘The Prince of Wales’, granted to the heir apparent to the British monarch.

The Queen’s eldest son, Charles, was made Prince of Wales when he was nine-years-old, but had to wait another 11 years for his investiture so he was old enough to understand its significance.

Here, a young Charles is pictured in 1958 with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne on his first visit to Wales since the Queen announced his new title.

The Prince of Wales, hands behind his back, smiles in response to the cheers of crowds in Holyhead. Credit: PA

The Prince of Wales’ investiture by the Queen took place on 1 July 1969 at Caernarfon Castle, with both Welsh and English spoken during the ceremony.

In addition to the 4,000 guests inside the castle walls, thousands more waited outside and millions around the world watched it on television.

In December 1968, the first phase of the Royal Mint’s headquarters in Llantrisant were opened by the Queen.

She switched on the coining presses to begin production of bronze coins, in preparation for the introduction of the decimal coinage in 1971.

The Queen at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant in 1968. Credit: PA

Key anniversaries of the Queen’s accession to the throne have been marked with silver, gold and diamond jubilees - in 1977, 2002 and 2012, respectively. 

Each jubilee has seen people across Wales celebrating the occasion with colourful street parties and parades. Royal tours have also taken place for each jubilee, with the Queen visiting various parts of Wales and the UK.

The Queen holds a Welsh flag during a walk-about on High Street in Bangor as part of her Golden Jubilee visit. Credit: PA

Much changed for Wales during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, significantly the creation of its own government.

It was the Queen who opened the first National Assembly for Wales in 1999, declaring it "a new and significant direction in the way Wales is governed… a moment of renewal, true to the spirit of Wales".

During the opening ceremony, the Queen signed a special edition of the Government of Wales Act, symbolising the transfer of powers from Westminster to Wales.

On 1 March 2006 - St David’s Day - the Queen officially opened the new Senedd building, where Assembly Members gather for Plenary.

In November 2004, the Queen attended the opening weekend of phase one of the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, along with Prince Philip and the Prince of Wales.

The occasion was marked with the unveiling of a plaque.

The Queen signs the visitors' book at the Royal Gala concert at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff. Credit: PA

In 2016, people across Wales helped celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. Colourful street parties were held and a gun salute took place at Cardiff Castle.

In the Welsh capital, one of many beacons was lit to mark the occasion, followed by a spectacular fireworks display.

Some well-wishers from Wales travelled to London for the celebrations and Dame Shirley Bassey performed at a special show put on in the Queen’s honour.

Members of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards band play outside Cardiff Castle ahead of a 21 Gun salute in honour of The Queen's 90th birthday. Credit: PA

The Queen’s final visit to Wales was in October 2021, when she officially opened the sixth Senedd term in the Welsh Parliament, accompanied by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

The Queen told the Senedd it was a “source of pleasure" that her family "have had homes in Wales and experienced its very special sense of community". 

In a speech inside the chamber, The Queen thanked Welsh people efforts during the pandemic, saying they are owed a "debt of gratitude."

She said: "We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have risen so magnificently to the challenges of the last 18 months, from key workers to volunteers, who have done so much to serve their communities.

"They are shining examples of the spirit for which the Welsh people are so renowned, a spirit which I have personally encountered so many times."