King George VI died on the night of February 6, 1952. The funeral took place on a dreary winter day — an even grimmer occasion than the average royal funeral. Photographer Ron Case (of Keystone Press Agency), who was with a group of other press photographers outside St George’s Chapel, Windsor, had only RAF aerial reconnaissance camera. With that old wartime equipment he took the photo of Princess Elizabeth (the new Queen); Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) (l. to r.) making their way slowly into the chapel where the king’s body lay in state.
The picture, which came to be known as the ‘Three Queens in mourning’, is a truly haunting image. All three grieving queens, representing three changing generations, were clearly seen through their veils. Although other photos of three queens altogether exist, they were nearly all official portraits, and Case’s informal photo revealed the rarely seen aspect of the modern royalty: trained from birth to repress their emotions, they were still capable of humane emotions. The next day, the photo also made the front pages of every single national paper, and subsequently become one of the most widely distributed British photographs of the 20th century.
Ron Case, however, didn’t make a single pence from his photo–the rights belonged to Ron’s employer, the Pinkerton Press Agency.