LONDON, United Kingdom — Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday missed the annual Remembrance service at the Cenotaph with a “sprained back”, further stoking fears for her health after she was forced to cancel a series of engagements on medical advice.
The ceremony, honouring the sacrifice of British and Commonwealth service personnel and veterans in conflicts since World War I, had been due to be the 95-year-old monarch’s first planned public appearance since she was forced to rest.
But just hours before the solemn ceremony at the Cenotaph war memorial in central London, Buckingham Palace announced she would not attend.
“The Queen, having sprained her back, has decided this morning with great regret that she will not be able to attend today’s Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph,” a statement said.
“Her Majesty is disappointed that she will miss the service.”
Her eldest son and heir Prince Charles — who turned 73 on Sunday — placed a wreath on her behalf, as he has done since 2017 after a two-minute silence.
It is only the seventh time the Queen has missed the service in almost 70 years on the throne, with the previous six due to either pregnancy or foreign visits.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson later sought to allay public fears, saying he had an audience with her on Wednesday. “She was very well,” he told a news conference.
At a public event in Brixton, south London, on Thursday, one onlooker asked Prince Charles: “How is your mother?”
“She’s alright,” he replied.
– Anxiety –
The ceremony honouring fallen troops is close to the monarch’s heart: during World War II, she served as a mechanic on the Home Front and she is head of the Armed Forces.
Fears about the ageing monarch’s health have heightened in recent weeks after the palace was forced into admitting she had spent a night in hospital undergoing unspecified tests in October.
She then resumed “light duties”, but pulled out of a scheduled attendance at the UN climate change summit in Glasgow after being advised to rest. She sent a video message to world leaders instead.
A two-day trip to Northern Ireland was also shelved as was her appearance on Tuesday at the General Synod, the national assembly of the Church of England which she heads.
Royal expert Penny Junor said it was “very sad for the Queen because this is the one event in the year that she really, really likes to be at.
“The public will be very sad and anxious to hear of yet another setback but clearly she must follow the advice and get herself well.”
– ‘The boss’ –
Queen Elizabeth II succeeded her father, King George VI, in 1952 and next year is her Platinum Jubilee, marking her 70th year on the throne.
She returned to her Windsor Castle residence, west of London, on Tuesday, after a long-planned weekend away at her Sandringham estate in eastern England.
The palace has previously said it was her “firm intention” to attend Sunday’s Remembrance event, which brought together veterans, their families and political leaders.
The Queen had earlier also pulled out of the separate Festival of Remembrance event on Saturday.
Royal Navy officer Ben Shread said: “It would be nice if the boss was here.
“If there is a reason she is not here it must be a very serious one. We all wish her well.”
Royal aides have blamed a busy recent schedule that had left her “exhausted” but she was recently seen driving in the grounds of Windsor.
She took a step back from work on October 20, the day after a reception at Windsor Castle where she chatted with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US billionaire Bill Gates.
She spent the following night in hospital, her first since 2013, where Buckingham Palace said she underwent “preliminary examinations”.
The monarch had appeared in strong form in public until recently, despite the loss of her 99-year-old husband Prince Philip in April.
She had attended official engagements almost daily, similar to her pre-pandemic workload, since returning from her traditional summer holiday in Balmoral, Scotland.
But she made the headlines recently after being seen walking with a cane, and The Sun tabloid reported she had stopped walking her corgis in recent days.
The queen is reported to no longer ride her horses, a keen passion, although she plans to be back in the saddle again after resting.
She is also believed to have given up drinking alcohol.