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The Queen enjoyed walks, picnics and family in months before her death, writes REBECCA ENGLISH

The Queen’s last summer was one of her happiest in recent years, with a string of family and friends in Balmoral.

Her Highland estate—each purple-tinged twig brimming with memories of her beloved Philip—had been a tremendous source of comfort after the worst of times.

A source with close ties to the Royal House recently told me that she did not suffer from any chronic condition. Another said: ‘She has lost a lot of weight and felt all the aches and pains a 96-year-old woman should feel and has had terrible problems with her sore feet.’

But there is no doubt that Her Majesty’s sudden weakness and decline in health came as a shock to many of those around her.

In addition, the loss of her 73-year-old husband, coupled with the drama of Harry and Meghan’s bitter departure from the family and the deeply disturbing allegations circulating around Prince Andrew, have taken a “deep emotional toll” over the past two years.

An insider recently told me: ‘Her Majesty has always been discreet, but you can see with your own eyes what an emotional toll it has taken on her. It brought her a lot of grief and it was not an easy time.’

But when the Queen arrived in Balmoral in late July — first to the smaller, more comfortable seven-bedroom Craigowan Lodge on Royal Deeside, before moving to Balmoral Castle, a mile away, on 9 August — the Highland air seemed a sense of comfort. and relief.

The Queen accompanied a handful of loyal associates who swore to stay with her until the end.

Life on duty: The Queen, holding her cane and a bruise on her hand, smiled Tuesday as she greeted outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his successor Liz Truss

Life on duty: The Queen, holding her cane and a bruise on her hand, smiled Tuesday as she greeted outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his successor Liz Truss

Beloved Hideout: Balmoral Castle, where the Queen spent her last hours, was a huge comfort to her during her lifetime

Beloved Hideout: Balmoral Castle, where the Queen spent her last hours, was a huge comfort to her during her lifetime

Beloved Hideout: Balmoral Castle, where the Queen spent her last hours, was a huge comfort to her during her lifetime

Her six-foot page of the Backstairs Paul Whybrew – ‘Tall Paul’ – and Barry Mitford, her sergeant-at-arms were with her, as always. The two men were her regular companions, bringing her the Racing Post every day and sitting comfortably with her to watch her favorite sport on TV.

Also at her side was Angela Kelly, the daughter of the Liverpool dock worker who rose to her right hand with the title of personal assistant, advisor and trustee to Her Majesty The Queen. The fiercely protective Angela – wittily dubbed ‘AK47’ – didn’t leave her side.

“She has wrapped the queen in cotton wool,” a source told me this summer. “She’s been very overprotective and made sure Her Majesty didn’t do too much.”

A source with deep knowledge of the ins and outs of Balmoral told me that the Queen spent her last weeks enjoying the country life she adored.

She and Philip were happiest in the Highlands, where they enjoyed the existence of a fairly normal married couple – it was no coincidence that she chose to release a photo of them together there after his death.

Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the Queen was seen walking her corgis slowly and carefully through the gardens (like many older people, she was afraid of falling, especially in public, which is one of the reasons she is so was careful about some commitments she made in public), but still in the fresh air.

Her Majesty arrives at Balmoral Castle for the start of her summer vacation on July 21

Her Majesty arrives at Balmoral Castle for the start of her summer vacation on July 21

Her Majesty arrives at Balmoral Castle for the start of her summer vacation on July 21

She and Philip were happiest in the Highlands, where they enjoyed the existence of a fairly normal married couple

She and Philip were happiest in the Highlands, where they enjoyed the existence of a fairly normal married couple

She and Philip were happiest in the Highlands, where they enjoyed the existence of a fairly normal married couple

The Queen spent her last hours in the bosom of her family, in the place where she spent so many happy times with her beloved Philip

The Queen spent her last hours in the bosom of her family, in the place where she spent so many happy times with her beloved Philip

The Queen spent her last hours in the bosom of her family, in the place where she spent so many happy times with her beloved Philip

For more than half a century, the family has regularly visited the Scottish castle

For more than half a century, the family has regularly visited the Scottish castle

For more than half a century, the family has regularly visited the Scottish castle

A ‘stream’ of family came to see her, most recently the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their lively three children who found ‘Gan Gan’ – as the children called their great-grandmother – such a tonic. The notable absentees were the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, a story in itself.

The late monarch was especially comforted by the regular presence of Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, whom she adored as a second daughter, and the two children of her late sister Princess Margaret, Lady Sarah Chatto, and the Earl of Snowdon, whom she used to be. so fond of.

‘It’s been a very typical and happy summer in Balmoral, lots of walks and picnics and barbecues. It has followed the pace long set by the Queen and the late Duke of Edinburgh. It is clear that the Queen has not been present the entire time, but she has participated and seen,” a source said at the time.

Another royal source who met the Queen a few days ago described her to me as “genuinely benevolent.” “I know you’d expect me to say that, but she really was,” they said, suggesting that her overnight drop on Wednesday was sudden.

On Tuesday, she not only met her outgoing and incoming prime ministers, but undertook an inauguration and some light paperwork.

And yet, behind-the-scenes concerns quickly grew among Buckingham Palace’s top staff about how much to expect from the Queen when she returned to Windsor Castle.

“They were already pacing her and warning people that it had now gotten to the point that if she had to do X, she couldn’t do Y, and that assignments were the exception, not the rule.

“But in recent weeks there has been an undeniable shift in the strength and urgency of the talks,” my source said at the time.

The Queen attends an audience with the Swiss President at Windsor Castle on April 28

The Queen attends an audience with the Swiss President at Windsor Castle on April 28

The Queen attends an audience with the Swiss President at Windsor Castle on April 28

(From left to right) The Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales, Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace on December 8, 2016

(From left to right) The Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales, Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace on December 8, 2016

(From left to right) The Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales, Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace on December 8, 2016

The Queen was seen walking her corgis in the gardens just a few weeks ago - something she's been doing for decades

The Queen was seen walking her corgis in the gardens just a few weeks ago - something she's been doing for decades

The Queen was seen walking her corgis in the gardens just a few weeks ago – something she’s been doing for decades

Prince William is now heir to the throne of the United Kingdom following the accession of Prince Charles following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.  Above: The Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with Prince Charles, Prince William and his children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte at the Platinum Jubilee Pageant in June

Prince William is now heir to the throne of the United Kingdom following the accession of Prince Charles following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.  Above: The Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with Prince Charles, Prince William and his children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte at the Platinum Jubilee Pageant in June

Prince William is now heir to the throne of the United Kingdom following the accession of Prince Charles following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Above: The Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with Prince Charles, Prince William and his children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte at the Platinum Jubilee Pageant in June

I can indeed reveal that over the past two weeks there have been high-level discussions between high-ranking courtiers at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, such as her private secretary Sir Edward Young, his counterpart at Clarence House, Sir Clive Alderton and Master of the Household, Sir Tony. Johnstone-Burt – on exactly what operational duties the Queen would have been able to fulfill when she returned to Windsor in the fall, if any.

“It had become abundantly clear to everyone that while she was mentally nimble, she was physically unable to cope with the load of the role and there have been serious discussions about what tasks she might be able to perform, if at all,” my source said at the time. .

“The mechanics were already in the works to ensure the Prince of Wales could take over most of her day-to-day responsibilities.” In other words, a full regency in all but name.

Significantly, I received a call on Tuesday evening from a friend of a friend who told me, ‘It doesn’t look like the Queen will be returning from Balmoral in October. Everyone at Windsor is very concerned about her.”

It had long been suggested, I must explain, that the Queen would move to Scotland almost full-time after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.

It’s something that I know was discussed within the Royal Household, but it was always considered improbable, especially for practical reasons. Buckingham Palace declined to comment.

Such matters are now superseded by yesterday’s events. But surely we can all take a crumb of comfort that the Queen spent her last hours in the lap of her family, in the place where she spent so many happy times with her beloved Philip, gazing over the Scottish Highlands so dear to her.

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