Green Hare History

The Faces of Britain: looking at history through iconic portraits

Elizabeth II as princess

Princess Elizabeth of York

Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002)


It seemed right that we commemorate the death of Queen Elizabeth II by including one of the many photographs taken of her over the course of her 96 years. I have chosen one that shows Elizabeth as heir apparent in 1943, taken by the eminent Canadian photographer, Yousef Karsh.


Karsh was born in Turkey in 1908, then part of the Ottoman Empire. As an ethnic Armenian, he escaped the genocide that tore through his country, emigrating to Canada in 1932 where he began his love of photography under the tutelage of his uncle. By 1941 he had established a prominent career, propelled further by his taking of the iconic photograph of Winston Churchill whist the British Prime Minister was in Canada. The portrait is so symbolic of Churchill that it still appears on the English and Welsh £5 note.

Karsh came to the UK in 1943 to photograph the King, George VI, during which he also had a session with the 18-year-old Princess Elizabeth. He described her as ‘spontaneous’ during the sitting, and he obviously made a strong impression on the young woman. He would photograph her and her family another four times over the course of the next 44 years, charting her as both heir apparent and Queen.


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