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23 Rarely Seen Photos of the British Royal Family Through the Years

In 1857, Queen Victoria posed for the first royal photo ever, and the world promptly fell in love with photographing royals. Here are some of the more memorable, yet less widely seen, photos of the royal family throughout the years.

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The Queen (and her prince) near the end of the Victorian age

Here is Queen Victoria towards the end of her life (mid-1890s), seated at her desk, with a photograph of her beloved late husband, Prince Albert, who’d died in 1861. Victoria was quite sentimental about Albert, as well as about her beloved dog, Dash. Here are some adorable photos (and paintings) of royals with their dogs throughout history.

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Edward VII before he became King

The next in line for the throne after Queen Victoria was her eldest son, born Albert Edward, who was nicknamed “Bertie.” He’s seen here in 1841, as a young man, with his wife, Princess Alexandra, and three of their six children: Princess Mary, Prince Albert Victor, and Prince George, who would later become King George V. Despite being the next in line for the throne, Bertie spent his pre-king years as a bit of a party-boy, much to his parents’ chagrin.

Prince George in Royal Navy Uniform

George V, the Prince Harry of his time

King George V, pictured here around 1885, when he would have been 20 and was still Prince George, was the second-born son of King Edward VII, making George the “Prince Harry” of his time. Like Harry, George grew up having no expectation of becoming king. Fate had different plans, however.

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George V, with his older brother, Albert Victor

Sadly, George V’s older brother, Albert Victor (the “Prince William” of his time), died in 1892 at the age of 28 after a sudden and brief illness. So when Edward VII ascended to the throne in 1901, George was the next in line and was crowned king in 1910 upon his father’s death. In this photo, the brothers are still young boys.

Prince David, Princess Mary, Prince Albert & Prince Henry

George V’s kids, including two future kings

The four eldest of King George V and his wife, Mary of Teck (known as Queen Mary) six children include David (usually known as “Edward,”) George V’s first-born son, who later became King Edward VIII in 1936 and then abdicated after only one year in order to marry American divorcée, Wallis Simpson, Albert (second-born son, who became King George VI after Edward VIII abdicated, and father of Queen Elizabeth II) Princess Mary, and Prince Henry.

Universal History Archive/Shutterstock

Future (and now former) King Edward VIII, with his great-grandmum, Victoria

Here, Queen Victoria poses with her two-year-old great-grandson, Prince Edward. As a result of the death of his uncle, Albert Victor, in 1892, the little boy beside Queen Victoria, stood third in line to the throne (after his grandfather, Edward VII, and his father, George V).

Wallis Simpson, 1928

Wallis Simpson, before she became the Duchess of Windsor

Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom King Edward VIII would abdicate the throne in 1936, just a year after ascending, is pictured here in 1928 when she was still married to her first husband, Naval Commander E. Winfield Spencer. She left her second husband, Ernest Simpson, to marry Edward, who had to renounce the throne in order to marry the twice-divorced American woman.

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Baby Queen Elizabeth II with her parents

On Queen Elizabeth II’s christening day in 1926, there was no reason for her parents to suspect their baby, Princess Elizabeth, would ever become queen—as her uncle, Edward, was next in line for the throne. That changed a decade later when King Edward VIII abdicated, and Elizabeth’s father, Albert, became King George VI.

Robert Hunt Library/Shutterstock

A big day for the future Queen Mum, the woman then known as the Duchess of York

This photo was taken on December 10, 1936, in the aftermath of the breaking of the news that King Edward VIII had abdicated the throne. Suddenly, the Duchess of York (first name Elizabeth) was about to become the Queen Consort of her husband Albert, who would soon be styled as King George VI. And eventually, she would become the Queen Mother, since her daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was now the next in line to the throne.

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The future Queen riding her hobby horse

In this 1937 photo, Princess Elizabeth, who now knows that she will one day become Queen, plays on her hobby horse with her beloved younger sister, Princess Margaret Rose. Don’t miss these 21 candid, rarely seen photos of the royal family.

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A rare swimsuit photo of Elizabeth II

This photo of then-Princess Elizabeth in a “swimming costume” (as it’s called in England) was taken in 1938.

Universal History Archive/UIG/Shutterstock

Princess Elizabeth as a young mum

In this 1952 photo, the future Queen Elizabeth II is with her husband, who’d been named the Duke of Edinburgh the night before his wedding to Elizabeth, and their two eldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. A year later, Queen Elizabeth will be crowned. Think she’ll ever give up the throne? Think again. Here’s why Queen Elizabeth II will never abdicate.

Prince Charles 1962, London, England United Kingdom

Prince Charles, on his way to Gordonstoun

In 1962, a 13-year-old Prince Charles is on his way to his first term at Gordonstoun, the boarding school that he has since referred to as Colditz with Kilts and where his days started with a morning run and a cold shower. Queen Elizabeth II isn’t all that happy about this portion of her family’s life coming into public scrutiny.

Lady Diana Spencer With Two Children From St George's Square Kindergarten. This Is The Face Of The Woman Who Could Be Our Next Queen - Seen Through The Camera Lens And The Eyes Of The Children She Teaches. Lady Diana Spencer The New Girl In The Life
Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

Lady Diana Spencer as a schoolteacher

Lady Diana Spencer was already in the public eye on this day in September 1980, as she was being courted by Prince Charles. “Shy Di,” as she was known, is with two children from St. George’s Square Kindergarten, where she was a teacher.

Prince William Early Life August 1985 Prince And Princess Of Wales And Children (prince Harry And Prince William) About To Board Britannia For Western Isles Tour Princess Margaret Is Pictured On The Right...royalty In The Summer Of 1985 William And H
James Gray/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

Princess Margaret with nephew, the Prince of Wales

Princess Margaret ended up in this candid shot of Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Prince Harry (in Diana’s arms), and Prince William. The family is about to board the Britannia for a Western Isles tour in the summer of 1985.

Cassidy and Leigh/Shutterstock

Family fun at the water park

Here’s an adorable candid of Diana with her two princes in 1993. Don’t miss these 15 rarely seen photos of Princess Diana with her boy, Harry.

BRITAIN DIANA, LONDON, United Kingdom England

A somber moment

A week after the sudden death of Diana, Princess of Wales on August 31, 1997, both William and Harry, wipe their eyes as they view tributes left in memory of their mum.


Grandmum’s birthday

Prince William and Prince Harry pause as they leave St. George’s Chapel in Windsor after a special Thanksgiving service celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 80th birthday in 2006.

Fabrice Coffrini/Epa/Shutterstock

Fergie’s girls

We don’t hear about them quite as much, but Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, the daughter of Prince Andrew, the Duke of York and his former wife, Sarah Ferguson, are much beloved by the Queen. Here they’re pictured at a ski resort in Switzerland as young girls. Learn more about the newly married Princess Eugenie.

The Ball of Eden, Miami Beach, USA - 07 Dec 2017
Hagop Kalaidjian/BFA/Shutterstock

Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie in Miami

This photo of the first cousins of Prince William and Prince Harry was taken in December 2017 in Miami, Florida.

Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit, County Hall, London, UK - 09 Oct 2018
Eddie Mulholland/Shutterstock

The Royal LOL

In this very recent photo (October 2018), the Duchess of Cambridge loses her composure and totally LOLs beside her husband, Prince William (at the Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit, County Hall, London). Don’t miss these 19 times Kate Middleton was Princess Diana’s style twin.

The wedding of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, Pre-Ceremony, Windsor, Berkshire, UK - 12 Oct 2018
Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Royally cute

Here are Princess Charlotte and Prince George, just before the wedding of their auntie, Princess Eugenie, to Jack Brooksbank, is about to begin on October 12.

Prince Harry and Meghan Duchess of Sussex tour of Australia - 19 Oct 2018
Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Meghan on Bondi beach, with freckles abloom

Meghan and Harry were visiting Bondi Beach recently, where this adorable photo of the Duchess of Sussex was taken, which we’re sure she’ll approve of because it shows off her freckles quite nicely. Next, find out the 50 things you didn’t know about the royal family.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren has covered knowledge, history, the British royal family, true crime and riddles for Reader's Digest since 2017. She sharpened her research skills as an attorney in the 1990s, became an early HuffPost blogger in the 2000s, then began reporting local news in the 2010s. She's been writing news, features and celebrity interviews for a variety of publications since and values being a source of trusted information on the topics her readers care about. In addition to Reader's Digest, her byline appears in The Healthy, Taste of Home, Family Handyman, Mashed, Tasting Table, Eat This, Not That!, Grown and Flown, MSN, Yahoo, AOL, Insider and Business Insider.