Queen Elizabeth II's Christmas celebration dealt new disappointment: Princess Anne won't be there

Maria Puente
USA TODAY

For a second year, Queen Elizabeth II is coping with a less-than-ideal Christmas celebration, her first since the death of her husband, Prince Philip. She'll now face the absence of her only daughter, Princess Anne, the Princess Royal.

Buckingham Palace confirmed Thursday that Anne's husband, Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, 66, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is isolating with Anne, 71. The couple live at Gatcombe Park, an estate about 70 miles south of Windsor Castle, where the queen is spending Christmas.

Neither will be joining her at the castle for a Christmas lunch, scaled back from the usual spread at the queen's Sandringham estate in Norfolk, where the royal family typically spends the Christmas and New Year's holidays, at least until the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020.

Queen Elizabeth II waves as she leaves after attending the ceremonial opening of the Welsh Parliament in Cardiff, Wales on Oct. 14, 2021.

Nor will the extended family gather around the TV at the castle with the queen to watch her annual pre-taped Christmas broadcast to the nation, which airs at 3 p.m. in the United Kingdom. 

However, her son and heir, Prince Charles, and his wife, Duchess Camilla of Cornwall, will join her at the castle for lunch, the Prince of Wales' office at Clarence House confirmed.

Media reports in the U.K. said that the queen's two other sons and their families will be at the castle, too, but Buckingham Palace declined to confirm that. 

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Her daughter's absence will be a disappointment for Her Majesty, who is close to Anne, the mother of two of the queen's eight grandchildren and grandmother to five of her 12 great-grandchildren.

The royal family has tried, in the face of the pandemic, to rally to the queen's side after the Duke of Edinburgh, her husband of 73 years, died in April at age 99. His funeral in Windsor's St. George's Chapel was limited to just 30 people because of COVID restrictions, producing the poignant picture of the diminutive queen sitting alone in the church during the service. 

In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, the queen and Prince Philip were forced to spend Christmas quietly at Windsor Castle for the first time since the 1980s.

The queen has long embraced the festive family get-together at Christmas at Sandringham. But this year's surge in the omicron variant of the virus in the U.K. quashed her plans to return to the sprawling private estate in 2021.

Princess Anne, the Princess Royal,  with her mother, Queen Elizabeth II, during a visit to The Children's Wood Project in Glasgow on June 30, 2021, as part of the monarch's traditional trip to Scotland for Holyrood Week.

It also forced cancellation of her annual Christmas lunch for about 50 of her royal relatives, which was to have taken place at the castle this year.

Royal fans and the media look forward to Sandringham because it's a chance to catch a glimpse of family members as they walk from the big house to the little church nearby, St. Mary Magdalene, where the queen attends Christmas and Sunday services when she's in Norfolk. 

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Palace officials have said these decisions were made with regret, but in an abundance of caution for the queen's health and that of her relatives. Besides, the monarch typically seeks to be seen as holding herself and the royal family to the same rules her subjects have to follow.

This is especially crucial in the wake of outrage expressed against Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government over recent revelations about 2020 staff Christmas parties at 10 Downing Street while the rest of the country was in lockdown.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles just before they planted a tree to mark the start of the official planting season for the Queen's Green Canopy at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on Oct. 1, 2021.

Laurence is Anne's second husband, whom she married in 1992. They just celebrated their 29th anniversary.

At 95, the queen is in generally good health, but her subjects were alarmed in October when the palace announced she had spent the night in the hospital for unspecified preliminary tests. 

After her doctors told her she needed to take a few weeks rest, she canceled multiple engagements, including a trip to Northern Ireland and another to the COP26 climate-change conference in Scotland. 

At the last minute, she reluctantly canceled her appearance at the annual Remembrance Sunday memorial ceremony, which she has rarely missed in nearly 70 years on the throne. The palace said she had sprained her back.

Since then, the queen has gradually resumed engagements and audiences but many have been virtual encounters from Windsor Castle.