Romance, class & fond memories: the history & legacy of Queen Elizabeth II in Malta
On 21st September, Malta celebrates its Independence day. After 164 years - from 1800 to 1964 - the British Crown Colony of Malta became the independent Sovereign State of Malta, though Elizabeth II still held influence as Queen until the island fully became a Republic on 13th December 1974.
While there are several forts, barracks and other buildings that remain part of the British legacy in Malta, here, we look at the Queen herself and her legacy. Malta is the only other place she has lived outside the United Kingdom and, subsequently, she has visited on several occasions.
Elizabeth reportedly "spent her happiest years a carefree princess" living in Malta, on and off, between 1949 and 1951, as a naval wife to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, before committing to her duties as queen. She had joined her husband, who was stationed on the island as a naval officer in the Mediterranean Fleet, on their second wedding anniversary on 20th November 1949. They stayed mainly at Villa Guardamangia, Pietà, with the Earl and Countess Mountbatten of Burma, Prince Philip’s uncle and aunt.
Villa Guardamangia, alas, has fallen into a great state of disrepair. The privately owned property is badly neglected, spurring a stir among local NGOs and conservationists who call for the restoration of this local heritage. The latest news (as of this summer) is that the Grade 2 monument is finally up for sale for 6 million euros. The 1,560 sqm property includes six bedrooms, three bathrooms, a grand hall and a large 900 sqm mature garden, with sea views over Marsamxett Harbour from the roof terrace.
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Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Malta again from the 3rd to 7th May 1954 - just under a year after her coronation - on an official royal tour of the Commonwealth countries. During an official address, the Queen remarked, "Though among the smallest in size, Malta takes an honoured place among the countries we have visited."
When Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Malta again on 14th to 17th November 1967, on her second State visit as a Queen, Malta had already gained independence, albeit with a monarchical form of government where the Queen was sovereign.
"Things have changed since I was here last, and this time it is my particular pleasure to be here as Queen of Malta," she said when she arrived. After her visit, she said, "It has been a moving experience for us to revisit Malta and Gozo…I send my heartfelt good wishes for the happiness and prosperity of all my people in Malta and Gozo."
On 28th to 30th May 1992, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited Malta for a third state visit, twenty-five years after their last state visit. The big difference was that the Queen was no longer head of state; Malta had now had a president since 1974.
Regarding the purpose of the visit, a Buckingham Palace spokesman stated that Elizabeth II was "delighted to be back" due to her affectionate ties with the island, while this year marked the 50th anniversary of the award of the George Cross and the 40th anniversary of her reign.
Between 23rd to 26th November 2005, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh returned on a state visit ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), by specific invitation by the Maltese Government.
Almost exactly two years later, on 20th November 2007, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip returned to Malta for a one-night stay on the occasion of their 60th (diamond) wedding anniversary - they were married on 20 November 1947. Now isn’t that romantic?
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip last visited Malta from the 27th to 29th November 2015, on the occasion of another Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The Queen reflected that it was probably her last trip to Malta, as she was 89 years old at the time.
The legacy of the British in Malta includes the Upper Barrakka Gardens and the Lascaris War Rooms beneath. The British also built Fort Rinella and equipped it with a rare 100-ton gun, which is still there today. The British also used several of the Knights' forts, such as St Angelo and St Elmo, during World War II. The Malta at War Museum in Birgu houses a fine collection of war memorabilia of all kinds. Among other places, barracks were built in Mtarfa, which eventually became a residential area for servicemen and their families and included a naval hospital - the town still hosts an event called Military Mtarfa.
Apart from the controversial Villa Guardamangia, there are several other places in Malta that were touched by the Queen herself. The most significant, perhaps, are the several monuments she unveiled during her various visits. These include the tablets at the foot of the War Memorial in Floriana, the Memorial to the Air Forces of the Commonwealth in Floriana, the War Memorial in Victoria, Gozo, and the Siege Bell Memorial in Valletta.
Meanwhile, the Queen’s portrait still hangs in the official dining room of the Grand Master’s Palace, alongside portraits of Malta’s presidents.