FACT CHECK: Does This Photo Show Queen Elizabeth Bowing To Former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie?

Trevor Schakohl | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Facebook purportedly shows Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip bowing to former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and former Empress Menen Asfaw.

Verdict: False

There is no indication the photo, taken in 1955, shows the queen or her husband. The queen’s first official state visit to Ethiopia occurred in 1965.

Fact Check:

Haile Selassie ruled as emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 until 1974, when he was deposed in a military coup, according to National Geographic.

The black-and-white photo in the Facebook post shows a man bowing and a woman curtseying to the emperor and empress. The caption attempts to suggest that the pair appearing before the emperor and empress are Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, saying in part, “As far as is known Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip have never bowed before anybody else.”

The image can be found on Getty Images, where the description says the picture shows “Haile Selassie with his wife greeting guests” in Ethiopia in 1955. It was taken by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt for the LIFE Picture Collection, according to the caption.

While the Getty Images description does not identify the two people, there is no indication they are the British royals. Check Your Fact only found a record of the queen making one official state visit to Ethiopia. A list of outbound state visits published on the British Royal Family’s website shows that visit took place in February 1965, roughly three years after the empress died.

The Crown Council of Ethiopia confirmed in a statement to Check Your Fact that the picture is “absolutely not of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh bowing to Their Imperial Majesties, Emperor Haile Selassie I and the Empress.” Haile Selassie’s great-nephew, Prince Asfa-Wossen Asserate, also told Check Your Fact via email that they are not the queen and Prince Philip.

“First of all the one and only time the Queen visited Ethiopia was in 1965 and at that time Empress Menen was already dead for three years!” he said. “Secondly, it is pretty obvious that Their Imperial Majesties are receiving their foreign guests in the old Geneta Leul Palace. When the Queen visited Ethiopia in 1965 this Palace had already been turned to the Haile Selassie University and the receptions given for the Queen were in the Jubilee Palace and the Old Gebi (also known as Menelik’s Palace).”

Several experts on the British Royal Family also refuted the claim that the queen and her husband are pictured in the photo. For instance, Ingrid Seward, the author of “Prince Philip Revealed: A Biography,” noted to Check Your Fact, “This picture is defiantly not the Queen and Prince Philip. The Queen does not curtsey to anyone.”

Historian and royal commentator Carolyn Harris confirmed that “The Queen and Prince Philip were not in Ethiopia in 1955 for Haile Selassie’s silver jubilee celebrations” and that the couple “did not visit Ethiopia until 1965.”

“Selassie made a state visit to the United Kingdom in 1954 and in the news footage of that event, he shook hands with the Queen and Prince Philip and kissed the hands of the Queen and Queen Mother,” Harris further said. “The people bowing in the 1955 photograph are probably members of the diplomatic corps in Ethiopia.”

Hugo Vickers, the author of several biographies about British royal figures, said in an email to Check Your Fact, “It is definitely Haile Selassie, but it cannot be The Queen and Prince Philip. The Emperor came on a state visit to Britain in 1954. Queens – as in heads of state – don’t curtsey to Emperors.” He also noted that “there was no meeting between Haile Selassie and the Queen in 1955.”

Footage on YouTube of Haile Selassie’s 1954 visit to the U.K. shows the emperor kissing the queen’s hand as she greets him. She does not bow or curtsey, the video shows. (RELATED: Was Queen Elizabeth Found Guilty In the Disappearance Of 10 Canadian Children?)

During the 1997 funeral for Princess Diana, the queen bowed her head as the coffin passed, according to the Daily Express. In 2013, she laid a wreath and subsequently lowered her head toward it on Remembrance Day, a holiday honoring armed forces members killed in conflict, a YouTube video posted by The Telegraph shows.

Trevor Schakohl

Fact Check Reporter
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