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Friday 13 May 2011

Long May She Reign!

As of yesterday, the Queen, having reigned for over fifty-nine years, is the second longest reigning (or, as it is reported on the news, the second longest serving) monarch Britain has ever known – the first, of course, being Queen Victoria, who reigned for sixty-three years.

It is very interesting that, considering that historically daughters only attain the crown if they have no surviving brothers, our greatest monarchs have been women. In my view, in the past thousand years, the monarchs who made the greatest impact on the country and world at large have been Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and our present Queen. Equally interesting are the similarities and differences between Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.

Both were young when they came to the throne but whereas Victoria became queen at a
time when, thanks to the waywardness of her Hanoverian uncles, the royal family was held in low esteem, Queen Elizabeth arrived at a time when there was deep respect for the monarchy, due largely to her father’s courage and determination throughout the Second World War. Although their paths were dissimilar in so many ways, both dealt with rapidly changing times and the necessity of finding the balance between maintaining (or in Queen Victoria’s case establishing) tradition, and adapting to the mood of the country. After the death of ‘beloved Albert’ Queen Victoria withdrew from public gaze for about six years, consequently attracting a great deal of personal criticism and being described as self-indulgent in her grief to the extent that Republicanism seemed a very real possibility. The first time she appeared again in public, however, the crowds were even more enthusiastic and she remained a very loved and respected figure for the rest of her reign. After the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, Queen Elizabeth kept her distance for a few days, consequently attracting a great deal o criticism from the press and being described as cold-hearted for failing to express grief. The newspapers had a field day in their misguided prophecies that this would mark the end of the monarchy. When Her Majesty returned a couple of days later to London, she was met with nothing but the sincere devotion and appreciation of the crowds. Queens, it seems, cannot do right for doing wrong in the journalists’ eyes, and yet now, after fifty-nine years on the throne, even the most cynical journalist would find it difficult to find anything for which the Queen could be criticised.

A wonderful sign of our times, perhaps, is the relative ‘youthfulness’ of our Queen compared to her great-great-grandmother. At the time of her Diamond Jubilee, Queen Victoria was only seventy-eight years old and yet she was driven in a carriage to St. Paul’s and remained in the carriage throughout the service as she was incapable
of walking unaided. The present Queen is eighty-five years old yet walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey at the recent Royal Wedding, as brightly as ever. Queen Elizabeth has moved with the times without compromising the mystique of royalty or tradition. What a wonderful example she is of remaining true to your ideals, without being rigid!

(Incidentally, speaking of the age of the Queen, dreary people often say this has become the era of youth, in which the elderly are dismissed and overlooked. Well I say that is a jolly good thing! I grew up among elderly people who were grumpy and demanding and expected to be waited upon merely because they had lived a long time. Then I met elderly people who were so young in their outlook that they were inspiring and their life experience had created a wisdom that could be lightly and beautifully shared. Youth is not a matter of how long you’ve been here, it’s a matter of outlook and the ability to adapt. In my experience, the longer people live, the more they become themselves and so in reality, the older we get the healthier and brighter and more interesting we could become....but that is another story....)


Anonymous said...

You made me remember a beloved great aunt who had such a cheerful, vivacious and curious spirit! She was a wonderful person, and still very missed by all of us, despite the fact she died about fifteen years ago.


Christina said...

Your aunt must have been a wonderful character, Jorge. What lovely memories you have of her!
Thank you for commenting :-)

Heart of the Wood said...

I have to confess that although as you know I really enjoy your blog it's as a historian, not a royalist. But I do have great respect for the work Elizabeth II does, for the way she has conducted herself during her reign. And never more so than this week in Ireland, where she seems to be doing a tremendous job of healing all sorts of old wounds. Coming as I do from a whole gaggle of fairly unsympathetic Protestant Ascendancy families in Ireland, I am impressed at her sensitivity and skillful diplomacy.

Christina said...

Thank you for your very interesting comment. I completely agree. This historic visit to Ireland would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago and it really is a landmark in reconciliation. The Queen has shown both dignity and humility, as have the Irish people, and the speech at Dublin Castle deserves to be recorded as one of the finest and most effective speeches ever given by a monarch.