In recent news, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, so crowned at the age of 25, finally achieved the longest reign of the entire U.K.’s monarchy over the centuries by surpassing her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria who held the longevity record up until recently. Elizabeth is one of only five other women to ascend the British throne. Victoria reigned 23,226 days, 16 hours and 23 minutes (63 years and seven months, basically) according to the exactitude of Buckingham Palace. Elizabeth surpassed that mark officially on September 9th and achieved her 88th birthday last April. A comparison drawn on that alone is impressive but the reigning Queen of England has had such an extraordinary life, even before she took the throne more than sixty three years ago, that I thought I’d mention a number of milestones in her life which will give the casual English and non-English reader alike a better idea of what she has really achieved all these years out of responsibility and loyalty to her country.
Only last year Lilibet (as she was lovingly referred to in childhood) faced one of the toughest decisions she has ever dealt with during her reign and it was all on a very personal level for her, concerning Scotland gaining independence. After all, her home castle and one she has known and loved as her familial inheritance most of her life (Glamis Castle) resides in Scotland. She has had the strongest of ties with Scotland as the Queen of Britain however, even as a constitutional head of state over no less than sixteen of the fifty-three commonwealth states, she could not intervene in a controversy which was brought to a vote of the people of Scotland. As a result, although she did make some statements as to her hope for the unified Britain to remain so, she did not use her sovereign influence to interfere and tried to remain as impartial as she could under the circumstances. After the results came in, Scotland was declared part of the U.K. once more and the Queen will keep her title as Queen of Scots, as well.
Even though many people feel that she has lived a life of privilege only, they cannot know what an onerous responsibility goes with the title of being an English monarch- or any monarch, for that matter- until they have taken the time to closely study the history during their time of reign. In Elizabeth’s case, how does the idea of not paying taxes until you reach the age of 66 sound? Talk about backwards ! That came about as the result of a decision in 1992 when the Prime Minister, John Major, and parliament conferred that all those holding royal title would start paying taxes on their personal incomes. At that time her personal fortune was estimated to be $11.7 million U.S. Fortunately, she and her son, Prince Charles, who is still first in line to the throne, were given the choice a year later to opt-out of the agreement.
On her ninth day of life, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was christened as a princess wearing the lace gown of her 16th century predecessor Elizabeth I (who reigned 44 years). As the first royal to be christened in the chapel of Buckingham Palace she was third in line to the throne on that very day reviving support for the continuation of the English monarchy. She found favor with the English before she even spoke her first word and her sense of obligation to them came early in life, also. When World War II broke out she was a preteen and joined up with the Girl Guides (the U.S. equivalent being Girl Scouts) and was quite serious about the training that she received through the organization. By the time the war was well underway she was working on military equipment alongside her fellow Englishmen and women! Her father, King George VI ( known as Bertie to the family) dubbed her an honorary colonel in the 500 Grenadier Guards in 1942, which is a regiment of the Royal Army and she made her official public debut in April of that same year with a review of the Guards at Windsor Palace where King George moved his family at the outbreak of the war.
Later, toward the end of the war in 1944 she was made a member of the Privy Council and Council of states giving her the authority to act in the King’s stead while he was attending matters outside the country. This was an awesome responsibility for someone still in her teens but she had also trained her eyes on a Greek prince by the name of Philip Mountbatten and on July 10, 1947 the royal parents announced their daughter’s engagement to the prince who was a lieutenant in the British Navy by then. Their marriage on November 20, 1947 was a huge affair very like that of her son Prince Charles and Lady Diana- only in the reverse, with Philip as the consort because he renounced his Greek title and also became a British citizen becoming the Duke of Edinburgh in the bargain.
The day that her father fell ill on February 6, 1952, dying of lung cancer, she became Queen but there’s always the matter of pomp and ceremony especially when someone takes over the English throne by birthright. She is only the sixth female to assume the British throne so she is in a minority of monarchs but with distinctions no one can deny. She was crowned at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953 and has reigned as Great Britain’s Queen ever since. Her royal anniversaries are always celebrated on June 2nd and not her birthday- contrary to what many people assume.
Through the years she has had quite a few milestones so I’ll only touch on those which are especially memorable or notable to myself. My readers are welcome to put in comments of their own if they feel so inclined. Life has been a bit of a whirlwind for her in more recent years. Prior to that her life has run like clockwork but it is merely a sign of the times. Twenty years after seeing her own parents crowned as British monarchs Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by her husband Prince Philip, made a state visit to the U.S. in October of 1957 where she addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. It was her very first visit to our shores and these visits have been few and far between. Most recently she has bought an apartment for herself in New York City- an unprecedented occasion to be sure !
A number of months after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, Queen Elizabeth dedicated a memorial along with one acre of surrounding land honoring our 34th president on May 14th of 1965 at Runnymede- the very place where King John was forced by the English barons to sign the Magna Charta in 1215. It was a significant gesture and one which has made the English monarchy popular on our shores ever since. It is only four miles to the southeast of Windsor Castle.
Some years after the punk rock movement hit the London scene in the late 70s and Prince Charles had married Lady Di at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, a teenager by the name of Marcus Simon Sergeant fired six blanks at the Queen when she was on horseback during a procession in June of 1981 and was immediately arrested and charged with treason. A little over a year later a man managed to elude security at Buckingham Palace while the Queen was in residence and actually confronted the Queen in her bedroom. This must have been disconcerting to Elizabeth considering that even manservants have never been allowed inside her bedroom. It was an act that reminded the English of the importance of respect toward their royalty that had been a bit forgotten in the presentiment of the punk rock movement and the resulting talk of eradicating the monarchy.
Only a little over a year before in 1979, Margaret Thatcher had changed the look and heart of British government as the first woman Prime Minister but the institution of a conservative government prevailed only for a period of time where it made a definite difference. The Falkland Islands war brought everything into a different focus when it came to exerting power which had become mistrusted under Thatcher. Without changing the royal influence which continues to this very day Thatcher did make some inroads by privatizing several state-owned industries. After Margaret Thatcher was forced to resign in 1990 the Queen addressed a joint session of Congress in the U.S. on May 16th in 1981 becoming the first British monarch and the first woman to do so.
By the end of 1992, when the Queen celebrated her 40th anniversary on the throne, she addressed a packed venue for a luncheon in her honor on November 24th declaring the year an Annus Horribilis ( Latin for horrible year) and siting all the mishaps and tragedies which had occurred which included the separation of the Duke and Duchess of York- Prince Andrew and Fergie- also Princess Anne’s divorce from Mark Phillips and the estrangement ( and later, eventual divorce at the end of 1995) of Princes Charles and Diana. Perhaps the most personally devastating event for the Queen was the fire that broke out at Windsor Castle which started in the State Apartments during routine maintenance, destroying St. George’s Hall which dated from the 14th century. It was rebuilt within a couple of years after the fire reinstating the wing to its former glory. Two days after making the speech the Prime Minister made the pronouncement that the Queen and Prince Charles would pay taxes for the first time on their personal income. It was like being kicked when you’re down. True to English royal form, however, she bounced back the next year with a plan to restore Windsor Castle by opening up Buckingham Palace to the public, for the first time in history, in August of 1993. The new revenue would go to help pay for the restoration of Windsor and everybody was happy.
2002 ushered in the Queen’s celebration of her Golden Jubilee- her 50th year on the throne- and was a lift for not only the Queen but the public as well in the wake of years of tragedy and grief surrounding Prince Charles separation and divorce from Diana and her death in 1997. The Queen’s grief over these events were nearly visual despite her signature reserve and served as a clear milestone that Elizabeth was all too human as well. It paved the way for a live broadcast by Christmas of 2006 of her annual Christmas speech. She hadn’t delivered it live since 1960 and I’m sure she was ready for it by then.
By May of 2007 Elizabeth and Philip made quite a stir in the States when she and the prince consort spent a week traveling here to celebrate the 400th anniversary of America’s settlement by a British company in Jamestown, New York. While they were here they attended the Kentucky Derby on the 5th and a State Dinner at the White House on the 7th making the honors and visits complete. In April of 2009 the White House gladly returned the favor when Michelle Obama met the Queen at Buckingham Palace and were photographed after their visit. Controversy or no, I’m sure Michelle will cherish that meeting for the rest of her life.
Come Spring of 2011, on the eve of her 85th birthday, Queen Elizabeth took it upon herself to announce the marriage of her grandson Prince William and Kate Middleton after giving her official consent to them. The Royal House has been on an upswing ever since. According to a law passed in 1772, called the Royal Marriages Act, the monarch must consent to nearly all royal marriages. It was carried out the same with Princess Diana and Prince Charles before they were wed even though many believe that it was practically an arranged marriage. That is all speculation. The two look quite happy, if you take in all the photographs and already have a family all their own with two children now!
One of the most miraculous visits Queen Elizabeth has made in more recent years was her four-day foray to the Republic of Ireland in May of 2011. She arrived on May 17th of that year marking the first official state visit to the Republic of Ireland by a British monarch. For a bit of excitement a bomb was discovered on a suburban bus a few hours before her arrival by plane and barely made a ripple on the Queen’s radar although she was informed. This was her first visit to the Republic of Ireland so I’m sure she was ready for just about anything. The next evening after her arrival she spoke at a state dinner given in her honor wearing her crown and all smiles to a surprisingly affable audience of the south Ireland public. In her speech she expressed regrets of the past between the English monarchy and non-incorporated Ireland and her words were full of hope to restore and build a new relationship with the country.
“To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy,” she said. “With the benefit of
historical hindsight, we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all.”
The Queen did not apologize, as was the wish of many Irish, but an apology would have been inappropriate considering that she was not responsible for a portion of the history in question. The efforts she put forth in 2011 were well received, when all is said and done and the feelings during these years following have shown proof that her visit changed the strained relations between England and Ireland and hopefully will make a difference in the years to come. When the Irish people were interviewed many put forth positive statements which made her visit appear to be well spent:
“She’s a very nice lady and she told me she had a very nice time in Ireland,” said Adam Ryan, a 12 year old native of Cork. “I never expected her to come talk to us. You can tell she’s kind.”
“It’s the best thing that’s happened in Ireland in 20 years,” said baker Joe Hagerty, who runs Heaven’s Cakes in the English Market, the Queen’s first stop
in Cork. “She’s been very sweet and very direct and kept it very short. She said the right things. It was absolutely sincere. Everybody on our side of the world
was really happy with it.”
The next year her Diamond Jubilee, commemorating 60 years on the throne, set off serious celebrations and preparations which began in February ! Additional highlights included a special 1,000 boat flotilla which coursed along the River Thames and a concert at Buckingham Palace including fireworks afterward. The celebrations went on for months so that by November 20th her 65th wedding anniversary with Philip was a welcome peaceful affair. It was revelatory that by December, when she attended her first cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London, everyone was captivated by her strength and energy. It had been more than 100 years since the last attendance of a British monarch at the cabinet meeting!
When June 2, 2013 rolled around she was, of course, in attendance for services at Westminster Abbey marking the official celebration day for her 60th anniversary date of coronation. Only eighteen days later her horse, Estimate, won the Gold Cup at the Royal Ascot signature race. Once again, the Queen made headlines by being the first reigning British monarch to win Ascot’s biggest race.
On April 8th of last year the Queen made another visit to Ireland and hosted a state dinner for the Republic’s president, Michael Higgins and wife Sabina. There were many British and Northern Irish dignitaries in attendance along with some of Britain’s most popular actors including Dame Judi Dench and Daniel Day-Lewis. In the hopes that the past tensions can be eased and eventually put to rest, I personally commend her for making the effort to do so and that she will be able to bring about a peace that has eluded the Irish State for many years.
(The Queen’s Christmas broadcasts)
Peace to all,