Regardless of where you were in the world at the weekend, you were most likely aware of a little party going on in Britain, to celebrate one woman’s six decades as Queen.
Queen Elizabeth II is only the second monarch of Great Britain to have reigned sixty years, the first being Queen Victoria, who was on the throne for 63 years and 7 months. Given the Royal Family’s record of longevity — the Queen Mother was 101 when she died in 2002 — Victoria’s record could well be beaten in 2016, and Brits shouldn’t rush to chuck away the flags and bunting. They’ll probably need them in another ten years’ time for Britain’s first Platinum Jubilee.
Sixty years is a long time for anyone to be in one job, particularly when you didn’t get much say in your nomination for it. And, OK, while republican sympathizers might think a carriage clock for the mantlepiece at Buckingham Palace would be adequate recognition, millions of Brits this weekend seemed very happy to foot their share of the bill for the extravagant national celebrations.
A job for life
Most people would have quit that job long ago. The Queen, however, is made of sterner stuff, and her determination to see the job through to the end — quite literally — means, inevitably, she has seen huge changes during her reign.
Not least of these is the issue of how she came to be Queen in the first place. Forced to choose between being King and marrying divorcee Wallis Simpson, Edward VIII abdicated the crown to be with the love of his life, and in doing so made his younger brother King, and his niece Elizabeth first in line to the throne. To have a monarch married to a divorcee went against the teachings of the Church of England, of which the British monarch is Supreme Governor.
Ironic, then, that three of Queen Elizabeth’s four children have divorced, including, of course, the Prince of Wales, Britain’s next King. They all divorced or separated in 1992, the year referred to by the Queen as her “annus horribilis”.
The monarchy survived this crisis with its usual show of stalwartness and stiff upper lip, only to be hit, five years later, by a much bigger crisis — the greatest since the abdication of the Queen’s uncle in 1936.
Making a rod for one’s own back
After the sudden death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Queen again employed a stiff upper lip in her “business as usual” approach to the tragedy, but drastically underestimated the intensity of the public’s grief at the death of her ex-daughter-in-law. The public perceived the Queen as cold and uncaring when she stayed in Scotland in Balmoral Castle while insisting on adhering to Royal protocol by not having the flag at Buckingham Palace flying at half mast.
In an article in The Telegraph, Mary Francis, a former advisor of the Queen, said that at the time she “feared that republican MPs would call for a end to the monarchy because of public anger at the Royal Family’s initial reaction to the death of Diana.”
In the Radio 4 documentary, “A Royal Recovery”, Mrs. Francis said:
I do remember walking into Buckingham Palace the first morning I was back. Although there were so many people around, it was very quiet. It was a threatening and rather unpleasant atmosphere.
Rising from the ashes
Incredible, then, fifteen years later, to watch the enthusiastic crowds in London at the weekend as 1,000 boats sailed up the River Thames in the largest pageant on the Thames since the reign of Charles II, 350 years ago. It was as if the Diana crisis had never happened. Or maybe it was something more – an acknowledgement, admiration, of this woman’s unswerving devotion to duty.
As my Australian friend, Kym, said to me yesterday:
“Regardless of what you think of the monarchy, it’s an amazing testament to a woman who has been in ‘the job’ for 60 years.”
Indeed. Sixty years is, in terms of Olympian feats, a marathon; one which deserves a crowd to cheer on the runner.
Our theme for summer: Olympian Feats
It’s fitting, therefore, that the Jubilee’s acknowledgement of stamina and determination should come at the time of another event when these qualities are essential: the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Because of this, we have decided to revolve our summer posts around an Olympic theme — not necessarily the sports themselves, but more about the qualities required of an Olympic athlete, or a long-reigning monarch.
As we are more armchair sportsmen, however — and it is Wimbledon very soon, of course, which takes up an awful lot of armchair time — we will be taking a break ourselves, by cutting our posts down to four per week rather than the usual five. Nevertheless, you can look forward to two new series starting this month — “Chance Encounters” and “You CAN Go Home Again” as well as the familiar Random Nomads, Displaced Qs, questions for Mary-Sue, book reviews, and bulletins from Libby in Woodhaven.
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