In honour of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, we are offering a three-part ‘Crown Chronicles. Last month in Part 01, we explored the role of ‘The Crown’ in the life of a nation. Part 02 is about the person herself, Queen Elizabeth II. Her titles, her long reign, her acquaintances, her reputation, are without equal. Yet, she is also a most normal person who has dedicated her long life to public service.
She is the most famous woman in the world – yes, more than Oprah – and her face is immediately recognisable. And no wonder: her image has dominated postage stamps, coins, bank notes, and prominent buildings worldwide for over seventy years.
As we commemorate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, we would do well to remember that she is a remarkable and unrepeatable leader, a rock of stability in an ever changing world.
In assessing the reign of the Queen, we will approach it from her position, her fine qualities, and her historic link.
The monarch inherited a wealth of titles and positions upon her accession to the throne on 6 February, 1952, when she was only twenty-five years old. The weight of responsibility, however symbolic, far outweighed the imperial state crown she received at her coronation.
The main title is Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. This tells much – but not all – of the story. Of course she is best known as the Queen of the United Kingdom, which includes Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Yet, she has ‘other realms,’ where she serves as Queen in her own right. These realms include, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere. As head of state, she is also Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces. Her representatives in the other realms, known as the ‘Governor-General,’ hold the same position.
Head of the Commonwealth is particularly significant, because the Queen presided over the peaceful dismantling of the British Empire, with most former colonies voluntarily choosing to be part of this multi-national, multi-ethnic global family (the United States and Israel are notable exceptions). It has been said that the Queen’s passion and leadership over the integrity and vitality of the Commonwealth stands as her greatest single achievement.
Defender of the Faith: This title dates back to at least Henry VIII, when he ‘defended’ the Catholic church against the reformer Martin Luther, only to break away from it a few years later. Like her predecessors, the Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Qualities ‘Fit for a Queen’
Despite the mystique of monarchy, with all the grand trappings, Elizabeth II is a very normal, down-to-earth individual. One source said she is a ‘country girl’ who happens to be a monarch. She has practical mechanical know-how, can ride a horse at length, and despite an abundance of servants, feeds her own corgis. Equally at home with heads of state, celebrities, everyday people, dogs and horses, the Queen’s visibility and her exceptionally long reign, means her imprint is deep and immeasurable.
While many positive adjectives can be applied to Elizabeth II, a few prominent ones come to mind:
Duty: Even in her nineties, the Queen continues to work full-time. Like a Swiss watch, she can be counted upon to fulfil her duties without hesitation, flinching, or tardiness. Personal feelings about any given matter are irrelevant; what ever is required of her is done and done properly. Not one toe or strand of hair has been out-of-place during all these decades.
She famously declared before the world on her twenty-first birthday in a radio broadcast from Cape Town:
I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.
Is this not the essence of servant leadership?
Resilience: Like the British people as a whole, the Queen has shown amazing resilience despite the many challenges over her long life. Who can forget that she and her family lived through the Battle for Britain of 1940, which included the bombing of Buckingham Palace. Then there were the events of her seventy year reign: The Suez Crisis of 1956; the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland; the dismantling of the empire; the 1982 Falklands War with Prince Andrew in active military service; the pitfalls of the Cold War – where Britain was far closer to the front-lines than its great ally the United States, plus two Gulf Wars. Then there were the family troubles, including separation, divorce, and the fire at Windsor Castle in her annus horribilus of 1992 – the fortieth year of her reign.
Grace: The Queen is as one who has been immersed in grace. The famous motto: ‘Keep calm and carry on’ describes her regal conduct totally. For example, at the Trooping of the Colours in 1981, a seventeen year fired six shots at close range at the Queen. The skill and grace used to keep the horse on track was widely remarked and admired.
According to convention, she wisely keeps her opinions private, particularly on politics. Her views are known to the prime minister of the day, but they are duty-bound to keep her confidence.
When a part of the realm considers breaking away from the Crown, the Queen shows a graceful respect to the wishes of the people. Contrast her position to that of George III, who fiercely fought to keep the rebellious American colonies under the Crown – which has greatly evolved since 1776.
Elizabeth II is the great great granddaughter of Queen Victoria and related to many other British monarchs. She has witnessed much history firsthand – who can forget the iconic photo of the then royal family on 8 May 1945 – VE Day – waving from the balcony of Buckingham Palace to a euphoric crowd below? This is a woman who personally knew famous people like Sir Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, US President John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Billy Graham, and hundreds more. An invitation to one of her royal banquets is highly coveted. And the wealth of experience she has gleaned over the years should make her a ‘first port-o-call’ in seeking tested sound advice.
Though the Queen does not grant interviews and has no plans to write an autobiography, her much chronicled reign should keep historians busy for decades. She is not just a witness to history – she made history.
In our final article, we will examine the single factor above all else that kept her going for over seventy years: the Queen’s personal faith in the King of kings and Lord of lords. Stay tuned.