For millions of citizens, Queen Elizabeth II is the only queen they’ve ever known. She spent 70 years ruling over the UK.
She passed away Sept. 8 at Balmoral Castle, her estate in the Scottish Highlands. She was an impressive 96 years old. If only we could all be so lucky, as to live nearly a century, and to do it in such style.
In her reign, which began in February 1952 after the death of her father, King George VI, Elizabeth served as a constant and reassuring figure in Britain and on the world stage as she helped lead her country through a period of profound shifts in geopolitical power and national identity.
The designs of postage stamps and bank notes changed through the decades, but they all depicted the same, if aging, monarch. The British national anthem now shifts to “God Save the King,” but most Britons have only known the other version, for the queen.
Her son and heir, Charles, summed up the power of her constancy in a rare television documentary aired in 2012 to mark her 60th year as queen. “Perhaps subconsciously,” he said, “people feel encouraged, reassured by something that is always there.”
Her last major constitutional action came on Tuesday, when she accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and asked his successor, Liz Truss, to form a new government.
A Lifetime of Achievements
Queen Elizabeth broke a record for longest reigning Queen in 2015. Then she added seven more years to her contributions. She was born a princess, but many say she actually yearned for a simpler life, but eventually accepted her fate.
She was once quoted saying: “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.”
She made that pledge on her 21st birthday. And clearly, she followed through with her actions, actively ruling for the entire seven decades of her service.
MSN points out:
The length of [Queen Elizabeth’s] service, measured against that of other leading figures, proved astonishing — coinciding with that of 15 British prime ministers, 14 U.S. presidents and seven popes. As supreme governor of the Church of England, Elizabeth appointed six archbishops of Canterbury.
She also had to navigate shifting public attitudes toward the royal family as the increasingly unfettered media laid bare its troubles. The low point came in 1997 with the death in a car accident of her former daughter-in-law, Princess Diana, and public anger at the queen’s halting response to it.
It was one of few missteps, and the crisis passed: By the time of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Queen Elizabeth was the subject of a four-day love fest that included a waterborne procession on the River Thames that rivaled a medieval pageant. Her approval rating stood at 90 percent. At a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, then-Archbishop Rowan Williams said, “We are marking six decades of living proof that public service is possible, and that it is a place where happiness can be found.”
By the time of her platinum jubilee in 2022 marking her 70 years as queen, the national celebration had added another dimension, a shared recognition that the reign was almost over and was of a type that would not be seen again in terms of its length, pomp and place in a changed British society.
“While we celebrate the mightiness of Elizabeth II’s allegiance to a life of service, we should also acknowledge that an antiquated version of monarchy must now pass into history,” wrote journalist and royal watcher Tina Brown in her 2022 book, “The Palace Papers.”
Nothing captured this moment more clearly than the image of the queen at her husband’s funeral, held in 2021 amid restrictions related to the covid-19 pandemic. Dressed in black and with her face veiled by a mask, she seemed alone if not isolated in the oaken pews of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor.
While the lockdown took it’s toll on the Queen, she tried to keep her chin up.
The ensuing months were marked by increasing frailty, a rare hospitalization and a covid infection. She was unable to perform long-standing and familiar public duties.
Into her 90s, she maintained a rigorous calendar of events and appearances. They numbered more than 400 in her diamond jubilee year. Her public life was defined by these duties, some seemingly trivial, such as handing out symbolic alms, others mantled with pomp and pageantry — the opening of Parliament or the hosting of a state dinner.
To an outsider, such recurring events might seem perfunctory, but in their recurring character, Charles said, they “help to anchor things” in a dynamic world and, moreover, threaded the monarch through the tapestry of British life.
Her role as queen defined Elizabeth’s life, but her unflagging dedication to the job also defined the monarchy. Unlike her sister and several of her children, including Charles, she kept her personal life intact and avoided private scandal and public controversy. The prospect of abdicating — there were calls for such a move when her great-grandson and third direct heir, Prince George, was born in 2013 — was alien to someone who clung not to power, but to duty.
Dickie Arbiter, a former royal spokesman, said at the time that Elizabeth’s piety alone would prevent it: “She sees herself of having sworn to serve for life not only to the people, but to God.”
The paradox — and possibly the greatest feat — of her reign was her ability to be so visibly dutiful for so long without revealing her inner self. “Of all the world’s public figures, she is the most private,” veteran British journalist Bill Deedes wrote on her 80th birthday.
The queen never gave interviews, published her journals or stepped anywhere near the fray of party politics.
In his book “The Real Elizabeth,” journalist and historian Andrew Marr wrote, “Her view of her role has been that she is a symbol, and that symbols are better off keeping mostly quiet. The Queen’s style of monarchy has buried much of a sense of self, as we understand that today. … The Queen is still what she does. There is only a little space (though an interesting space) between Queen Elizabeth II and the woman who lives her life.”
A Legacy In Tact
The Queen weathered her share of scandals, whether it was the royal treatment of Princess Diana or the sex scandal of Prince Andrew. Of course, there’s also Prince Harry’s defection alongside Megan Markle. One can bet Markle will soon emerge, with her victim card pinned to her funeral dress. However, it must be remembered that Queen Elizabeth yearned for a very different, quiet existence. She never needed media attention to fill her empty soul as her disgraced grand-daughter-in-law does.
Interestingly, the Queen knew how to drive a carriage and to ride sidesaddle, both skills she used when visiting her troops to boost morale.
Her coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953 — the day that word reached London that mountaineer Edmund Hillary of New Zealand had placed a Union Jack atop Mount Everest in a British-led expedition.
For more than 400 years, the English sovereign has had to navigate the role of being head of state while ceding political power to Parliament and maintaining strict partisan neutrality. By dint of her longevity and diligence, however, Elizabeth had a significant behind-the-scenes advisory role to a succession of prime ministers who traveled each Tuesday from Downing Street to Buckingham Palace to see her.
In those sessions, she offered the political leader of the day confidential advice from her unique perspective of national life and knowledge of foreign leaders and diplomats. Whether the prime ministers took her counsel may have been another matter — the sessions were as private as conversations in a confessional.
She raised her children privately and protected them fiercely, a rarity in public life. In fact, after Princess Diana’s tragic death, the Queen stepped in, bringing Diana’s two young sons to the palace, where they could be protected and shielded from the media frenzy that plagued their family for quite some time afterward.
Those closest to her know the Queen like square dancing, jigsaw puzzles, photography and watching television. But her circle of friends was kept small and discreet, guarding such personal information from public consumption.
Elizabeth would sit on a comfortable but faded sofa, sip her favorite cocktail of gin and Dubonnet, and chat with her cousin about the week’s events amid framed photos of family.
In a rare reflective mood during an address to the Commonwealth leaders in 2011 in Perth, Australia, Elizabeth summoned an Aboriginal proverb to express her feelings.
“We are all visitors to this time, this place. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love … and then we return home.”
Now, the Queen has returned home, this time, to her heavenly throne, as the good Lord has taken her to his mansion in the sky.