It was on this day in 1953 that HM Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and her other realms and territories was formally crowned at Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Probably the most prominent royal figure in the world, the monarch who reigns over more diverse lands and peoples than any other, HM the Queen celebrates her diamond jubilee, an honor only previously achieved by Queen Victoria in the annals of British royal history, this year, succeeding her father to the throne in 1952. What can be said about HM the Queen that has not been said already? Even the most grandiose tribute would fail to truly convey what a remarkable sovereign she has been and continues to be. To be succinct, HM the Queen has, for the last 60 years, been an impeccable constitutional monarch for all of her people in every corner of the world without complaint, without wearying and with dignity, compassion, stoic strength, quiet faith and human warmth. She has simply been exemplary. No country in the world today could imagine, much less ask for, a more tirelessly devoted, sincerely committed, wise and experienced sovereign. Around the world, when it comes to true leadership and inspirational respect, the Queen has set the standard by which others are judged.
During her life, the Queen has seen the highest and lowest points in recent British history. She was born into the most dominant, beloved, envied and respected monarchy in the world. She saw her country bombed, faced with the threat of invasion and endure with calm, solid courage, doing her part along the way in what became known as the “finest hour” of British civilization. Born when the British Empire was at its peak in size and influence, in the decades after World War II she saw the British Empire exit the world stage and enter the history books, earning her first historic distinction as being the daughter of Britain’s last King-Emperor. During her reign the Britain of empire and naval supremacy was replaced by the Britain of the social welfare state. She saw her generation, the British people who ‘kept calm and carried on’ replaced by the generation of “swinging London”. The era of television, sexual revolution, the Cold War and the Common Market of decolonization, the Commonwealth, the internet and the “War on Terror” have all also been the era of Queen Elizabeth II. When one considers what a vastly different world exists today as compared to 1952 it becomes less a cliché and all the more real what a remarkable rock of stability the Queen has been in the past six decades.
Great Britain changed dramatically in her first few years on the throne and the world has changed a great deal since then. In 1952 Pakistan still recognized her as Queen, the Showa Emperor still reigned over Japan, the Vietnam conflict was a French problem (and the Prince Imperiale of Vietnam represented his country at her coronation), the British South Africa Company still held sway in what later became Rhodesia, Generalissimo Franco ruled Spain, The Netherlands still executed criminals, America and Japan were still “technically” at war, Egypt still had a king and Harry Truman was President of the United States. Sir Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain. What a different world it was. The Queen would become the first reigning monarch to visit Australia and New Zealand and she saw the French actually consider joining the Commonwealth (what would Henry V or Edward III have thought of that?). The Queen was the first reigning monarch to personally open the Canadian Parliament in 1957 and in 1982 signed the Constitution Act making entirely independent of the United Kingdom. She also bid farewell to such African dominions as Rhodesia and South Africa over their refusal to embrace majority rule and end racial favoritism.
The Queen has been totally fearless in the fulfilling of her duty, shrugging off the possibility of assassination on visits from Ghana to Quebec. When a pathetic case fired six blanks at her while she was riding to the Trooping of the Colour in 1982, the Queen displayed her expertise as a horsewoman, bringing the animal quickly under control, keeping calm and carrying on with her duties. When everything was “swinging” in England in the 1960’s the Queen set an example of strong, traditional family values in true Victorian style. Yet, like Queen Victoria, her offspring did not always follow her upright and ’stiff upper lip’ example. In 1976, just to show there were no hard feelings, the Queen visited the United States to mark the bicentennial of the declaration of independence, even taking a spin on the dance floor with President Ford (I told you she was courageous). In the 1980’s she saw Argentina seize the Falkland Islands only to be quickly liberated by the British armed forces a short time later, her second son among them. Toward the end of the decade anything traditional was becoming unfashionable and the devoted, disciplined, dutiful Queen did not seem to have much in common with the growing “me” generation.
The next several years were not happy ones for the Queen or the Royal Family in general. 1992 was that infamous “horrible year” when the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales came apart in a strikingly undignified and all too public fashion and the Queen’s beloved Windsor Castle was devastated by fire. Still, the Queen never wavered in her own dignity, decorum and devotion to duty. In 1991 she became the first British monarch to address a joint session of the United States Congress but the bad news still outnumbered the good. The Duke and Duchess of York split up, the Princess Royal got a divorce, Germans threw eggs at the Queen while on a state visit and fickle public emotionalism forced the Queen into the ridiculous position of paying income tax. Ridiculous because, “officially”, she is paying it to herself. The monarchy was scrutinized and criticized like never before by a moody public that seemed impossible to please and which expected their royals to be both grand and common, glamorous and penny-pinching and to embody values they themselves largely dropped from their own lives. This over emotionalism boiled over at the end of the decade with the passing of the Lady Diana which resulted in Britons weeping in the streets, screaming for centuries of tradition to be tossed aside and, most selfishly, ridiculing the Queen for staying close to her grandsons who had just lost their mother rather than rushing to London to hold the hands of a mob weeping over a woman most of them knew only from tabloids.
Thankfully, to some extent at least, once the funeral of Diana was over, Britons tended to look back at their recent behavior and be rather ashamed of themselves. Most came to recognize that the Queen had done the right thing and had put the needs of her family before her own popularity. There was also a considerable time during this period when the U.K. (and much of the Commonwealth for that matter) went through a number of controversial prime ministers and extremely unpopular prime ministers. When the monarchy was at a rather low point, Prime Minister Tony Blair seemed to be the bright, young, golden boy of British politics. Yet, eventually the Blair idol was revealed to have clay feet. He was followed by the embarrassingly lackluster Gordon Brown and then a coalition government so little did any of the choices appeal to the majority of British people. After witnessing such a succession of corrupt, incompetent political leaders, more and more Britons were reminded of how fortunate they are to have the monarchy and how unspeakable horrible it would be to have someone like Blair, Brown, Cameron or Clegg as President.
In 1999 this issue was put to the people in a referendum in the Commonwealth of Australia. Naturally, the Queen would remain impartial, non-partisan and accede to the wishes of her Australian people even as they voted on whether or not she would remain Queen of Australia or be replaced by a presidential republic. Perhaps taking into account how many times politicians had disappointed them, compared to the Queen who has always remained spotless in her public image and devoted to her duty, Australians decided an unelected partisan hack would be no improvement over the constitutional monarchy and wisely voted to keep the Queen on the Australian throne. From their point of highest popularity (which was still not much) the republicans in Britain and the Commonwealth saw their support dwindle away as more and more people awoke to the fact that the Queen had never let them down whereas politicians almost invariably did. When it came to politicians, hopes would always be dashed, promises would doubtless be broken, statistics manipulated and so on but the Queen, for sixty years, has always been the one constant in the Anglo-sphere firmament. Through it all she has been reliable, ever present, ever serving, ever dutiful and truly impartial. The republican fringe has had to admit defeat, at least so long as the Queen reigns, because she has simply ‘never put a foot wrong’ and given them no weakness to exploit, no grounds on which they could possibly criticize her.
For sixty years Her Majesty the Queen has been rock of stability, a comforting light in stormy seas, a steady, guiding hand in tumultuous times and a spotless symbol of unchanging values in ever-changing times. The Queen personifies all that is best about the British and Commonwealth people and their shared history and heritage. Her story has been the story of her people just as the story of her ancestors have been the history of the English-speaking world. She has, for sixty years, perfectly fulfilled every requirement of a modern, constitutional monarch. The Queen is the brightest, most polished and most reliable aspect of the entire Westminster parliamentary legacy. The Queen is Great Britain. The Queen is Australia. The Queen is Canada. The Queen is New Zealand. The Queen is all her realms and territories. For sixty years she has given more of herself, with greater poise, nobility, graciousness, charity and selflessness than any other government figure of any country in the Anglo-sphere. And, she has kept an unblemished record while doing it. No amount of praise, no tribute could do her service justice. So, again, all that can really be said is that she has simply been exemplary. Congratulations to Her Majesty, congratulations to the House of Windsor and GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!