We have a special guest writing today and to celebrate this day, the sixtieth anniversary of the accession of the Queen to the throne, there was really only one person I could ask to write this.
Prince Philip was busy, but that didn't matter because I have drafted in Sheila O'Brien instead, perhaps known to some of you as Mrs KevinFromCanada, but very much a voice in her own right. Sheila's past associations in the areas of women’s issues, human rights, education and health and welfare have been recognized through her receipt of the Women of Distinction Award in the category of “Advancement of Women”, and a Citation for Citizenship - Government of Canada Award for Community Leadership. In February 1999, she was invested as a member of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honor.
Sheila is currently President of Belvedere1 Investments, and a corporate director and business consultant with over 30 years of experience in the oil and gas, pipeline and petrochemical sectors in Canada, USA, South America and Europe and her achievements would take up a blog post of their own, so I'll stop there and spare her blushes.
Having met Sheila twice now (you may recall I sent her home with the Emily Quilt) I can tell you that for all those gongs she is very unassuming, has a wicked sense of humour and is extremely inspirational company. Sheila is a keen follower and staunch supporter of the monarchy, respectful where it is due, honest where it is not and knows more about our Royal Family than the Royals know themselves. There is no Royal book written that Sheila hasn't devoured, absolutely nothing she doesn't have thoughts about and it was very refreshing to hear her take on it all when we met. Us Brits just pussyfoot around it all a bit here sometimes don't we... think privately but rarely declare, but not so our Canadian guest today. I hope you will enjoy this refreshingly honest take on the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second and with some reading suggestions for this Jubilee year if you are interested, and all as viewed from Calgary, Alberta.
February 6th, 2012 marks the sixtieth anniversary of the ascension of her majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second to the throne. She has reigned as Queen for longer than the majority of the population of the world has been alive. Although she was not born to the line of accession, she has been the Queen longer than her father, George the Sixth, lived.
The airwaves are overloaded with comparisons of her Majesty to her famous ancestor, Queen Victoria, the only other monarch in history to pass the 60 year mark on the throne. Would everyone please stop making those comparisons right now? The only thing these two women have in common is that they were crowned heads for over 60 years. Of Queen Victoria’s 63 years on the throne, she served for only 20 of them. When her beloved husband Albert died, she donned her widow’s weeds (which she never doffed), took to her bed and lived a self-absorbed and self-indulgent life at the taxpayers’ expense for the next 43 years. She was a recluse, poking out of her isolation hole only when she needed to ask Parliament for a raise, or when the drumbeat of Republicanism grew so loud that she was embarrassed into making a very brief appearance.
Queen Elizabeth, on the other hand, has lived a life defined by duty. In the 60 years she has been Queen, she has done her job every single day. Whether she is at her office in Buckingham Palace, at one of her country houses, or travelling the world, not a day goes by when she does not read the dispatch boxes sent to her by the government. She has not had a gap year, sick days, maternity leave (although she did limit her public engagements during the latter stages of her 4 pregnancies), mid-life crisis time off, mental health days, or just a plain old goofing off day. The burden of the office never leaves her – uneasy lies the head indeed.
To understand this phenomenal devotion to duty, it is necessary to understand the circumstances of her destiny. When her father became King upon the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, the monarchy was in a precarious state. A handsome and charismatic young Prince of Wales had abdicated in favor of the glamorous woman he loved (the twice divorced American, Wallis Simpson), and was replaced by an ill-prepared, nervous, stuttering Duke of York, with a distinctly unglamorous wife. The whole family was traumatized by this seismic shift in their lives, and understood they had to gain the confidence and respect of the people. “Elizabeth: the Queen Mother” by Hugo Vickers, is the definitive biography of the Queen’s mother (also known as The Queen Mother), and her seminal role in redefining the monarchy.
Understanding that she had to re-frame the institution in the minds of the people, she created the concept of The Royal Family, as a counter vale to the great love story which had resulted in the abdication. So, from the age of ten, the future Queen was immersed in her duty as part of The Family, and through enduring the privations of World War II, and, remaining in London with her parents and younger sister Margaret during the Blitz, gained a visceral understanding of the essential qualities of the British people – the notion of Keep Calm and Carry On. This is a bit of a cliché now, but with bombs raining down on the capital, it is indeed a remarkable testament to a nation, and their collective resolve.
In spite of the fact that it was well know that the young Elizabeth would one day be Queen, she received no formal education. While she had many tutors over the years, she was home-schooled, first by well-meaning nannies, and later by constitutional and historical scholars. . Her early life was one of lonely preparation for her destiny, although she could never have imagined it would come to her so young. She was a 25 year old navy wife with two toddlers when she became Queen upon the death of her father.
She stepped off the plane on that cold February day in 1952, and had already begun to assume the dignity and majesty of her role. Although she was devastated by the loss of her beloved father, she rose to the height of her new status, and, clear-eyed and strong, she shook the hand of her prime minister, Winston Churchill, and never looked back. Her story is the story of modern Great Britain, and is brilliantly told by Sarah Bradford in her biography “Elizabeth”. It is the life and times of the Queen, and details all the societal, political and family changes that Her Majesty was at the centre of for all these many years.
While it is interesting to chronicle the events of the last 60 years, it is more important now to pause and consider the impact of the remarkable reign.
In her role of head of state, she has watched a major transformation of her country and the Commonwealth. In Great Britain, there have been race riots, the miners strikes, The Troubles in Northern Ireland, the shift in the class system and the impact of the immigration flood of the ‘80’s and Simon Cowell. By far the most significant issue for the Commonwealth over the last 60 years has been the issue of apartheid in South Africa. While Her Majesty was at the apex of the system regarding all these issues, as Head of State, she was constitutionally required to keep a neutral position and try to influence through her relationship with the Prime Minister of the day. We can’t know what she said, or how she said it in her weekly meetings with each of the 12 Prime ministers she advised, but what we do know is that she has never put a foot wrong constitutionally. If she had overstepped, even once, the role of Head of State would have been compromised and the legitimacy of the monarchy could have been in question. It is hard to imagine doing any job for 60 years and not making even one mistake, but there we are – she has done it.
Sadly, the Queen’s role as head of her family has not met with the same success. None of her four children is her equal – each of them has “issues”. Prince Charles made a disastrous first marriage,a controversial second marriage, and routinely interferes with matters of state. Princess Anne dropped the first ever Royal F-bomb (well done!). Prince Andrew is by all accounts a boor,and married a yob (and then it really went downhill). And Prince Edward is just there. The good news is that Prince William appears to have all the class and statesmanship required to be a successful monarch. This is undoubtedly the result of the loving mentoring the Queen has provided him, a luxury she did not have time for with her own children as they were growing up.
When we are in full throated anthem mode and are asking God to save our Gracious Queen, and grant long life to our Noble Queen, these are not idle words. Unless the monarch maintains grace and nobility, there is little use for the institution. During the thousands of public events she has attended (and let’s face it, many of them could be very boring), she has never failed to appear engaged and genuinely interested in the goings on. She dresses for the occasion and has never made a sartorial mistake. When people show up to see the Queen, they expect to see someone who looks like a Queen.
She has been a role model for women leaders, and has certainly, albeit quietly, advanced the standing of women in the world. When all is said and done (hopefully in a very long time) and we pause to reflect on the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second, it may be more appropriate to compare her to her other famous ancestor, Elizabeth the First. In one of her greatest speeches to the Parliament of the day she said: “I count the glory of my crown that I have reigned with your love”. This is as relevant today as it was when it was uttered in the 17th century by the other Great Elizabethan.
Additional Jubilee reading recommendations:
The Queen, by Ben Pimlott
Elizabeth and Phillip, by Charles Higham and Roy Moseley
Young Prince Phillip, by Philip Eade
Jubilee Video Watching:
The King’s Speech, a film by Tom Hooper
The Queen, a film by Stephen Frears
The Queen, Acorn Media Miniseries
Bertie and Elizabeth, a Masterpiece Theatre series
My thanks again to Sheila for this piece, and whether we are in favour of the monarchy or 'agin, perhaps we could all raise a glass (or a cup of tea, because apparently protocol allows a glass of any beverage barring a cocktail) in Loyal toast to Her Majesty the person today. If you are in the Royal Navy and at sea you don't have to stand up because it's too difficult, and nor apparently do the lawyers of Lincoln's Inn, this in commemoration of an occasion when Charles II dined with them and they were all too drunk to rise to their feet...
"Ladies and Gentleman, The Queen"