My mother was never a big fan of royalty. She always declared that she would have a difficult time curtsying to a king or a queen. For that matter she found the tradition of kissing the ring of a Catholic bishop as a sign of respect to be rather absurd. Mama was one of those people who sincerely believed that every human being was one hundred percent equal to every other person who lived on the earth. She did not think that the accident of one’s birth should ever define them. She felt that the trappings of wealth and title were only a veneer and that underneath all of the accouterments we were basically all the same. Strangely, however, she greatly admired Queen Elizabeth, not so much because she was a monarch but because she was a sterling example of a fine lady.
For as long as I am able to remember my mother liked to draw comparisons between herself and Queen Elizabeth. She pointed out that they were only two months apart in age. Mama often noted that Queen Elizabeth had dark hair like she did that she wore in a similar style. My mother enjoyed noting that Prince Charles and I were born in the same year. In so many ways Mama saw herself as the commoner version of the queen. Even during the nineties when Queen Elizabeth’s popularity faltered a bit my mother was an unwavering fan. She noted that Princess Diana who was at the heart of much of the trouble simply did not fully understand the responsibilities of being a leader and she winced while noting that she did not think that Diana fully appreciated the need for decorum under any circumstances. Mama often posited that our own country’s Jackie Kennedy carried herself more royally than Diana did.
The two worlds of my mother and Queen Elizabeth could not have been more different and yet in my mother’s mind the true measure of an individual lay in character and the ways that they behaved on all occasions. In that regard Mama felt that the queen measured up to the highest standards. I sometimes think that my mother actually believed that if given the chance to meet that she and Elizabeth would have become the best of friends. I always had to give my mom credit for having an abundance of confidence!
Today is quite historic for Queen Elizabeth. She has now officially reigned longer than any other monarch in the history of Great Britain. Ironically, had her uncle not abdicated the throne so that he might marry a divorced commoner from the United States we would probably never have even heard of her. The world though has a way of surprising us and when Elizabeth’s reluctant father became King George VI, she in turn was the heir apparent to the throne.
Elizabeth led a quiet life under the care of her mother and the tutelage of teachers who instructed her at home in the castle. She doted on her father and learned from him the qualities of responsibility and service to her country. During World War II advisors suggested that Elizabeth, her mother, and her sister find refuge in Canada for safety’s sake. Many of the children of London were sent to live with relatives in more secure places so nobody would have thought ill of the royal family for doing the same. Elizabeth’s mother insisted that she would not leave her husband nor would she send her children away. Thus Elizabeth not only stayed in a dangerous locale but also eventually served as an ambulance driver, wearing the uniform of a service member instead of the trappings of majesty. Like her father she often spoke to the people to reassure them that better times were ahead.
When Elizabeth first met Phillip, the man who would become her husband and prince, the attraction was instantaneous. The two of them exchanged letters and fell deeply in love. Advisors were concerned that Phillip had little financial stability and few royal ties. Nonetheless Elizabeth insisted that he was the man with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life and the two of them were wed in spite of protestations from those who believed that their union would be a big mistake. Prince Phillip has proven to be a magnificent partner. He has been her voice of wisdom, her confidante, and her refuge ever since. Over time they had four children, Charles, Andrew, Edward, and Anne.
Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, had never had particularly good health but it was still a shock when he fell dangerously ill when he was only in his fifties. Elizabeth and Phillip were on tour when she learned that her father had died. They rushed back home to attend his funeral. After allowing for an appropriate amount of grieving time Elizabeth’s coronation was held on June 2, 1952.
Queen Elizabeth has witnessed so much history. She has worked with twelve Prime Ministers. She has watched both the British Commonwealth and the ways of the world change over time but she has been a constant. She once swore to serve her nation until she had drawn her very last breath and she has been true to her word. After some difficult moments centering around her children and their often disastrous marriages she has risen once again much like the Phoenix and is today as popular as ever.
My ancestors on my father’s side of the family all had roots in the British Isles. They came from England, Scotland and Ireland to the shores of the new world where they hoped to find something that had been missing in the motherland. By the time that I was born it had been generations since anyone in the family had thought of themselves as beholden to a king or a queen. They were proud that they did not have to bow or feel subservient and yet there remained a kind of kinship with the British Commonwealth and a feeling that somehow the Queen was part of our history as well. Like my mother, my Grandma Minnie had adopted the manners and the elegance of royalty but she saw all of God’s people as unique and special. She bore herself with the same regal presence that I see in Queen Elizabeth.
I can’t imagine spending a lifetime under the watchful and critical eye of the world. Queen Elizabeth has done well because she sees herself as a servant of the people. She has often sacrificed her own freedom and privacy for the good of the country. I’m not so sure that I would find anything particularly enticing about her life. Sixty three years of being under a microscope and never really being able to enjoy the perks of anonymity would be difficult for anyone and yet Queen Elizabeth has faithfully executed her duties in both good and bad times. I suppose that I am one of those Yanks who admires the queen’s pluck and her willingness to be a steadying force in the midst of often chaotic times.
The queen and her handsome and ever faithful husband are visiting Scotland on the occasion of her historic moment. The crowds coming out to greet her have been large. I suppose I won’t ever truly understand the need for a queen but then I’m descended from those crazy revolutionaries who wanted their independence from such traditions. I wish Her Majesty well. She is more than worthy of our admiration. Her ways may be from a distant time but the qualities of service, steadfastness, and dignity never really go out of style.