Long Live the Queen!

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Britská monarchia

Whatever the views of the British monarchy are, no one can deny the charming personality of Queen Elizabeth II, who has ruled for over sixty-eight years.

It’s a decent number that evokes both admiration and astonishment, and in the social events of recent decades, raises the question – why does she have such immense popularity? In the almost seventy years of Queen Elizabeth II reign in the United Kingdom has happened quite a lot. Various important historical events, reforms, but also scandals – those are the inevitable parts of the private and public life of the royal family. Despite the exceptional aura of Elizabeth II, who sometimes can be attributed to supernatural qualities, is still a person with both strengths and weaknesses.

Unexpected Succession

British monarchy
18-year-old Elizabeth, Windsor Castle, 1944

If Edward VIII did not abdicate in December 1936, maybe everything would have happened differently. However, the young heir to the throne fell in love with the “wrong” woman – the American Wallis Simpson, who was going through a second divorce at the time, which was scandalous for the royal family. The man in love thus faced a difficult choice. Since Edward VIII refused to give up his love, he finally decided to abdicate, which meant changes in the order of succession. Edward’s younger brother Albert thus became the ruler. He ruled until he died in 1952. Being a second-born son and not expected to ever ascend the throne, he grew up in the shadow of his older brother.

Although Albert was very reluctant to take on such an important position, the monarchy would hardly withstand so many rejections, and it would be unpleasant for their reputation, which was already “tarnished” by the affair over Edward’s relationship with Wallis Simpson and his subsequent abdication. The future monarch George VI however, honored duty and, despite the difficult situation and new duties that fundamentally changed his life, became a competent and extremely popular monarch. The king suffered from several health problems, which eventually resulted in his untimely death on February 6, 1952. At the same time, the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, who is currently the longest-reigning monarch in the history of the British monarchy, began (followed by Queen Victoria, who ruled for sixty-three years and seven months).

Sacred role

In November 2016, Netflix launched the series The Crown, which brings the fate of Queen Elizabeth II showing her life from an early age.

Despite the reign of George VI, young Elizabeth became the heir to the throne, as did her father, she was overtaken by royal duties sooner than she wanted. The coronation on June 2, 1953, was a presentation of traditions, but at the same time, it brought something new. Nevertheless, the world was already more modern. For the first time, the coronation was broadcast on television, which was a thrilling experience for many viewers, except for anointing and receiving, the climax of the entire ceremony when the cameras turned off. The United Kingdom is inseparable without its ruler, and the monarchy, with all its machinery, simply belongs to it. For some, it is a useless component that costs the country a lot of money and what is already a holdover in the context of modern times, but for others something sacred. Despite the criticism, the British people in general worship their queen, the monarchy, and treat it with respect. Although there were various crises, the queen maintains immense popularity.

British monarchy
Despite several crises that hit the queen and the monarchy during the reign, Elizabeth II is extremely popular among the British people.

Oath of the Allegiance

A monarchy with all its “participants” is of better significance to people. Who is actually Queen Elizabeth II? Looking at her long-standing reign and the many critical events that accompanied her personal life or ruling makes it easier to picture her. From the beginning, she has clearly directed her rule – perhaps the most characteristic of her is the absolute submission to the sacred role predestined by God. You can strongly feel the queen’s deep sense of civic and ecclesiastical duties. She does not publicly express personal views on politics, which would otherwise conflict with her responsibilities. She does not try to shock, nor provoke scandals but remains true to traditions and fulfills her role as expected, in a nutshell, she is here for her people. However, it was only a matter of time before another solid monarchy would prove its qualities.

Legend says that if the six ravens fly away from the fortress, both the kingdom and the Tower will fall.

Nobody Is Perfect

Perhaps every Brit had read the article The Monarchy Today from the National and English Review in August 1957. The editor-in-chief of this newspaper, writer, historian, and politician John Grigg, spoke very openly and critically about Queen Elizabeth II. He considered the Queen’s speech snobbish, and sincerely went even further, describing her official discourses as annoying and criticizing her inability to express herself in a few sentences without using notes. Although some journalists have publicly spoken out in favor of John Grigg, in general, his views, despite good intentions, provoked great outrage. However, the monarchy’s initial sharp response eventually receded and put some of this journalist’s recommendations into practice. Martin Charteris, the Queen’s personal secretary, even publicly praised John Grigg after many years, saying that he had done the Crown a great service. In order to bring the royal family closer to the people and to adapt to modern times, she gave a nod to make a documentary called The Royal Family, which was broadcast by the British television company BBC in the summer of 1969. Although the film attracted more than 30 million viewers, it did not receive very positive reviews from critics. Currently, the film is protected by royal rights and has not aired since the 1970s. At the time of its shooting, some people expressed concerns that the film might reveal too much of the privacy of members of the royal family, which could ultimately be counterproductive. And so the original intention proved to be both a threat and an obstacle to the reputation of the monarchy.

British monarchy
Queen Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill, November 18, 1950

The Symbol of Confidence – The Queen

British monarchy
Queen Elizabeth II together with her husband Prince Philip.

What is Queen Elizabeth II’s place in the lives of British society? Is it a more representative and formal character, or does a psychological factor also play a significant role? Although the royal family has often been criticized for being too impersonal, it is eventually something unreachable and supernatural that gives the monarchy a genuine and necessary essence. An unattainable monarchy that can be expected to do exactly what is required would otherwise become commonplace. People need security and someone they can count on. Someone, they know, will always be there as they used to be centuries ago. Someone, who will make them feel safe and who will bring light into their lives in difficult times – this is how the British Queen with her royal family needs to be. This is one of the reasons why the rules at the royal court are strictly observed and why the supreme act of anointing the new monarch at the coronation takes place only between the Archbishop of Canterbury, the heir to the throne, and God. If we knew everything, understood everything, the charm of the whole monarchy would disappear and thus it would lose exactly its purpose and meaning.

Elizabeth II on TV

The mourning speech, which was broadcast live on radio and television, was watched by millions of viewers around the world.

In November 2016, Netflix launched the series The Crown, which brings the fate of Queen Elizabeth II showing her life from an early age. There have been four seasons so far, the latest one is available in November 2020. The series has been very successful since its premiere and has won several prestigious awards. The first two seasons examine the life of young Elizabeth II, her first steps as a queen, and in flashbacks, we follow the reign of her father, King George VI. Claire Foy played the role of Queen Elizabeth II in the first season, while in the next ones she is followed by the actress Olivia Colman, who represents a slightly older and more mature queen. Although The Crown is to be seen as a work of art in which not everything corresponds to historical facts – the critics even point out a few key facts that are either portrayed differently in the series or not highlighted at all – the viewer has a glimpse into the complex mechanism of royal family operation, whose members, like other people, have feelings and experience dilemmas. At the same time, the series also points out interesting facts in the social and historical context of the given period during the reign of Elizabeth II in a partially educational way.

British monarchy
Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the British monarch, is one of London’s main tourist attractions.

Waiting for the Response

British monarchy
The whole world mourned Princess Diana, who died in a car accident in Paris in 1997.

Princess Diana’s personal life was discussed in tabloids to such an extreme extent that many blamed journalists for her death on August 31, 1997. However, the life of this extremely popular princess has been the focus of attention around the world long before. The unfortunate marriage to Prince Charles eventually resulted in their divorce in 1996, and the relationship between Diana and the Queen was not ideal either. After Diana’s death, the whole world mourned, and millions of her fans carried flowers, candles, or personal references to the royal Kensington Palace for many months after her death. Elizabeth II did not express herself publicly about the whole event on the first days, which aroused great resentment and a wave of criticism in the public.

The Queen finally delivered her speech on 5 September 1997, the day before Diana’s funeral. The mourning speech, which was broadcast live on radio and television, was watched by millions of viewers around the world. Elizabeth II expressed sorrow for the tragic death of Princess Diana, whom she described as an exceptional and gifted human being that no one would ever forget. In 2006, English director Stephen Frears shot The Queen, a biographical drama, which maps the period immediately after Princess Diana’s death. According to information from credible sources or available materials, the filmmakers tried to create a credible picture of what it might have looked like in the intimate environment of the royal family in moments so demanding not only for the society that loved Diana but also for the British monarchy.

Rise or Fall?

The Tower of London with its amazing and rich history fascinates every visitor also hides many secrets and many remarkable highlights. One of them is the world-famous seven ravens whose names are Jubilee, Harris, Gripp, Rocky, Erin, Poppy, and Merlina. Legend says that if the six ravens fly away from the fortress, both the kingdom and the Tower will fall – the seventh raven is there as a substitute. The legend from the 17th century relates to King Charles II, who was prophesied formidable news about the fall of the empire if the ravens left the walls of the fortress. However, the first mention of ravens dates back to Victorian England.

British monarchy
says if all the ravens fly away from the Tower, then the kingdom will fall.

The so-called “Ravenmaster” – the royal guardian of the ravens, currently Chris Skaife, clips their wings from time to time so that they cannot fly as usual. Although they come from breeders, they are relatively wild and independent creatures, which are free, but at the same time not free. Once they flew behind the Tower walls. Each of the ravens has its personality because they are extremely intelligent creatures. The raven master keeps them from dangerous predators – foxes at night and releases them out during the day so they can move freely in their territory.

They spend their “free time” sitting or hopping, playing with magpies, or rummaging in trash cans where they munch on french fries. When they have the opportunity and the taste, they do not hesitate to steal a sandwich from a by-passing child. The royal raven master takes very good care of the ravens. This is a matter of course as the fate of the whole kingdom depends on them.

Text: Miriama Vojteková Photo: Fickr, Pixabay