The Queen of England — the British Queen — is an ANOMALY — she not only survives; she thrives. For years I have watched the life of a lady to whom a nation sings “God save our gracious Queen; Long live our noble Queen; Send her Victorious; long to reign over us.” Somehow she makes her subjects feel proud to be British. For me, the British public celebrate this amazing lady because she has that ability to symbolize UNITY THROUGH DIVERSITY.
The Royal family has mastered the ability to reinvent itself to best symbolize and represent the values which the Nation seems important at the time without losing the richness of a thousand years of tradition and history. As history shows, this has not been an easy road, but rather a series of “corrections” which have led this country to become one of the greatest constitutional monarchies the world has ever known — set to “reign over us” rather than “rule over us.” We all know the image of a reed blowing in the wind; if it does not bend, it will break. That is the lesson the British Royal Family learned long ago. But as an avid monarchist as I am, I do believe in Fate and Divine Intervention, AND this Royal House has a great dose of those ingredients.
The Russian Royal Family was one of the most powerful Royal Houses in Europe. The Czar’s power was absolute. As times changed and great challenges faced Russia, the Romanov Royal House refused to recognize that there were voices in the country that were demanding a new relationship between the Czar and his people. War, famine, and political challenges were on the horizon, and a weak sovereign could not rethink his role. When the Czar made a futile attempt, it was too late, and the Romanovs were swept away. If the reed does not bend, it will break. So it did in Russia. That same formula describes the outcome of the royal families of France, Germany, and Spain.
Ah, but the British Royal Family underwent a different direction; century after century, their path gradually led them to a different relationship between Crown and People. Let’s take a look at this journey! From 1066 until the end of the Tudor reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, the English sovereigns were absolute rulers. They could tax, execute, carry out wars, create new religious directions, censor, and establish the culture of the era. By the time the Stuarts arrived on the throne in the 17th century, there were new challenges to the King’s DIVINE RIGHTS and absolutism. Cromwell challenged the power of the King. Charles l was tried, found guilty of treason, and was beheaded outside the Banqueting Hall at Westminster Palace. When Cromwell died and Charles II was invited back to England as King, Parliament had established controls on power, particularly the power to tax. The relationship between Sovereign and Parliament began to be defined and a sort of checks and balances came into play. By the time of James ll, the controls on the King’s power and behavior were so significant that James was basically asked to leave, and the government invited a new branch of the House of Stuart to come to England to reign, but not rule. It was called The Glorious Revolution where not one shot was fired. The English Royal Family became step by step a Constitutional Monarchy. Eventually, in the 18th century, the House of Hanover — the Georgian Kings — moved further to an even more carefully defined relationship where Parliament and King had clearly defined powers. Now it gets really interesting.
King George III died in 1820 after years of mental illness requiring the Regency of the Prince of Wales, later King George IV. The entire period was dominated by struggles between Parliament and Regent. King George IV had become one of the most hated monarchs in British history. He reigned for a small period as King, but he left the respect for the Monarchy at an incredible low level.
By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne, the Republican voices were heard throughout the land. But onto the scene, as if the greatest breath of fresh air, came Prince Albert whose wisdom and insight guided the Queen and helped her realize that their first responsibility was to rebuild the country’s respect for the Sovereign. They were sensitive to Parliament, and Parliament consulted the Queen. From 1841 until the death of Prince Albert, a Constitutional Monarchy had moved further and further into reality. The Queen sought wise Prime Ministers like Melbourne and others, but she always had that trained, intelligent mind of her Consort. When Prince Albert died in 1861, leaving the Queen in mourning for nearly four decades, Britain reinvented and created the Queen into a symbol of all that was good in British life; she became almost above politics and was established as the Empress of India, and Queen of an amazing Empire but reigned and hardly ruled. She was almost deified by her age.
In the 19th century, the story gets even more interesting. Queen Victoria died in January 1900. It was an end to an era. Ninety percent of the nation had never known another Sovereign. Her less-than-respected son King Edward VII came to the throne and became known as the Peacemaker, but had only symbolic or inferred power. When he died, his second son George became an immensely important King because it was he who created the British Monarchy as we know it today.
The King and his Consort Queen Mary led Britain through World War I and became the symbols that united the country. A constitutional monarchy was firmly in place, and the Sovereign was above politics, only to reign but not to rule. In the words of Queen Elizabeth as a child, he was GRANDPA ENGLAND. He was certainly the symbol that unified the country and the empire. Queen Mary in all her magnificent jewels and style saw that her duty was to sparkle in an era of respect, an era of God Save Our Gracious Queen. King George’s heir was Edward VIII who abdicated to marry the woman he loved. We will talk about that in a moment. But now, let’s move on to King’s second son King George Vl and Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother).
King George VI never thought he would be King. He was a shy, somewhat insecure man with a stammer, but he was married to one of the strongest consorts in British history, Queen Elizabeth. Between the two of them, they became symbols of hope as World War ll became a reality. The King and Queen visited bombed areas of London during the Blitz and visited soldiers and hospitals. When a bomb landed on Buckingham Palace and destroyed the chapel, the Queen said NOW I CAN LOOK AT THE EAST END OF LONDON IN THE FACE. As the outcome of the war became more and more gloomy, the government suggested that the Royal Princesses be sent to Canada for safety. When they brought the proposal to the Queen, she said these glorious words "The Princesses will not go without me, I will never go without the King, and the King will never go.” Those words alone earned for this Royal Couple a generation of love and adoration. The Royal Family had reached a level of respect and love never known in previous generations.
So now we come to the reign of Queen Elizabeth II who has been on the throne for 63 years, the longest reign in British history. Most of us have never known another monarch; she is Britain. Before becoming Queen, she spoke to her people from South Africa even before the King had died that she would devote her entire life to the service of Her People. She had been trained by good old Queen Mary who instilled in the young Queen the importance of SERVICE to Her People. And that has been the record of her reign, the theme of her life’s history, and the underlining of her reign.
So, back to our initial theme: the bending reed. The British Royal Family has had the insight, advice, and ability to reinvent itself to take on the pertinent challenges of each generation. They have removed themselves from political life and remain symbols of the nation and celebrate unity through diversity.
For those of you who have been aware of the British Royal Family for decades and for those who might be interested in a bit of observation, there has been an almost divine intervention in the preservation of the monarchy in Britain. It has been certainly uncanny how the twists and turns have directed Fate to steer the stronger, more capable members of the Royal Family to the throne thereby avoiding the pitfalls of the Russian, French, and Spanish Royal families who failed to be relevant to their people. Let’s trace these twists from modern times. King George IV brought disrepute on the throne and on the House of Hanover. His heir Princess Charlotte died in childbirth eventually making a young Princess Victoria heir. In 1936 this young Queen was crowned in Westminster Abbey, and she and her consort Prince Albert re-established the Royal House as a symbol of national respect leading to a vast empire and an era of invention, art, music, architecture, engineering, exploration, museums, institutions, invention, and religion. I have often wondered what Britain would have been like had Prince Albert not died so young in 1861.
The Queen’s long reign prevented her wayward son Edward from becoming King and allowed Parliament to establish itself as a capable institution which assured a Constitutional Monarchy. King Edward VII’s son, the wayward and troubled Duke of Clarence, died with pneumonia at Sandringham and fortunately never ruled. The thoughts of this heir who had many black holes in his character on the throne are frightening. Again, the weaker heir dies before becoming King and the second son becomes King. In this case, the Duke of York who had married the Duke of Clarence’s finance, became King George V. This solid, all-British, devoted sailor King and his consort Queen Mary became the symbols of British steadfastness which served them well as they led the British people through the disasters and tribulations of World War I.
When the old King died, his heir Prince Edward became King Edward VIII. He was everything his father was not. His lifestyle, non-royal appetites, and devotion to one unsuitable lady who had a “past" whom the King decided he could not live without caused him to abdicate and settle in France — somewhat in exile. But then this story gets very interesting. The King became the Duke of Windsor, and his younger brother the Duke of York and his beloved wife Elizabeth Bows-Lyon became King and Queen. King George Vl was a shy man with a stammer; however, he had his father’s sense of duty and his ability to be “greater than himself.” With the help of his amazing Consort Queen Elizabeth (later to become Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) they symbolized courage and inspiration during one of Britain’s most dangerous and perilous times: World War II. The King and Queen stayed in London, prepared to fire a gun if necessary to defend themselves, and their People loved them as perhaps no other Sovereign before them. Again, a weak heir is replaced by his stronger younger heir.
And then it is our era when one of the greatest Sovereigns who has ever ruled or reigned came to the throne, well trained by her grandfather King George V whom she called Grandpa England and filled with devotion and insight. The GLORIOUS Reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a result of generations of weeding out the weaker and less talented heirs and replacing them with capable, insightful individuals who understand that they reign over their Subjects by the will of the people. They are the leaders who bend with the reed and know how to understand the eras in which they reign. THEY REIGN BY DIVERSITY.
Many of my fellow American friends do not understand this relationship, and I understand that feeling because we do not have one thousand years of this history. We have another background and perhaps a different way of finding national pride. I understand that. What a wonderful world we live in — if only we appreciated the magnitude of its magnificence and possibilities.
Is this divine intervention, pure luck, Fate, whatever — it has been the process which has assured us of a Sovereign to whom we sing GOD SAVE OUR GRACIOUS QUEEN, LONG LIVE OUR NOBLE QUEEN, SEND HER VICTORIOUS TO REIGN OVER US. Long live Queen Elizabeth II and the House of Windsor.