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Celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s reign

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Queen Elizabeth visits the National Memorial to the Few in Folkestone, southern England March 26, 2015 in Folkestone, England. REUTERS/Chris Jackson/Pool

On Sunday, the United Kingdom will commemorate the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne, but as the monarch commemorates yet another milestone, how will her record-breaking reign be remembered?

The Golden Age: According to some observers, her reign has been a ‘golden age’, evoking the reign of her namesake Elizabeth I, who ruled England 400 years ago during one of the country’s greatest times.

  • Others argue that the 95-year-legacy old’s is less dramatic but nevertheless significant: securing the monarchy’s survival through a period of massive social and economic upheaval.
  • “I think the queen’s played a blinder,” Anna Whitelock, Professor of the History of Monarchy at London’s City University, said.
  • “The definition of success for any monarch over time is to preserve the monarchy and ensure the succession. That is the primary job, and that’s what she’s done.”
  • On the death of her father, George VI, Elizabeth ascended the throne on Feb. 6, 1952, at the age of 25, inheriting dominion over a Britain emerging from the ravages of World War Two, when rationing was still in effect and Winston Churchill was prime minister, as well as other nations spread across the globe.
  • Since then, presidents, popes, and prime ministers have come and gone, the Soviet Union has disintegrated, and Britain’s once-mighty empire has dissolved, replaced with a Commonwealth of 54 states that Elizabeth helped to establish and whose success many consider to be her greatest achievement.
  • “None of the other imperial powers have achieved that …  and in Britain, huge social and economic changes have been carried through on the whole peacefully and consensually,” said Professor Vernon Bogdanor, an expert in British constitutional history. “That’s very remarkable.”
  • Elizabeth’s reign has been likened to that of her namesake, whose 44 years on the throne in the 16th century are considered as England’s Golden Age, during which the economy developed, the country’s power grew, and William Shakespeare and other writers blossomed.
  • “Some people have expressed the hope that my reign may mark a new Elizabethan age,” she said in her 1953 Christmas broadcast. “Frankly I do not myself feel at all like my great Tudor forbear.”
  • Her own opinion of her reign – the longest in British history – is difficult to discern because she has never granted an interview or expressed her personal views on political subjects. A top royal aide said she would leave her legacy to others to determine.
FILE PHOTO: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip pose with U.S. President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy at Buckingham Palace in London, Britain, June 5, 1961. Picture taken June 5, 1961. U. S. Department of State/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum/Handout via REUTERS

End of an era: According to constitutional historian David Starkey, there will be no second Elizabethan era since Elizabeth didn’t see her function as reflecting a historical time, but rather as a job.

  • “She has done and said nothing that anybody will remember. She will not give her name to her age. Or, I suspect, to anything else,” he wrote in 2015.
  • “I say this not as criticism but simply as a statement of fact. Even as a sort of compliment. And, I suspect, the queen would take it as such. For she came to the throne with one thought only: to keep the royal show on the road.”
  • According to Matthew Dennison, author of a new biography of the queen, such a judgement does not do justice to how she has performed her duty and adapted with the times.
  • “I would argue that it is virtually impossible in 21st century Britain for any one person to embody the aspirations, the anxieties, the identities of what is an immensely disparate society,” he told Reuters.
  • He claimed that her commitment to do the best she could in her capacity and avoid expressing any ideas that could offend others had given her moral power well beyond what she had received as queen.

Above politics: The British royal presently has little actual powers and is meant to be nonpartisan, according to the constitution.

  • Historians argue that Elizabeth has used “soft” power, making the monarchy a unifying, focal point for the nation in the face of major socioeconomic divisions, as evidenced by her broadcast to comfort the people at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Even though she is above the political fray, she nonetheless meets with the prime minister on a weekly basis for a private session.
  • “They unburden themselves or they tell me what’s going on or if they’ve got any problems and sometimes one can help in that way too,” she said in a 1992 documentary. “They know that one can be impartial, so to speak. I think it’s rather nice to feel that one’s a sort of sponge.”
  • Former leaders have claimed that her years of experience have been extremely beneficial, allowing them to speak openly without fear of their conversations becoming public.
  • “You can be utterly totally frank, even indiscreet with the queen,” John Major, the British leader from 1990 to 1997, said.
  • Tony Blair, who succeeded Major as Prime Minister and served for ten years, said: “She will appraise circumstances and issues and be able to express them without ever… revealing her political preferences or anything of the sort. It’s truly amazing to witness.”
FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Queen Elizabeth visits the Energetics Analysis Centre at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Science Park, near Salisbury, Britain October 15, 2020. Ben Stansall/Pool via REUTERS

A legacy: According to some historians, the queen will be remembered as the last of her type, a monarch from a time when the ruling class enjoyed unquestionable respect. She would, nevertheless, remain one of the country’s greatest.

  • “There’s no doubt that she will be up there as one of the greatest monarchs not just for her longevity, but for the period of change which she has witnessed,” Whitelock said.
  • “And like Elizabeth I … equally seminal for Britain and also Britain’s place in the world.”
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