Celebrating the Reign of Her Majesty the Queen

All day on the 8th of September 2022, there were worries that this was to be Queen Elizabeth’s last. Even the rainy weather seemed to confirm the expectation in a fitting sort of pathetic fallacy. When my phone started buzzing with notifications from various group chats, I knew what I was going to read. I looked up at my wall and saw my Queen’s Scout Award. I wondered if that was still what I was. 

Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving British monarch in history and the longest-serving female head of state in history is dead. 

While I try to balance most articles I write with contrary opinions and at least take them into account or find a middle ground, this article will not try to do that. I won’t get annoyed at those who may feel relief at Britain’s monarch going gently into that good night but if you want to hear those points of view, follow pages like @tanistry on Instagram instead of reading this article. This post is a celebration of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as well as the monarchy and what it can be. 

Dieu Et Mon Droit

England’s monarchy, and more broadly Britain’s monarchy, has a long history. The Queen and now Prince Charles are some of the few aristocrats that can date their lineage back before the Norman Conquest in 1066. Going as far back as Anglo-Saxon England, our monarchy has roots that reach beyond the conception of England let alone the modern UK. 

I’ve always been someone who’s enjoyed history, and specifically our country’s history. I’ve studied the Tudors more times than I can count and more recently I’ve been reading Marc Morris’ book The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England. What you find is a saga of tragedies and triumphs, heroics, and villainy but fundamentally, it is a tale of overcoming. I’d like to share some of it with you. 

If you were to travel to England in 865 AD, you would find the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that made up England toppled by a ‘Viking storm’. Only the Kingdom of Wessex was left standing. If you’re familiar with Vikings or The Last Kingdom then you’ll know that this kingdom was led by a man called Alfred. At the start of his reign, in the words of Morris, ‘Pagan men were laying waste to the land with fire and sword’ and Alfred was the last surviving son of a King who had had four other sons before him. To people at the time, it must have seemed apocalyptic. Yet thanks to his kingship, he was able to leave an enlarged Kingdom with a reviving culture and a winning strategy against the invaders. 

Fast forward two centuries and you’d find an England that was tired and weary from civil war and strife. The monarchy had little power and was vicious with what it did have, overmighty nobles shored themselves up in forts and the common people suffered. That is until a young man called Henry arrives from his Duchy in Normandy. He had already tried to invade what he considered his birth right before (aged 13) but on this attempt, he would secure himself a spot in the succession and the books of English history. He would go on to become King Henry II of England and he transformed England. Despite being dealt a poor hand, by the height of his reign, Henry controlled land from the borders of Scotland to the Pyrenees. Fighting troublesome family members, bold nobles and the age-old enemy of the English, the French, Henry II re-established order and laid the foundation for a modern legal system that would help administration on a local level. While he saw himself as a failure, he would pass his throne on to his son, Richard the Lionheart. 

Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland and II of England

Over the course of the drama of our monarchy’s history, we’ve had Lionhearts and Confessors, Exiles and Piety. We’ve had monarchs that have prompted the need for legal freedom through their tyranny, but we’ve also had a long list of monarchs who have protected those freedoms from elites and have truly served the people. 

Queen Elizabeth has been one such monarch. Her reign started with Churchill as PM and may have ended with Liz Truss but during her time in office, the world has seen the dawning of American hegemony, the start and end of the Cold War, the rise of China and witnessed a Britain that has lost and then found its place in the world. In such a tumultuous world, the consistency she brought as Head of State can only be envied by other world leaders as she oversaw the decline of the British Empire and the transformation of the Commonwealth. While there were eight member states of the Commonwealth at the start of her reign, now there are 54. Despite doubts as to whether the monarchy would survive, she successfully navigated the institution she represents by embracing new technology and making the Crown an approachable feature of public life. 

Dénouement

It once again seems like Britain has lost its footing. We’ve left the European Union; successive governments have gone through controversies and crises and our direction seems unclear. On top of all that, we’ve lost a Queen who’s served the country for 70 years. Things may seem bleak, but Queen Elizabeth’s life should provide cause for optimism. Difficulties can be overcome. We can have political leaders that believe in duty and ethical leadership. The world will continue to change yet we’re served by institutions that have weathered worse storms. The Queen is dead, long live the King. 

And let their heirs, God, if thy will be so, Enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace, With smiling plenty and fair prosperous days. Abate the edge of traitors, gracious Lord, That would reduce these bloody days again And make poor England weep in streams of blood. Let them not live to taste this land’s increase That would with treason would this fair land’s peace. Now civil wounds are stopped; peace lives again. That she may long live here, God says amen.

William Shakespeare, Richard III.

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