The Queen A figure of stability as the nations longest reigning monarch

08/09/2022

The Queen: A figure of stability as the nation’s longest reigning monarch

The Queen was the longest reigning monarch in British history, heralded for her unparalleled devotion to royal duty during more than 70 years on the throne.

At the centre of national life, Elizabeth II was head of state, head of the armed forces, head of the Commonwealth, and supreme governor of the Church of England.

Her knowledge and professionalism were unprecedented and her reign as a constitutional monarch saw more than a dozen prime ministers.

The Queen celebrated her Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilees, and was the first British monarch ever to mark a Platinum Jubilee.

Abdication was never an option after she promised to rule for her whole life, and she was still carrying out her royal duties without fuss or complaint as she neared 100, when most people would have retired 35 years earlier.

The Queen was a figure of continuity as her country changed in the 20th century, through the millennium and in the 21st century.

During her lifetime, penicillin was discovered, man landed on the Moon, Britain got its first woman prime minister, and the internet was invented.

She symbolised the stability of the nation, and most people had known no other monarch on the British throne.

At her side for 73 years was the Duke of Edinburgh – her outspoken consort – with whom she fell in love as a teenager when he was a handsome naval cadet.

The couple were close confidants and allies, with the success of their relationship put down to the compatibility of their different characters.

The Queen was passive, cautious and conventional, while Philip, often known for his gaffes, was more adventurous, tempestuous and active.

His death in 2021 at the age of 99 was devastating for the Queen, but she continued with her duties as head of state, composed and forever committed to her lifelong role.

Elizabeth II was also a mother of four, granny to eight grandchildren and great-granny – or Gan-Gan – to a large brood of great-grandchildren.

She came to the throne as a rather shy 25-year-old, ruling over a nation that had lost much of its power in the world and an empire that was crumbling fast.

The Queen was the royal family’s rock and, untainted by royal scandals, her own personal popularity remained solid when the antics of others shook the House of Windsor.

Even after the divorces of three of her four children, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when the monarchy faced its gravest crisis since the abdication of Edward VIII, the trials and tribulations of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and the controversy surrounding the Duke of York, the Queen was a steadfast figure.

Stoical, composed, pragmatic, private and with an unshakeable Christian faith, she possessed a dry sense of humour and a sharp wit – and was known for her love of outdoor life, horses, racing and corgis.

Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on April 21 1926 – the eldest child of the Duke and Duchess of York.

She was not expected to be Queen, but the abdication of her uncle David, as Edward VIII, changed everything when Elizabeth’s father acceded to the throne as George VI.

Ten-year-old Elizabeth became the heiress presumptive.

Nicknamed Lilibet, she was a sensible soul, a bright, methodical and tidy child who led a sheltered early life.

She spent the Second World War in the safety of Windsor Castle with her younger sister, Princess Margaret, and delivered her first radio broadcast, speaking on Children’s Hour in 1940, at the age of 14.

During the war, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service and learned to drive, and at 18 became No 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor in 1945.

She turned 21 while on a tour of South Africa with her parents in 1947, and delivered a radio broadcast in which she pledged that her “whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service”.

Elizabeth was already in love with the man she would marry – her dashing, blond-haired, blue-eyed distant cousin, Prince Philip of Greece – the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg.

Their first publicised meeting was in 1939 when Elizabeth and her parents visited the naval college in Dartmouth where cadet Philip impressed Lilibet by jumping over the tennis nets.

They corresponded during the war and eventually married in Westminster Abbey on November 20 1947 in a fairytale ceremony.

Within a year of marriage, they produced an heir to the throne – Prince Charles – on November 14 1948, and a second child, Princess Anne, on August 15 1950.

They spent the idyllic early years of their marriage partly in Malta while the duke was serving in the Royal Navy, living as much the life of an ordinary couple as they could.

With George VI’s health failing, Elizabeth was needed at home and Philip gave up his career to support his wife.

Then, on February 6 1952, George VI died. The princess and Philip, who were away in Kenya on an official tour, had been married less than five years and their lives were to change irrevocably.

The new monarch was composed even at a time of such grief.

She was crowned 16 months later in Westminster Abbey on June 2 1953.

Tens of thousands of people braved pouring rain to line the streets and 20 million around the country watched the event on the blossoming new medium of television.

In 1955, a scandal erupted over the love life of Princess Margaret, who abandoned plans to marry divorced equerry Group Captain Peter Townsend so she was not denied her place in the life of the royal family.

The same year, the Queen’s first prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill, resigned.

She enjoyed a close relationship with the great statesman and in 1965 broke with precedent by becoming the first sovereign to attend the state funeral of one of her subjects.

The Queen’s reign saw 15 prime ministers. After Churchill, she appointed Sir Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

The Queen was the first reigning sovereign to circumnavigate the world and journeyed to more than 325 countries – including repeat trips.

She visited all of the Commonwealth countries except Cameroon, which joined in 1995, and Rwanda, which joined in 2009.

Dozens of Commonwealth heads of state drew on her great experience for help and advice.

In 1986, she became the first British monarch to travel to mainland China and in 1994 was the first British monarch to have set foot on Russian soil – where her ancestors, the Romanovs, were murdered.

She made her first visit to Ireland in May 2011, becoming the first British monarch to travel to the Republic in 100 years and the first since the nation gained independence from Britain.

This paved the way for a watershed moment in Anglo-Irish relations a year later, when, during trip to Northern Ireland in June 2012, the Queen shook hands with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.

The symbolic encounter between the former IRA commander and the Queen would have been unthinkable even 10 years earlier.

The IRA murdered her second cousin-once-removed, Lord Mountbatten, who was also Philip’s uncle, in a bombing on his boat in Co Sligo in 1979.

Each year, the Queen would undertake hundreds of engagements, and, when she turned 90, remained patron or president of more than 600 organisations.

Sometimes the strenuous succession of tours and duties led to concern about her health, particularly during a visit to Canada in the late summer of 1959.

But this time there was cause – the Queen was expecting her third child, and, on February 19 1960, Prince Andrew was born.

The Queen’s fourth child, Prince Edward, was born on March 10 1964.

Although she was taught by a governess, the Queen was determined that her children should get the widest possible education, sending them to boarding school.

Twenty-five years on the throne was marked with the Silver Jubilee in 1977, with thousands of street parties staged in her honour.

The same year saw the birth of the Queen’s first grandchild, Peter, to Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips.

In 1981 the Queen was the target of a shooting incident in The Mall, as she rode in the Trooping the Colour ceremony, but the teenager who fired the blanks missed and was arrested.

The Queen rejected talk about surrounding her with an American-style security net, insisting she must see and be seen by her people.

In 1982, an intruder, Michael Fagan, climbed the wall of Buckingham Palace and managed to make his way to the Queen’s bedroom.

The monarch made two telephone calls to the Palace’s own police station while keeping the unwanted visitor talking for 10 minutes.

It was not just security problems that threatened the royals, but also the Windsors’ turbulent private lives.

In 1981, the Prince of Wales captivated the nation with his marriage to shy 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer, while Prince Andrew married the vivacious Sarah Ferguson in 1986.

The Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York, nicknamed “Fergie”, added glamour and a breath of fresh air to conventional, stuffy royal circles.

The Queen saw “Diana-mania” reach new heights as the clamouring for royal gossip hit fever pitch.

And gossip was exactly what the public got when the two marriages collapsed amid great scandal.

Behind the scenes, Charles was having an affair with his former mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, and Diana had turned to cavalry officer James Hewitt.

1992 marked the Queen’s 40th year on the throne – a celebration which should have been the focal point – but it famously became her “Annus horribilis”.

The War of the Waleses went from bad to worse.

The princess collaborated with Andrew Morton on his explosive book Diana – Her True Story, which catalogued her unhappy marriage and eating disorder.

Tape recordings of an intimate conversation, dubbed “Squidgygate”, between Diana and admirer James Gilbey added fuel to the fire.

Then came another bombshell – Camillagate. An excruciatingly embarrassing tape of an intimate conversation between Charles and Mrs Parker Bowles found its way into the papers.

With the Waleses at loggerheads, then-prime minister John Major announced in December that Charles and Diana were to separate.

Andrew had already split from the Duchess of York and, in the summer of 1992, Fergie was pictured having her toes sucked in the south of France by her Texan “financial adviser” John Bryan.

Princess Anne and Captain Phillips also divorced earlier in the year.

Then, amid it all, came the fire at Windsor Castle.

The Queen was pictured in her raincoat, grimly surveying the devastation at her beloved royal residence.

Public opinion turned against the royals amid fears that taxpayers would have to foot the £40 million bill for repairs.

The Queen made the historic announcement that she would pay tax on her income, cut down the size of the Civil List, and open Buckingham Palace to the paying public to help fund the restoration.

At the end of the year, the Queen, in a speech unprecedented in its tone, told VIP guests at a Corporation of London Guildhall luncheon to mark her 40th year on the throne: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.

“In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘Annus horribilis’.”

But there was more trouble in the coming years when Charles and Diana did the un-royal thing by talking publicly about private matters.

In 1994, the prince admitted adultery on national television as he spoke to his biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby.

He did not name Camilla as his mistress, but made a public pledge of loyalty to their friendship.

Diana subsequently went on the BBC’s Panorama programme to give a television interview to Martin Bashir, who is now known to have used “deceitful conduct” and fake documents to obtain the scoop.

The princess, who had not warned her aides, proclaimed there were three people in her marriage and also questioned Charles’s suitability as king.

The Queen urged the couple to divorce and, in August 1996, they finally did.

Less than a year later came Diana’s shocking death in a car crash in Paris as she was pursued by the paparazzi.

As the nation responded with an outpouring of grief, the monarchy faced one of its most difficult times.

The mourning public waited for the royals to grieve with them and were left wondering why the Queen took so long to speak publicly, and why the Palace flagpole was left bare – although this had always been the custom when the monarch was not in residence.

The royals were perceived as being unemotional and were criticised for their reserve.

At the time, the Queen, a stickler for tradition, was doing her duty as a grandmother, consoling the heartbroken Princes William and Harry at Balmoral.

Finally, she returned to London and addressed the nation on television.

Aides acknowledged that important lessons had been learned in terms of what the public expected from the royals in times of grief.

Royal popularity recovered, however, when millions turned out to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.

But this milestone took place amid great personal sorrow.

In the space of just seven weeks in 2002, the Queen’s younger sister, Margaret, and then her 101-year-old mother, the Queen Mother, died.

A lifetime on the throne taught the Queen the art of composure and she kept her feelings well hidden.

However, on rare occasions, she was unable to contain the depth of her sadness.

Just months after the Queen Mother died, tears rolled down the Queen’s cheeks when she took on her late mother’s role at the poignant opening of the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in 2002.

That November, the Queen’s rollercoaster year took another turn. She became involved in the collapse of the high-profile Old Bailey theft trial of royal butler Paul Burrell, remembering that he had told her he had taken some of Diana’s papers for safekeeping.

The legal principle that the monarch cannot be compelled to give evidence in her own courts was the final blow to the Crown’s case.

The Queen was well used to press intrusion into her family’s life, but no incident surprised courtiers more than the Daily Mirror’s scoop in 2003.

A reporter from the newspaper sent shockwaves through the Palace when he managed to get a job as a footman in the run-up to US President George Bush’s state visit.

Insider details of Palace life, including photographs of Tupperware containers on the Queen’s breakfast table, appeared in the paper, and led to a widespread security review.

2005 was another royal wedding year and this time it was Charles and his former mistress, Camilla.

The couple had a civil ceremony, but the Queen did not attend. As head of the Church of England, she decided to miss the non-religious nuptials, but did attend the blessing afterwards at Windsor’s St George’s Chapel.

At the reception, she paid tribute to Charles and Camilla with a reference to the Grand National, which was taking place that day.

In a witty speech, she likened the obstacles they faced to fences in the famous horse race and said she was happy to welcome her son and the woman he loved into the winners’ enclosure.

As the new Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla was now joining the Queen and the rest of the royals at public family appearances – something that would have been inconceivable in previous years.

The Queen’s 80th birthday was celebrated publicly and privately throughout 2006, finishing with a summer cruise with her family around the Western Isles of Scotland.

In December 2010, Savannah Phillips was born to Peter Phillips and his wife Autumn – the first of many great-grandchildren.

In April 2011, the Queen witnessed grandson and future king William marry his former university housemate, Kate Middleton, at Westminster Abbey as millions joined in with the celebrations.

The monarchy was given a boost with the next generation of royals, the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, enchanting royal fans across the world.

In 2012, the royal family, including newest recruit Kate, were out in force for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, with celebrations including a pageant of 1,000 boats down the River Thames.

But the Duke of Edinburgh, then 90, was forced to miss the majority of the events after falling ill with a bladder infection.

In 2013, the Queen was introduced to a new king in waiting when she met great-grandson Prince George of Cambridge – William and Kate’s firstborn son – with Princess Charlotte arriving two years later, followed by Prince Louis in 2018.

The Queen overtook her royal ancestor, Queen Victoria, to become the nation’s longest reigning monarch on September 9 2015, having reigned for 23,226 days, 16 hours and 30 minutes.

In typically modest fashion, she admitted that the royal record was “not one to which I have ever aspired”, and added: “Inevitably a long life can pass by many milestones. My own is no exception.”

The same year, she called a halt to her overseas travel, leaving younger members of her family to go in her place.

Her 90th birthday in 2016 was marked in public and private with a walkabout, beacon lighting and a black tie dinner for family and friends in Windsor on her actual birthday, and a weekend of national celebrations including a party on The Mall for her official birthday in June.

2018 saw Prince Harry wed American former actress Meghan Markle – the first mixed race person to marry a senior royal for centuries.

But the Duke and Duchess of Sussex plunged the Windsors into crisis less than two years later after struggling with royal life and facing a rift with the Duke of Cambridge.

The Queen remained firm – there was no half-in, half-out role for Harry and Meghan, and they quit as senior working royals and moved to California.

They did not go quietly, however. In a television interview with US talk show host Oprah Winfrey, they claimed an unnamed royal had made a racist remark about their son Archie’s skin tone before he was born, and alleged that the monarchy failed to help a suicidal Meghan.

Harry also later repeatedly lambasted Charles’s skills as a father, suggested in the weeks following Philip’s death that Charles, the Queen and the duke had failed as parents, and accused his family of “total neglect” when Meghan was feeling suicidal amid harassment on social media.

The Queen did what she always did – kept calm and carried on – and refused to play out private matters on a public stage.

Meanwhile, the world was facing its worst health crisis in generations – the coronavirus pandemic.

The Queen, like the rest of the nation, went into lockdown as Covid-19 swept the country, and adapted to engagements by video call.

Staying at Windsor Castle with Philip, the monarch made not one but two rare televised addresses to the nation just weeks apart, telling a troubled country separated from their loved ones: “We will meet again.”

The duke’s death when the Queen was about to turn 95 left her without her lifelong companion, but she remained stoic while on public view at his funeral, sitting alone, symbolic of her loss, amid the uncompromising restrictions in place to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Even in the aftermath of Philip’s death, her family’s problems continued.

The Queen’s second son, Andrew, was facing a civil sexual assault case in the US.

The duke, who stepped down from public duties in 2019 over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, was accused by American Virginia Giuffre of allegedly sexually assaulting her when she was 17.

The Queen, never one for rash decisions, finally stripped Andrew of his honorary military roles in January, and he gave up his HRH style as he prepared to go to trial.

He went on to settle the case out of court, agreeing to pay millions of pounds to a woman he claims never to have met.

On the eve of her historic Platinum Jubilee, the Queen delivered a masterstroke by endorsing the Duchess of Cornwall to be known as Queen when Charles became King.

It ended years of controversy, with the monarch, ever astute, and Charles’s advisers aware that no-one would go against the wishes of the nation’s much-loved sovereign.

Days later, the Queen tested positive for Covid for the first time and developed mild symptoms.

Her Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June 2022 saw millions take to the streets in her honour during four days of festivities.

But by then the Queen was noticeably frailer and facing ongoing mobility problems, meaning her Jubilee engagements during the weekend were limited to a beacon lighting and three appearances on the Palace balcony.

It was a moment for the history books when the monarch – flanked by her three heirs – stepped out to bid farewell to the vast crowds on the final day.

Elizabeth II was one of the most famous faces on the planet, recognisable by her brimmed hats, her grey curled hair, her brightly-coloured coats and pristine white gloves.

Her look was traditional and stayed almost the same for decades.

Her broad smile would light up a room, but the frostiness of her frown made it clear when one was not amused.

Witty, a good mimic and skilled in the art of the comic pause, the Queen had an iPod and a mobile phone, and was a fan of The Bill, EastEnders and Doctor Who.

The world was given a surprise insight into her sense of humour in 2012 when she made a show-stealing cameo appearance in Danny Boyle’s London Olympics opening ceremony, with a stunt double of the monarch parachuting live into the arena as part of a James Bond sketch.

For her Platinum Jubilee, she appeared in a comedy sketch with a digitally-animated Paddington bear, and revealed that she kept marmalade sandwiches in her famous handbag.

In a documentary about the Coronation in 2018, she won new fans with her dry wit and “manhandling” of the Imperial State Crown as she grabbed the priceless piece and pulled it closer to inspect it.

The Queen’s financial and property holdings made her one of the world’s richest women, although most was not her personal money but held in trust for the nation.

Her constant refuge in good times and bad were her two private homes, Balmoral in Scotland and Sandringham House in Norfolk.

It was at Balmoral where the Queen learned of the “No” victory in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.

Such was her relief that the United Kingdom had escaped being broken up that, according to then-prime minister David Cameron, she “purred down the line” to him when he rang to tell her the good news.

She was not demonstrative, and emotion was not something she showed easily in public.

But her eyes used to brighten on seeing her husband, whose flattering comments to his wife would still provoke a delighted smile even after many years of marriage.

In a speech to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary in 1997, she paid a warm tribute to him, saying: “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.”

Her final twilight days were spent without the duke, who died at Windsor in April 2021, but although the Queen told of her great sadness, she said she was comforted by the tributes paid to Philip’s “extraordinary impact”.

Despite all that was known about Elizabeth II, she remained something of a mystery, never giving a full in-depth interview.

A one-of-a-kind monarch, she was treasured not just at home, but across the world.

Elizabeth II gave her life to her country without fuss or grumbling and her reign as Queen was consistent and dependable and her dedication entirely unwavering.

Published: by Radio NewsHub


Reader's opinions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Current track

Title

Artist

Background