This year marks the 70th anniversary since Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne.
Born in 1926, the future queen was a teenager during World War II, training as a driver and mechanic toward the end of that conflict. Since her father’s death in 1952, she has served her people as monarch through a time of enormous cultural and scientific changes. She presided over countless crises both at home and abroad and on several occasions endured fierce criticism. She’s met heads of state from presidents to popes, acted as a symbol of steadfast courage and hope in good times and bad, and for many people remains a figure of inspiration.
And this queen has some things to teach us, should we care to sit in her classroom.
Devotion to Duty
For her entire reign, Elizabeth has lived by the promises she made in her coronation oath: “The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.” After decades on the throne, she remains a shining example of honesty and dignity, upright in matters of morality and virtue.
Elizabeth also kept the vows she made on her wedding day in 1947, remaining married to Philip Mountbatten for 73 years until his death in 2021. In an age in which disloyalty and divorce are common, she never flagged or faltered in her devotion to her husband. On the celebration of her Golden Jubilee, she called the prince “my strength and stay.” Theirs was a long marriage based on both love and friendship that should inspire all wedded couples.
Though we live in an age where many think it healthy to wear your heart on your sleeve, or, as some say, to let it all hang out, Elizabeth only infrequently abides by these strictures. As queen, she understands that she must be a Gibraltar, a stouthearted fortress of stability through thick and thin. She’s a living reminder to the rest of us that restraint can be a virtue.
This queen has occupied the throne through the austerity of post-war Britain, the Cold War, the age of Twiggy and The Beatles, and a score of other major innovations and changes in the British Isles. Through all this tumult, Elizabeth has seemed unfazed, offering her people a rock of permanence on which to stand during the changing winds of time. We can do the same with our families and friends.
Though Elizabeth does dress down when riding horses, working at the stables, or even walking her beloved Corgis, when she appears in public, she is always very much aware of her appearance and decorum. During her tour of Boston during America’s Bicentennial in 1976, I happened to be in the crowd through which she drove in an open car. She looked exactly as she had in the postage stamps and photographs I’d seen of her: well-dressed, demure, dignified. Her regard for appearance reminds us of the importance of our public image.
Ernest Hemingway once described courage as “grace under pressure.” The queen seems to have this quality in spades. Even during her terrible years of the 1990s, when there were so many problems with her children and their spouses, and when the monarchy was under attack by republicans, some of whom wished to abolish that institution, Elizabeth kept her head and performed her duties as queen.
The peoples of Great Britain, the United States, and many other countries around the globe are living through a dismal time. There’s no need to reproduce here the litany of catastrophes that are befalling us, but it is refreshing to see one leader trying to brighten our pessimism with some light amusement. To celebrate her Platinum Jubilee, Elizabeth appeared in a video with that good British bear, Paddington. The lovable icon drinks all the tea, makes a mess of the table, and then offers the queen one of his treasured marmalade sandwiches, at which point Elizabeth pulls one from her purse as well. If you’re looking for a little gentle humor and a smile, watch Her Majesty and Paddington take tea together.
As an American, I am no monarchist, yet to this remarkable woman I can only raise a glass and say, “God save the queen!”
Image Credit: Flickr-Defence Imagery, CC BY-NC 2.015 comments