Today marks the 60th anniversary of the official beginning of the reign of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, otherwise known as Queen Elizabeth II—the day she ascended to the throne of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It was exactly 60 years ago that her father, King George VI, died. The Princess (as she was at the time) was in Kenya with her husband, Prince Philip, on their way to Australia. She’s been at this for 60 years, nearly as long as I’ve been alive. This is not quite as long as Queen Victoria’s reign, which was 63 years and seven month—but at this rate, Elizabeth looks likely to pass her. Her mother lived to be 101, after all. I have this vague childhood memory of her coronation, which actually took place in 1953—the first time a coronation was televised. Actually the last time, too, since she’s been here ever since.
And what a reign it has been. It’s basically my lifetime, and when I think of the past 60 some-odd years, it’s been just packed, hasn’t it? She’s had 12 Prime Ministers, and if she has had a favorite, she’s kept mum about it (her mother’s was James Callahan). She presided over the dissolution of the British Emrpire, and was there at the birth of The Commonwealth. She has presided over the State Opening of Parliament every year expect two, when she was pregnant with Andrew and Edward. She’s been shot at, and at one point calmly dealt with an intruder in her bedroom at Windsor Castle. There were numerous press reports during Margaret Thatcher’s period as Prime Minister of a rift between the two because of the Queen’s opposition to Thatcher’s policies, although it’s not clear if these reports were true. She has, over her life, suffered the death of her sister and mother the same month in 2002, and that of Diana, for which she was not entirely prepared, and the collapse of marriages of three of her four children.
And she has remained dedicated to the monarchy and to her duties as a monarch throughout that entire period. Her life has been devoted to what she believes is service to the nation, and it stands in stark contrast to some of her Prime Ministers (Mr. Blair, for example), and to most politicians in both the UK and the US. Considering the nature of political dialogue in the US these days, one would think that devoting one’s life to public service—putting others above one’s own self—is one of the deadly sins. But here is a testament to the fact that this is not true—that public service can be a noble endeavor. She is the patron of 600 charities, and you can bet that she’s got the details down pat on each and every one of them.
She is widely loved, even by republicans who have little use for the monarchy. Her kids are a mixed bag, of course, but that may have more to do with their father than their mother. The one most like her is Anne, and one suspects that much of the public would prefer to see Anne ascend to the throne rather than Charles. This is a bit unfair to Charles, who, as I’ve mentioned before, hates modern architecture and likes local and organic farming, which makes him okay in my book, and who has been imbued with the same spirit of service by his mother as she had from her father. But it’s probably more the fact that Anne, like her mother, is a devoted public servant, and keeps it understated, whereas Charles, try as he might, just can’t stay out of the newspapers.
She loves her dogs, maintains one of the world’s finest art collections, has watched Prime Ministers come and go. When her father died and she became Queen, Stalin was still alive, Churchill was Prime Minister again, and Harry Truman was President of the United States. She apparently enjoys a good mystery, and her fondness for Scotland is legendary. She is said to be smart as a whip. An article in the Financial Times Magazine not long ago pointed out that between postcards, posters, tea towels, photographs of her, you name it, “The Queen is the most visually represented non-divine person in human history.” And this doesn’t even include the billions of stamps with her picture, including the famous Machin profile shown above. She has the love of millions. She has the respect of even more, and she deserves it. We should all work as hard as she does, and be as good at what we do as she is.