The reluctant monarch: Remembering Queen Elizabeth II

September 18, 2022

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8, 2022. She had reigned since the age of 25, when she ascended the throne in 1952. At the time her commonwealth included the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). 

As Britain’s longest reigning monarch, she shied away from political controversy, but embraced the role of ceremonial head of state. She was known for her brightly colored outfits, large hats and beloved corgis.

Below, columnist Aaron Elliott share’s his personal memories and life-long love of the queen:

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Sitting in the brown and pink polkadot child size recliner at the bottom of my parents bed, I remember asking, “Who is that?” while pointing to the box television in the wall. “The Queen,” my mother said while applying her makeup in a little hand mirror. 

I was no more than five or six years old, at home sick from school and watching the news coverage of the State Open of Parliament. My eyes fixated on the sight before me as I peered into a world of grandeur that my little self had only ever imagined as fairy tales. This was a glimpse into an almost forgotten world of impressive pomp and circumstance, and I was immediately enthralled by it. The lifestyle, the clothing, but most of all Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

Born as Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor to the Duke and Duchess of York, later known as King George VI and The Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother), she was never meant to bear the weight of the crown and was born a princess, third in line to the throne. 

After the death of her grandfather George V, Queen Elizabeth’s uncle was next in line. Not even a year later, Edward VIII abdicated from the throne without a coronation, triggering a constitutional crisis. The intricacies of this crisis are not relevant here but the overall impact of it on both Elizabeth and her father is. His wife, the future Queen Mother, believed that the crisis and pressures of the crown are what contributed to George VI’s early death in 1952. 

At the time, Elizabeth was 25 years old and far from home on a royal tour in Kenya as princess, but by the time the plane touched down on English soil, she was Queen. Fourteen months later, the Coronation took place at Westminster Abbey in London. Millions of people tuned in to watch the first televised coronation in history, with some even buying their first television sets to watch the event. 

While this would imply that response to her reign was universally positive, sources from other countries that might have criticized her or the monarchy are few and far between. It is impossible to really know the true feelings of British subjects outside of the United Kingdom because the contemporary sources are all from a pro-monarchist perspective.

And therein lies the problem of her legacy. Some might argue that Elizabeth II did everything that was expected of her by carrying on long standing traditions, while also ushering in a new age of monarchy. As the first Queen Regnant since her great-great-grandmother, Victoria, her reign brought a new sense of progressivism to a historically male institution, shining a light into the haze of post-war Britain. 

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With the growth of tabloids, a rather ordinary but lucky woman was propelled to a type of global celebrity that a British Monarch had never seen before. From an English perspective, her reign has been considered to be long and peaceful. Since the role of Monarch is more of a public figurehead instead of a real head of state in modern times, Her Majesty was well received by the English public.

Outside of the United Kingdom, she contributed to the long standing legacy of English colonialism. The Mau Mau rebellion for example, was an uprising against the British government in Kenya from 1952 to 1960 that ended with thousands of Kenyans being detained in concentration camps, not all of whom were involved in the rebellion. Queen Elizabeth stood back and remained silent, breaking a declaration of service to Kenya she had made in her 21st birthday speech years earlier.  This is only one of many examples. 

As the years of her reign passed, she did little. Of course there were duties to be undertaken, but she never did anything quite monumental. She was what her role intended for her to be, a mascot for the United Kingdom. Never wanting to take a real stance on anything political, she remained opinionless on both good and bad things.

All of this could lead to many mixed feelings about her death, as it has for me. In my childhood, I would often play as if I was at my own coronation. I would drape a queen size shabby chic blanket off my shoulders and down my back as if I were cloaked in armine fur. I would have visions of grandeur and imagine I was walking the halls of a gilded palace with servants by the dozen. It is easy to get swept up in the glamor of anything resembling the old world, and she is one perfect example of a bygone era of imperialism. 

I grew up and still appreciate the aesthetics of the Monarchy, but you cannot appreciate the beauty of their lavish life and its ways without bringing to light the many years of unfair rulings and exploitation of its colonies that lead them to their status.

Queen Elizabeth II was the longest reigning monarch in British history, serving for 70 years. 15 prime ministers worked under her throughout her time on the throne, and 16 presidents came and went in the United States. While the world changed and progressed on without her, she remained a pillar of sorts. Pillars usually have a purpose, but some are just purely decorative. Her position was much like that, interesting to look at but serving no structural purpose. 

In my circle of friends, the question of  “What is the point of a monarchy in 2022? If there is a point, where does it fit in?” is posed quite often. Over the course of time, the role of the monarch has been parceled out, and the powers have been distributed to the other parts of the government. 

Since the beginning of her reign, Queen Elizabeth witnessed a lot of change in the establishment that she inherited, whether she thought it was good or bad, we will never know. She saw to the modernization of the Royal Family with her husband Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, to whom she was married for 73 years. This made a once unimaginable, intimidating and mysterious position a bit more personable, light hearted, and most of all, likable, 

Part of the reason the beloved Queen had as much support as she did is because of the media representation of her. She was and is painted as this untouchable, almost God-like being, which is quite fitting as she served as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. No matter how bad the scandal, the news media and Anglophiles would always rather paint her out to be a jolly woman with no specific take on anything, which I have no doubt that she was, but even the best people are still human and we still have to hold them accountable, even after death. 

The space that the modern Royal Family is working towards now, and has been for years, is comparable to what the Kardashians have made of themselves, a family of celebrities. We all wait to see what they are wearing, or who they are marrying, all for the sake of entertainment. Traditions are still upheld, but they are no longer as important to the state, and are more important to those who follow the every moves of the Royals.  

The Queen is now remembered for both her reputation of formality and a stiff upper lip, but also for her personal touch in style of dress and her good sense of humor. Most of us only remember her in brightly colored outfits and hats to match, making her easily recognizable anywhere she went. She was known to crack a joke from time to time, and make silly faces occasionally, but mostly when cameras caught her unaware. 

Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth II, her eldest son Charles Prince of Wales was declared King Charles III of the United Kingdom and his wife Camilla will now be referred to as Camilla, Queen Consort.

It is off putting to see a world without someone that felt so permanent in the woven fabric of our society. Not only the United Kingdom, but the world, lost an integral part of itself this past Thursday, that is now documented in history books for years to come. The woman was much more than just a simple woman named Elizabeth Windsor, she was also a mother, a grandmother, and great grandmother, but also a Queen.

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