When I was a little girl, London was the place to be. The Beatles had already unlocked the cage of American culture, releasing all sorts of strange and wonderful changes that flew far beyond the ones we heard on the radio. Eyes turned to London for fashion and design as we followed Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, David Hicks and Mary Quant. Carnaby Street took on the magical mystery of the yellow brick road. And through it all, there in the background in head scarf and tweed, encircled by a moat of corgis, was the Queen. Circumspect and enigmatic, she stood on the unbroken line of history, linking past and present in a way those of us in the States could only imagine. I found her fascinating. And I still do.
For someone like myself who possesses a lifelong love of all things British, this is a banner year. The painterly production of Downton Abbey, the amazing performance of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, and just this week, the start of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee year, have all served to reawaken my love of history and, just as when I was little, I find I want to read everything I can. It seems as one gets older, and hopefully gains that precious modicum of wisdom denied to the young, history gains a sharper focus, a greater clarity. We begin to see shades of grey on the great canvas we were once so certain was painted entirely in stark black and white. It all becomes even more interesting.
No matter where one starts in British history, all roads lead to the Queen. Already Sovereign long before I was born, she vowed to devote her life, “whether it be long or short”, to the service of her country when she was just twenty-five years old. She has held fast to that vow, which she took before God, for sixty years. A remarkable feat, particularly when one considers that had her uncle not abdicated the throne when she was a child her life would have been entirely different, her head unburdened by the crown she now wears.
I recently finished a marvelous new book by British journalist, Andrew Marr, entitled The Real Elizabeth and I can solidly recommend it to anyone with more than a passing interest in this woman who has served Britain for sixty years now. The book is revealing, but mercifully not salacious, and it is obvious that Mr. Marr had unparalleled access to those who know Queen Elizabeth II well. He shows us a woman with biting wit and cleverness, fun-loving and caring, who is imbued with a remarkable stamina and devotion to her country that has never waned. It is a history lesson that reads like a novel and it kept me reading when I really should have been doing other things. The Real Elizabeth left me with even more respect for the woman on the throne than I possessed at its start. I had the strong desire at its finish to say to her, “Well Done”.
Living in a country as young as mine, I sometimes long for the depth of history and tradition that permeates the home of my ancestors. I know full well that there are wildly divergent opinions on royalty in Britain, and Lord knows, some of the antics of her children have been questionable, if not downright cringe-worthy. But I can only say, from my side of the pond, I find the Queen to be a wonderfully stabilizing figure. When I compare the malignant circus currently taking place here in my country in this, another election year, I long for someone standing above it all, with enormous dignity, wisdom and grace, who represents the past, present and future of her country in a way we in the states can only dream of.
Britain has a reason to be proud of this woman and to revel in this celebratory year.