Our Managing Editor is in Europe this month and paused for a moment to examine the importance of monarchy in Britain why he and millions around the world will be celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.
I was only three years old when my family moved from England, however, to this day the British Isles remain close to my heart. As a child, I remember visiting my grandmother in London, running down the long hall that led to the kitchen, never really taking note of the many pictures and portraits that lined the walls. In her sitting room were more pictures and framed pieces of art but in one corner of the room was a large and ornately framed picture containing a young woman in yellow with a dazzling tiara on her head. And for the first time, being about seven or eight, I asked who the woman in the picture was, “…that my dear, is our Queen” she said proudly, and saying something to the effect of how pretty the woman was, I went about my games. But it wasn’t until much later that I fully began to understand who that woman in the frame was and what the monarchy truly means for this island nation.
As the sun rises over the British Isles this weekend, hundreds of thousands of people will gather in London for a series of celebrations, picnics and fireworks to mark the sixtieth anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne. Those who are not British often question why the Queen still matters and why one of the oldest democracies in the world still clings to ancient institutions like monarchy and hereditary rule.
There is some debate amongst parliamentarians about how much power the Queen still holds. On the record, she is a constitutional monarch, and yields no political power. However, it is still her government and the courts still administer justice in her name. She continues to open Parliament each year and after elections, the Prime Minister-elect travels to Buckingham Palace to ask permission if he or she may start a government. In her sixty years there have been twelve Prime Ministers yet she has remained above the political fray, never disclosing her personal political views. As the person in whose name government and justice is conducted the monarch must remain above politics. This allows the public and politicians the ability to criticise the government and Prime Minister without appearing to be unpatriotic. The Queen is an emblem of the United Kingdom, an enduring figure around which the entire nation can rally. But she is much more than just a symbol.
At the age of 21, six years before she was to be crowned queen, the then Princess Elizabeth spoke in South Africa dedicating her life to the service of her people. And while the sun eventually set on the British Empire, she still remains the head of state of sixteen countries including Canada and Australia, head of the Commonwealth (a grouping of former nations previously under its imperial crown), and Supreme Head of the Church of England. But most important of all, she has shepherded her realm through the waining twilight of empire to the dawn of the 21st century into what will surely be known as the modern Elizabethan Era.
She may not have led us into battle, she may not have written legislation, and she does not administer justice but she has given us her heart and a life of public service. The governments of the day come and go, yet the Queen remains, steadfast, in the promise she made to her people more than sixty years ago. Through her we are reminded of our past, of the continuity of our national story and the virtues of resilience and tolerance on which the nation was founded. The institution of monarchy which has remained fundamentally unchanged for almost a millennia is an integral part of British life. Yes, it is a different Britain than that of sixty years ago, and we often ask ourselves if monarchy and hereditary power can survive the 21st century. But as time has so carefully taught us, monarchy if practiced correctly can last another thousand years. And at the venerable age of 86, Her Majesty and the institution she represents remains firmly in the hearts of her people.
I spoke to my grandmother this week, who is now a spry 82 and as we talked about the upcoming festivities she, a proud Englishwoman, reminded me to take a moment, have some tea with friends and celebrate our Queen and her years of unparalleled duty and service. So as I, and millions others take the time to celebrate this Diamond Jubilee weekend, let all Britons reflect on the words of our national anthem, “God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen,” and may the people across across all Her Majesty’s realms and territories remember and give thanks to a woman who has so selflessly dedicated her life in the service of her people.
And as they say, God Save the Queen. -JK
For more on the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and where you can watch or take part in the festivities please visit the Official Website.