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The Queen's Golden Jubilee.

'I AM writing, after a very fatiguing day, in the garden at Buckingham Palace, where I used to sit so often in former happy days. Fifty years to-day since I came to the Throne! God has mercifully sustained me through many great trials and sorrows'. Queen Victoria was noting this in her extensive journal on 20 June, 1887.

This month, on the sixth of February her great-great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate her own Golden Jubilee of fifty years on the throne. 'She became Queen', wrote Harold Nicholson, 'while perched in a tree in Africa watching the rhinoceros'. Actually she was watching baboons; she was in Kenya on a tour of the Empire that was on the verge of changing into a Commonwealth. It is known that the Queen also keeps a diary and one suspects she will record sentiments quite similar to the ancestor she much admires.

There are many similarities between the two Queens. They share a strong non-dogmatic Christian faith and from it flows a commitment to do their duty to their country and their people. Both were accused of neglecting their family by concentrating on their role as monarch and both placed great value on their responsibilities towards the people of the Empire or now the Commonwealth. Both had a devotion to country life and did not care for the passing fads of London life. Common sense is perhaps the greatest gift a constitutional monarch needs and both Queens have demonstrated that in their long reigns.

Yet there are also differences between the two monarchs. Elizabeth H has been remarkably fortunate in her personal life. She has enjoyed marvellous health. One need only contrast how her younger sister, Margaret, has suffered so much illness with a stroke the latest of a line of blows to hit that once glittering Princess. The Queen, on the other hand, has never given any indication of serious ill health. From her earliest days as Queen she has led a highly disciplined and regulated life conscious that hers was one 'job' that had no retirement plan. Of course even her minor ailments are rarely mentioned. Part of this comes from her old-fashioned view that one does not complain about such annoyances. The other is that news of such ailments rarely emerge. At the start of this year the correspondence from three decades before, of the Queen and the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, became available. From this emerged the details of the Queen's coming down with chicken pox in her mid-forties. She wrote to her Prim e Minister: 'It seems a ridiculous disease to catch, especially when it isn't even from one's own children! I trust by Tuesday I shall be completely free of all possible infection, but I have been told not to go amongst crowds in case of reinfection from them -- one can't win with a virus! Yours sincerely, Elizabeth R'. Her reported recent comment, 'Among my contemporaries I am reckoned to have weathered rather well', is certainly accurate.

She has had the almost unique boon of having the great emotional support of her remarkable mother throughout her fifty years on the throne. Few women of 75 -- whether royal or not -- still are blessed with a mother now in her second century. In a sense this has kept many people from noticing just how old the Queen has become.

She has also had a long and happy marriage with a husband who has skilfully managed the difficult task of being a consort. In this he has been more successful than Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, a man of immense achievements but with little ability to win affection among people in general. Prince Philip has often been controversial, but this has operated like a lightning rod deflecting criticism from the Queen herself. His constant harping in the 1950s and 1960s about Britain's need to modernise its industry and labour relations were just forerunners of what Margaret Thatcher would say and do in the 1980s or what Tony Blair usually says today.

The Queen has lived through five of decades of growing media fascination, speculation, and gossip about her and her family. Her coronation was one of the first events to be seen on millions of tiny flickering TV screens. Many people in Britain bought their first 'telly' to see the great event. The interest was worldwide; relays of tapes were flown to New York for broadcast as the age-old panoply unfolded in a rainy London.

Elizabeth II came to the throne when Britain still enjoyed a society where deference joined with self respect. Like so many of her new subjects, she was deeply influenced by the war with its sacrifices and its sense of national unity. The media believed and practised the principle that people's private lives should not be spread over every page. In the last two decades Britain has spawned some of the most despicable newspapers in the world, where press barons order their photographers to peer into everyone's life (except of course the press barons) and, if a photograph cannot be found or manufactured, there is always some gutter hack who can manipulate words. At one time the BBC was renowned for its standards and sobriety, indeed, much of its worldwide eminence sprang from its coverage of great royal events. In the last two decades the BBC has abandoned almost all standards and restraints. Sneering at the Queen has become quite fashionable among newer media types. This is particularly de rigueur on new TV cha nnels or some of the latest absurd radio stations which provide a nest for listeners and broadcasters of limited intellect. No doubt it infuriates such folk that the vast majority of British people -- and indeed many people beyond these shores -- maintain a great respect for the Queen and value all that she has done for this country. Perhaps such broadcasters are annoyed that the Queen will not come onto their tawdry programmes. Wisely, she has never given an interview or a press conference.

In 1977 the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee and both she and the nation were astounded at the fervour of the occasion with street parties up and down the land. The following decade was the start of a troublesome time for the Queen and the Royal Family. The sudden intrusion of the dazzling and ultimately tragic Princess Diana upon British life caused upheaval. The essence of the Queen's nature is that she is a woman absolutely committed to doing her duty at all times and doing it in a quiet and well ordered manner. As a religious person, she sees this duty as something given her by God. The Queen is a firm believer in the Divine Duty of Kings. Princess Diana had a much more modem notion worthy of her own 'Me generation'. She was a celebrity -- a mega-celebrity outranking even her beloved pop stars and footballers -- whose purpose in life was a series of sensations punctuated by genuine but always well photographed acts of charity.

The Queen's old-fashioned commitment to duty made her ill equipped to understand not only the spasmodic and irrational behaviour of her daughter-in-law, but also much about the marital adventures of her four children, which at times threatened to become a soap-opera. Many self-proclaimed authorities on child rearing and instant pyschology have criticised the Queen's record as a mother. They point to the fact that three out of her four children's marriages have ended in divorce. This is somewhat above the national average, although not that much different from the records of other people from famous and rich backgrounds, including several of those who offer unsolicited advice to their Queen.

Although newspapers and most people like gossiping about the lives of the Queen and the Royal Family, the Jubilee this year will properly celebrate the Queen's role as constitutional monarch. She has dealt with ten different Prime Ministers ranging from Sir Winston Churchill who was elected to Parliament in Queen Victoria's reign down to 'Tony' Blair who has known no reign but her own. It is virtually impossible to point to any major political mistake she has made in those five decades. In effect all of her ten Prime Ministers have commented on how superbly she has performed her delicate role. Her travels, as Head of the Commonwealth, to which she is so devoted, give her sources of information beyond that of national politicians. To this constant sense of duty and this wide share of knowledge, she now has added the wisdom of age and experience. She is also capable of sudden inspired acts: it was her idea to have her Guards play the 'Star Spangled Banner' in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace after the terrori st attacks in America.

Of course rumours abound about her role in government. One oft repeated nugget is that the Queen did not get on well with Margaret Thatcher. The explanation given for this is the somewhat patronising prejudice that two strong women can never agree. Thus, although Mrs Thatcher was a devoted monarchist in principle, her 'divisive' policies upset the Queen according to The Sunday Times in 1986. Yet the diary of the gossipy journalist, Woodrow Wyatt, a close friend of Mrs Thatcher, shows that the Prime Minister herself did not believe this story nor did it accord with what the Queen Mother had told Wyatt a few days before about the Queen's views. It has only recently emerged that one of Mrs Thatcher's Christmas gifts to the Queen was a pair of rubber gloves as she had noticed that the Monarch, who likes to do some washing up after private dinners at Balmoral, did not use a pair.

The essential thing about the Queen's political role is that she has been careful throughout a half century to keep her own views quiet. Indeed this was something that infuriated Wyatt when she wisely kept any conversation with him to her favourite topic, horses. It is known that she takes a deep interest in the inner workings and tactics of the game of politics and that she observes the comings and goings of politicians with the same fascination she has for race horses. The former Labour Foreign Secretary, David Owen, recently observed that the Queen's decency and sense of fair play served as a strong barrier to any Minister or Prime Minister who hoped to get away with a sordid act. Her general principles are well known and she speaks of them frequently, particularly in her Christmas broadcast each year. Last year's broadcast -- her fiftieth -- was arguably the best. Here in a five minute speech centred round the terrorist attacks of 11 September, she stressed themes heard in virtually each of her earlier a ddresses: the importance of religion, the valuable role played by the countless people who do voluntary work and the need for tolerance. One of the many benefits of the British monarchy is the way that the Queen and the Royal Family support and encourage the people who do all sorts of voluntary work in their local communities. It is this sort of people and not rootless metropolitan babblers who value and indeed venerate the Queen.

There are two central pillars of the Queen's attitude towards life. The first is her deep Christian faith. She is a committed Anglican, a devout member of the Church of which she is the 'Supreme Governor'. Unlike her mother, her sister or her son and heir, she has avoided identification with any particular party in the Church of England. Throughout her reign she has shown a great regard for all the other Christian churches in her kingdoms. This was symbolised at her Coronation by including a hymn closely identified with the Nonconformist tradition. In recent years she has made many gestures towards the growing importance of Catholicism in Britain (two of the three principal party leaders are now Catholic while the third, the Prime Minister, is married to a Catholic). She has evidently enjoyed several meetings with the Pope; the lonely life-long eminence of their positions must give them a fellow feeling. She is said to have told her staff: 'I have met a lot of my Popes in my time'. Only last month she broke new ground by inviting the current English Cardinal to conduct a service and preach at her private retreat of Sandringham.

The second pillar of her life was her own radiant relationship with her parents. Never in history was the British Royal Family smaller or more united than it was in her father's reign from 1936 to 1952. 'We four' was the term King George VI often used and this evidently happy family established a bond with their people during the war that has never been equalled. George VI had succeeded his abdicated brother Edward VIII, a sort of male Diana, another selfish and not very bright celebrity who varied his weary rounds of pleasure and moaning with an occasional kindly gesture. The early death of George VI in his mid-fifties brought his daughter to the throne at the early age of 26. If her beloved father could have lived for another two decades the Queen would have had the opportunity to raise her children away from the ceaseless glare of publicity and with more time to devote to them.

Although the Queen's Golden Jubilee actually occurs in February, the main celebrations are postponed till June. Officially this is because of the uncertain weather. A far better reason for the Queen and the Queen Mother is that February also marks the death of an outstanding King and a devoted husband and father. For them celebration of her achievement is always mingled with recollections of their loss.

Among the many ways Britain has been different from the continent has been not only the number but the eminence of female Sovereigns. Some monarchies like the French never permitted a reigning Queen, others like the Austrian or Russian only allowed the rare and wise exception. Yet Churchill in his majestic prose proclaimed in his radio broadcast on George VI's death: 'Famous have been the reigns of our Queens. Some of the greatest periods in our history have unfolded under their sceptre'. Elizabeth I and Victoria gave their stamp to ages celebrated not only in political achievements but cultural richness.

There was a hope when the young Queen came to the throne in 1952 that, in the words of her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, Britain would enjoy, 'a second Elizabethan Age'. It is too early to tell what cultural achievements of the reign will last into later ages, probably very few. While many works of distinction have been produced, the arts in general have lacked the sense of nobility or beauty that marked the Elizabethan or Victorian eras. Music has been dominated by banal pop rhythm, architecture by ugly concrete slabs and literature almost overwhelmed by self-indulgent wallowing in filth.

The Queen has been criticised -- and not just by her perpetual critics -- for providing little royal patronage compared with some of her ancestors. Although she lacks any conspicuous personal ability in the arts comparable to Queen Victoria's skill at art (inherited by both Prince Philip and Prince Charles), she has been assiduous in her stewardship of the world's greatest private collection of art and the glorious array of royal residences. She has been constantly concerned that these treasures be seen by as many people as possible, not only in galleries but on such memorable series as Royal Heritage, a stunning product of the BBC in its pre-'dumbing down' days, when it too regarded itself as a trustee of British culture.

For five decades Elizabeth H has given an example of fidelity and duty to her people. When democracies such as France and the United Sates have been disgraced by the antics of arrogant and immoral elected heads of state such as Mitterrand or Clinton, Britain has enjoyed a fifty year reign marked by dignity, decency and duty. For half a century the Queen has graced the throne of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and her other dominions as well as performing her duties throughout the Commonwealth, to which she is so devoted.

We hope to have a series of articles in Contemporary Review throughout the coming year assessing the changes that have occurred in her reign. Now at the actual anniversary of her accession to the throne we gladly add our voices to those who send:
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Author:Mullen, Richard
Publication:Contemporary Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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