Elizabeth II, 1926-2022

Elizabeth II & her husband Prince Philip at the opening of the New Zealand Parliament, 1963

Today Elizabeth II, who had reigned as the 58th monarch of England and its successor realms, died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. As this is a site dedicated to reading biographies of British monarchs, I thought it appropriate to share a few thoughts.

The first of these is the remarkable nature of her reign. Elizabeth reigned for 70 years and 214 days, a record that will never be surpassed in our lifetimes (for her son, the now-Charles III to do so, he will have to live to the age of 145). During that time, the United Kingdom has undergone considerable change, transforming from a globe-spanning empire rebuilding from the devastation of the Second World War to a nuclear-armed power coping with the consequences of its departure from the European Union. Over this she has had little say, as government today is in the hands not of the crown, but the prime ministers chosen by a majority of the members in the House of Commons. During her time on the throne Elizabeth has seen fifteen different people hold that office, with the last of them, Liz Truss, “kissing hands” with her the day before she died. In doing so, she achieved one final record, outdoing her great-great-great-grandfather, George III, by one prime minister.

Though I have yet to reach Elizabeth in my reading project, as the only person to have occupied the throne during my lifetime I am familiar with her in a way that I am with none of her predecessors. In this I am not alone, as there are entire generations who cannot remember a time when she wasn’t the queen. For me this has meant that she has shaped my understanding of modern monarchy by her example and become the metric by which I judge her remaining counterparts today and, to a degree, her predecessors. Perhaps this is unfair to the latter group, as they faced challenges that she was spared by her largely ceremonial role, but her example of what it means to be a monarch of all the people is one that is difficult to forget.

I have a long way to go until I get to her, and I have no doubt that between now and then the number of books about her life and reign will only grow larger. But when I do it will be with the appreciation of all that she has done to preserve an institution that has endured for nearly 1100 years. In these modern times that is no small achievement, and one that her successors may find difficult to emulate.

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