The Queen & the Monarchy
Her Royal Highness
lizabethan. Georgian. Victorian. Edwardian. As the country with the most visible monarchy in the world, English eras tend to be defined by their kings and queens.
So will current monarch Elizabeth II’s reign come to be known as the second Elizabethan era? Certainly, three generations of the English have only ever known Elizabeth on the throne. As the head of the House of Windsor, she ascended to the throne in 1952 and is now the third longest serving monarch in English history, after Victoria and George III.
Of course, much has changed since the days of Victoria or George III. Today, the role of the monarchy is very much ceremonial, with Queen Elizabeth II fulfilling the role of Head of State and the Commonwealth. It means that for today’s subjects, the Queen and wider Royal Family members such as Princes Charles, William and Harry occupy a curious position in English public life, like a strangely compelling set of celebrity relatives.
Yet for all the affected apathy of many, the monarchy still has a crucial role in the way England is perceived abroad. That pageantry and ceremony, rich in romance and history, attracts tourist in their millions each year to the country (although it is also something the English are secretly as enamored with as everybody else). From the opening of parliament to the Changing of the Guard, certain of the monarch’s ceremonial roles remain among England’s biggest crowd-pleasers.
For other nations, as well as tourists, the Queen also fulfills a hugely important role. She is official head of state in 16 of the Commonwealth realms (including Canada, Australia and New Zealand), and Head of the Commonwealth of 54 nations. For these countries, this is the last link to the old British Empire of which they were members, and an important one for social and economic reasons.
The combination of the Queen’s personality, and the pomp and revelry, has done much to ensure the continued survival of the monarchy over the last 60 years. Whether a new monarch will enjoy the same position, and how the monarchy itself will evolve as a result, is the real challenge facing England’s establishment in the 21st century.