Princess Elizabeth shown here (fourth from left), age 11, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, after her father George VI’s coronation. The death of Elizabeth’s beloved father in 1952 propelled her onto the throne at age 25.
I have to confess I have never been what my dear departed father used to call “a corgi watcher”—someone obsessed with the royal family. Her Majesty’s views and mine, though I have sadly not as yet had the opportunity to exchange them, almost certainly diverge on issues of class and politics.
But like many Brits of my generation (I was born the year before the coronation) my life has been bookended by the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, who in 2015 entered the record books as the longest serving monarch in a thousand years of British kings and queens, eclipsing the 63 years and 216 days set by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.
In that time, she has presided over immense social and political upheavals. When she came to the throne in 1952, a svelte young woman with raven-black hair, rationing from the Second World War had only recently been lifted; the British Empire still ruled large swaths of the globe; homosexuality was a crime; divorce, a stigma; premarital sex, the exception; ethnic minorities, a rarity; sport, mostly amateur; British food, mostly inedible.
Today’s Britain—where some London schools have kids speaking more than a hundred languages, where gay marriage is legal and footballers are paid more per week than the prime minister earns in a year—is like another country. London now even has more Michelin-starred restaurants than Paris!
As 12 prime ministers and presidents came and went; as haircuts and hemlines got longer or shorter; and our faith in modernity gave way to anxiety about climate change, the queen has remained as steady as the chimes of Big Ben in honoring the vow she took at her coronation: not to rule over her people, but to serve them. Dedication to duty, constancy, and love of country are the old-fashioned virtues that have defined her reign. For 65 years, she has never faltered, never misspoken, as far as I can remember, or intentionally offended anyone; never let herself—or us—down.
Her life has not been without unhappiness. The assassination of her beloved cousin, Louis Mountbatten, by the IRA in 1979 cut a wound in her heart that took many years to heal. And it is a measure of her tenacity and fierce commitment to duty that, during an emotionally charged visit to Ireland in 2012, she shook hands with former IRA commander and current Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness.
The annus horribilis of 1992, when her children’s marriages fell apart and Windsor Castle went up in flames, saw popularity of the House of Windsor fall to its lowest ebb. When she did not immediately respond to the outpouring of grief over Princess Diana’s death, many felt that the monarchy had lost touch with its people.
Today, blessed by new great-grandchildren and future heirs, a thriving economy, and the longest period of peace in Britain’s long history, she is admired and adored, not just in Britain but around the world.
I will never be a corgi watcher. But I take my hat off to her and ask you, dear reader, to join me in a traditional British salutation: God Save the Queen!