I just spent 10 days in England, and the whole country is decked out in Union Jacks, the flag of the British Isles, and “bunting,” what the British call long streamers of small flags.
The excitement is due to the forthcoming diamond jubilee of the Queen Elizabeth II to mark her 60th year as queen. The jubilee will be celebrated Saturday-Tuesday with a four-day weekend of public holidays.
Elizabeth II acceded to the throne in 1952 and is only the second queen to achieve a 60-year reign. Queen Victoria reached this milestone in 1897 and is the only British monarch, male or female, to have reigned longer than our present queen. If Elizabeth II makes it until September 2015 — as I hope she does — she will be the longest-reigning monarch in Britain’s long history.
There is a great deal of affection and respect for the queen, not just in the United Kingdom but across the world. As head of the Commonwealth, she has an important symbolic and unifying international role and has visited 52 of the Commonwealth’s 54 independent states. The Commonwealth consists mainly of former British colonies, with America’s northern neighbor Canada being one of its founding members in 1931.
Elizabeth II was born on April 21, 1926, but did not know that she would be queen until she was 11 years old when, in 1937, her uncle Edward VIII abdicated his throne to be with Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee he loved. The line of succession moved to his younger brother, who became King George VI, the father of Elizabeth. She had no brothers who would have taken precedence over any female heirs in the British tradition, so she became queen when her father died in 1952. She was just 26 years old.
Her coronation took place the following year, and this service has changed little since Edgar was crowned King in 973. This solemn and beautiful ceremony has four parts: recognition, oath, investiture and homage. The coronation is sometimes called “the hallowing,” which means to make holy or to consecrate.
One of the queen’s many titles is “Defender of the Faith” as she heads the Church of England. Elizabeth II often has made her personal Christian faith clear to everybody, and appropriately, there will be a jubilee thanksgiving service Tuesday in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Of course, one of the main areas of speculation around the celebratory weekend is the British weather. Now you may think that a festival in early June is bound to have pleasant conditions, but I have just been reminded about the truth of the British summer. During my trip, high temperatures usually were 50 degrees. I only saw the sun twice and experienced sleet and cold, drizzling rain.
The most important day for the weather to cooperate is Sunday, June 3 — the day of the jubilee flotilla on the River Thames in London. This water-based pageant harks back to ancient times when the reigning monarchs, dressed in their finery, would proceed by barge to enable their people to see them and to confirm that they were still alive, well and prospering.
With 1,000 boats and 20,000 people taking part in the weekend’s 21st century flotilla, the procession will be seven miles long and take more than an hour to pass. Up to a million people are expected to congregate in London to see the flotilla and many millions more will watch around the world.
The queen’s royal barge, called the “Spirit of Chartwell,” will be decorated with a special banner. This red velvet flag has been decorated with more than half a million gold-colored buttons and tassels. The names of past monarchs and the dates of their coronations have been sewn around the edges.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip — her royal consort and husband of 65 years — will be joined on the barge by Prince William and Princess Catherine, the prince of Wales and duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Harry.
One of the things that struck me during my trip to England was that capitalism is alive and well, as most stores appeared to be selling patriotic souvenirs like mugs, tea towels, chocolates and a range of pet accessories. One of the few things I have in common with the queen is our love of dogs. She is devoted to the Welsh breed of corgis (which means dwarf dog in Welsh) and also has a few dorgis, which is a cross between a corgi and a dachshund. Seeing these dogs on British TV last week made me homesick for my own dogs, my husband and, of course, beautiful and blissfully warm Coastal Georgia.
God bless America, and as we say in the British Isles, God save the queen!
Contact Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.