Last week marked a momentous occasion for the British monarchy.
History was made when Queen Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning United Kingdom monarch. She took the throne at the age of 25 after the death of her father, King George VI, on Feb. 6, 1952.
At 89 years of age, Elizabeth II has now reigned for 63 years and seven months, beating the record of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who became queen at the age of 18. She celebrated the day in Scotland, where she spends time at her Balmoral royal estate every summer.
According to BBC reporters (www.bbc.com), this has been a busy week for her:
• The queen and Prince Philip took a steam train from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, where she formally opened the new Scottish Borders Railway.
• In London, a flotilla of historic vessels, leisure cruisers and passenger boats took part in a huge procession along the Thames River, with the warship HMS Belfast sounding a four-gun salute.
• Business in the House of Commons was postponed so that members of Parliament, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, could pay tribute to the queen.
• The government presented the queen with a bound copy of cabinet papers from a meeting in 1952 when Sir Winston Churchill’s government approved the content of her first queen’s speech.
When I was growing up in England, the royal family and queen were always a daily part of the fabric of the nation. I clearly remember her silver jubilee (25 years on the throne) in 1977 — with street parties and parades all over the country. Of course, her golden jubilee (50 years) in 2002 is also clear in my memory with the globally televised classical- and rock-music concerts at Buckingham Palace, along with services of thanksgiving and the lighting of beacons across the land. I must also confess to a certain wistfulness when I missed the celebrations for her diamond (60th) jubilee three years ago, as I had moved to the USA by then.
The genuine outpouring of affection for the queen is remarkable. It has been noted by many commentators how well the royal family have survived the difficulties of the 1990s when the queen’s elder sons divorced their wives (which was unheard of in royal circles) and then, of course, the tragic death of Princess Diana.
There has been a great deal written about Queen Elizabeth, but here are a few interesting facts (there is a lot more information at www.biography.com):
• Like Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth did not initially expect to be monarch as her father was the second son. Her uncle became King Edward VIII in 1936, but he was in love with American divorcee Wallis Simpson and had to choose whether to give up his love or his throne, and he chose love. Therefore, Elizabeth’s father, Prince Albert, became King George VI later in 1936 when Elizabeth was 10 years old, and as he had no sons, only two daughters, it became clear she would be queen. Until a few years ago, the UK had male-preference “primogeniture rules” — or to put it more simply, the eldest boy became king even if the firstborn royal child was a girl — queens were allowed to reign only if no males were available.
• Elizabeth met future husband Philip Mountbatten of Greece in 1939 when she was only 13, and they married in 1947, going on to have four children and what seems to be an amazingly strong 68-year (and counting) marriage.
• She survived two frightening attacks in the early 1980s. She was shot at during a formal military parade called the Trooping of the Colour, and another time, an intruder managed to avoid security and get inside her bedroom at Buckingham Palace. It is understood that security around the queen has much improved since this time!
I will leave you with a short quote from the lady herself. Queen Elizabeth — who by all accounts passed this historic landmark with modesty, humility and good grace — said last week, “A long life can pass by many milestones. My own is no exception.”
God bless America (and her majesty, the queen)!
Email Francis at email@example.com or go to www.lesleyfrancispr.com.