Queen Elizabeth takes her place in history as Britain’s longest serving monarch

Almost 80 per cent of Britons say the monarchy is important to their country

 

When Queen Elizabeth surpassed her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria this week to become Britain’s longest-serving monarch, she was in Scotland meeting first minister Nicola Sturgeon, a nationalist whose fervent wish is for her country to leave the United Kingdom. The encounter was emblematic of the cultural, social and geopolitical changes that have transformed Britain during the queen’s 63 years on the throne.

On one reading, it has been a period of inexorable national decline. Today’s Britain, however, is a happier place than it was in 1952, more diverse and less deferential, a nation for the most part at ease with its diminished place in the world that still punches far above its weight in the spheres of finance and the arts. Throughout all these changes, many in Britain have seen the queen as “a rock of stability”, as David Cameron put it this week.

In truth, however, she has pursued her goals of maintaining stability and national unity and safeguarding the institution of the monarchy through constant adaptation and a sometimes ruthless single-mindedness. Immediately after her accession she declared that her children would not take their father’s name Mountbatten but would remain the House of Windsor, a humiliation for Prince Philip she deemed politically necessary to retain popular support for the monarchy. Later, she allowed television cameras to show the royal family in more informal settings, a tentative embrace of celebrity culture that was taken to a more advanced level by Diana, Princess of Wales.

Bewildered by the mass public displays of grief on Diana’s death, the queen struck a discordant tone at first before, under the tutelage of Tony Blair, she forced herself into line with the popular mood. The experience ultimately helped to humanise her image as many identified with her struggle to keep up with changing mores and took a more indulgent view of her family’s sometimes disorderly personal lives. Almost 80 per cent of Britons say that the monarchy is important to their country, a tribute to the deft stewardship of Elizabeth, their longest-serving monarch.

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