The passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, has left the world in shock. For many generations, The Queen was the only monarch they had ever known, a constant source of resolve who lived a life of extraordinary dedication and service.
As the newly appointed English prime minister Liz Truss said: “It is the passing of the second Elizabethan age. The Queen was the rock on which modern Britain was built.”
The Queen’s reign covered a period of huge social, economic, technological and political change, moving from a global British Empire into a Commonwealth of 52 independent nations and marking the country’s entrance into and exit from the European Union. 15 prime ministers served under The Queen - from Winston Churchill on her coronation in 1952 to Liz Truss, who was sworn in just two days before The Queen’s death.
More than a globally respected figurehead, however, The Queen was the maternal leader of the Windsor family… A mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who shepherded her family through many seismic personal events in the full view of the public eye.
The Royal Family in 2012
“Monarchs throughout history have faced challenges and change, but never have they done so amid such public glare,” said Dr Judith Rowbotham, visiting specialist at the University of Plymouth and author of The Windsor Dynasty: 1910 To The Present.
From an early age, The Queen’s unofficial motto was “Never complain, never explain”. An ethos that defined her staunch dedication to her duties, even if it did incur the ire of the public during some particularly traumatic times – not least the Aberfan disaster in 1966 and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997.
However, having reigned in an age that both respected the achievements and traditions of the past and welcomed the possibilities of the future, The Queen was able to embrace the opportunity to evolve and grow.
While acknowledging royal protocol, the press and public admonished The Queen for five days of silence following the passing of Diana. But her eventual words on the eve of the Princess’ funeral helped to heal a mourning nation.
“She was an exceptional and gifted human being and devoted mother,” said The Queen. “No one who knew Diana will ever forget her. Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her. I for one believe there are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death. I share in your determination to cherish her memory.”
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Indeed, The Queen demonstrated that willingness to learn a generation later in welcoming the November, 2017, engagement and May, 2018, marriage of Diana’s son Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, a divorced American actress – an act made all the more remarkable considering The Queen was the niece of a king who abdicated his throne so that he could marry an American divorcee.
It was this ability to adapt and having learned from the lessons of the past when it came to public perception (a candid 1969 BBC documentary, Royal Family, was badly received by public and Windsors alike) that The Queen was able to preside over family tragedies and scandals with grace and dignity.
“Like all the best families, we have our share of eccentricities, of impetuous and wayward youngsters and of family disagreements,” she famously said in 1989.
Queen Elizabeth II and her son, Charles, Prince Of Wales
In 1992 (the famed Annus Horribilis in which she was also pelted with eggs by protestors on a visit to Dresden in Germany and witnessed extensive fire damage to one of her official residences Windsor Castle), the marriages of three of her children collapsed. Her son Prince Andrew divorced Sarah Ferguson, he daughter Princess Anne divorced Captain Mark Phillips and Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated following revelations about the Prince Of Wales’ affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles.
“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” The Queen said. “In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis. I suspect that I am not alone in thinking it so.”
The subsequent death of Diana, accusations of sexual misconduct against Prince Andrew and the decision by grandson Prince Harry to live a more private life with his wife and children, led to yet more newspaper headlines.
But, in spite of increasing challenges within the family and rising republican sentiments, The Queen always remained above gossip and reproach, with her personal popularity remaining high throughout her reign.
“I’ve spoken more to my grandmother in the last year than I have done for many, many years,” Prince Harry said in the wake of his decision to step away from royal duties, adding that because of her adaptability and resolve they were able to reach “An understanding” since his royal exit.
In memorium, Picadilly Circus, London, 2022
“Over recent years, there have been some interesting developments within the family, with the Prince Of Wales taking on more royal duties and indicating that he may want a slimmed-down royal family to perform those when he becomes King,” said Dr Rowbotham. “We have also seen the younger royals – especially Prince William – becoming more outspoken on a number of issues, and all that is undoubtedly an attempt to establish a smooth period of transition.
“What is also evident is that the present dynasty does not take its royal status for granted and learns from the mistakes of the past. It is something that has seen them enhance their popularity in recent years.”
Of her own accomplishments, The Queen remained typically reserved throughout her reign. “I know of no single formula for success,” The Queen said in a speech before the United Nations in 2010. “But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”