Starting with the first words of her official title: “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.”
Elizabeth the Second
Known as “Gloriana” (“I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king”) ruled during England’s Golden Age more than 400 years ago.
Her navy defeated the mighty Spanish Armada. Shakespeare wrote for her court. Her favourite pirate, Francis Drake, sailed around the globe foreshadowing what would become the British Empire — greatest colonial power in all history, once home to four out of five of the world’s people — and eventually the Commonwealth of Nations.
By contrast, 18 monarchs after Elizabeth I, Elizabeth II presided over the breakup of what remained of the British Empire.
This Elizabeth is the latest in a long line of 40 English monarchs starting with William the Conqueror (delightfully known as William the Bastard) in 1066, stretching back more than 1,000 years. It’s a magnificent mixture of warriors, saints, heroes, non-entities, rogues, villains, murderers and assorted crazies.
This Elizabeth, like her predecessor, grew up pampered, coddled, confident, regal and very aware of her royal blood. When she enters the room everyone stands. Men bow, women curtsey and the band plays her very own song, “God Save The Queen”.
All her life she’s lived in a fantasyland — a prisoner of her wealth (she’s one of the world’s richest women), her awesome titles, fawning courtiers, flattering sycophants, obsequious servants and toadying public relations flacks.
More than 200 butlers, cooks and cleaning staff work in the royal household, which means she’s had almost no contact with reality during her 86 years. She’s never had to make her own bed, cook her own food, run for a bus or worry about retirement. As a result, she has little idea how her commoner subjects actually live, think, or behave. She doesn’t know how they struggle to succeed, or merely survive.
Imprisoned in her golden cage, reigning but not ruling, Elizabeth has always been treated as a sort of living god.
By all accounts, her air of studied gravitas and royal noblesse oblige isn’t something she puts on for public occasions and takes off in private. It’s permanent. She’s never an egalitarian let’s-forget-I’m-your-Queen-for-a-while sort of woman. In fact, a friend is quoted as saying flatly:
“She is never — you know — not the Queen.”
Her friends are almost all family members, other aristocrats or horse-racing grandees.
She keeps a herd of Pembroke corgis, breeds and races splendid thoroughbred horses. She once remarked:
“I should like to be a horse.”
Critics blame her for personifying and perpetuating the notorious British class system which, to this day, divides Britons by accent, education, social standing and prospects.
Elizabeth’s dysfunctional family’s various, voracious marital and sexual exploits have given her considerable grief. Many of her closest relatives, including three of her four children, have divorced. Her late sister, Princess Margaret (a divorcée), was denounced in Parliament as “a royal parasite” and “floozy.”
By all accounts she loves her husband (and distant cousin) Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, despite his notoriously arrogant, cantankerous personality and often offensive public remarks. He’s reputed to have had numerous affairs during their 65 years of marriage, while she has undoubtedly been faithful to her wedding vows.
Her grandsons, William (the heir to the heir) and Harry (the spare to the heir to the heir), have long been tabloid celebrities. Still, after enthusiastically sowing the traditional royal oats with sublime droit de seigneur, they do seem to be finally growing up.
William even got married and brought his bride to Canada for their rather less-than-romantic honeymoon. At least to date, he’s shown no public sign of stepping outside the matrimonial bedroom or doing anything more than usually outrageous for a royal.
In spite of her age, great wealth, portentous titles, and regal status, Elizabeth is extraordinarily hard working. She explains simply:
“I have to be seen to be believed.”
To that end she has at least one official engagement almost every day, is patron of more than 620 charities and similar organizations, has conferred some 404,500 honours and awards, and made more than 260 official overseas visits to 116 different countries.
She’s visited Canada 25 times — more than any of her other realms and territories except the United Kingdom, where she lives.
In this, her Diamond Jubilee year, she’s making an exhaustive and exhausting tour of the United Kingdom by road, rail, air and sea, visiting 52 cities, towns and villages along the way.
So why and how does she keep up such a strenuous schedule? She once explained with becoming modesty:
“It’s all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you’re properly trained.”
In Part 3, Knight explores Elizabeth’s next two titles: “…By the Grace of God…” and “…Of the United Kingdom…”
For Part 4, he’ll explore the “…Canada…” part of her title.
This article was originally published on the Huffington Post on May 29, 2012: Queen Elizabeth, Out of Touch
This series was adapted from Knight’s proposal for a multi-part TV series on the Queen now in pre-production, seeking sponsors. It will examine her role in each of the 16 nations over which she reigns.