Queen Elizabeth: A symbol of stability, continuity, authority in a changing Britain

The late monarch was closely involved in public life since the end of the Second World War



By Prasun Sonwalkar

Published: Thu 8 Sep 2022, 9:59 PM

Last updated: Thu 8 Sep 2022, 11:03 PM

Queen Elizabeth, who enjoyed celebrations earlier this year of 70 years of her reign that witnessed tumultuous events across the globe, and earned wide respect and affection from world leaders, has died aged 96, marking the literal end of an era in British history.

The overwhelming majority of Britons have no memory of anyone other than Queen Elizabeth on the throne. It will be a while before they reconcile to a Britain without her. Thanks to strides in media technology, her reign has been one of the most closely recorded; her role during major and minor events projected to millions in Britain and beyond.

She acceded to the throne on February 6, 1952, but has been closely involved in public life since the end of the Second World War, offering solace and support to people in war-torn Britain during the closing years of the reign of her father, King George VI.

Not one, but several time-lapse videos would be needed to capture the timelines or the change and continuity that unfolded around Queen Elizabeth over the decades: wars, de-colonisation of the British Empire, political events, technological and other changes, and also developments in her family.

All along, she has remained a symbol of reassurance, stability and continuity.

As commentator Andrew Marr says, the Queen’s passing away puts Britain’s sense of self under question: “This is going to be the biggest shaking of all. Britain’s sense of herself is under question. The Queen is a very important part of the glue”.

The extent of history she witnessed is reflected in the number of prime ministers she appointed during her reign – 15 – and the number of US presidents she met: 14. Besides, as the head of the 54-member Commonwealth, a group comprising mainly former colonies of the British Empire that she held dear, she developed a rapport with its leaders over the decades.

The Queen’s reign has seen her travel more widely than any other monarch, meeting tens of thousands of people across the globe. Known for her sense of duty and devotion to a life of service, she has been an important figurehead for the UK and the Commonwealth during times of enormous change.

The Queen was also head of state of 15 countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several island-nations in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean.

The Queen, a constitutional monarch who remains politically neutral and whose entire persona is based on betraying no hint of her private political feelings, had a special relationship with her prime ministers. She gave a weekly audience to each prime minister, when she had a right and a duty to express her views on government matters.

The Queen became Britain’s longest reigning monarch on September 9, 2015, when she overtook her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria (Empress of India), who reigned for 63 years and seven months. But the moment of her becoming the queen at the age of 25 was not a happy one.

In February 1952, Queen Elizabeth – then Princess Elizabeth – was in a remote part of Kenya with her husband Prince Philip, when she became queen in an instant, when she received news from London of the death of her father, King George VI, who was in poor health.

First in line to the throne, she cut short the visit and returned to Britain as Queen Elizabeth, taking on all of the responsibilities which came with her new title, when Winston Churchill was the prime minister and Britain was rebuilding itself in the post-war years.

Her coronation was held in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953; at her insistence, and for the first time, it was broadcast on radio and telecast live, watched by millions in Britain and across the globe.

The Queen has since been a symbol of stability, continuity and authority in a changing Britain. Her popularity remains high, even if she does not always get a good press, mostly on issues related to members of the royal family, particularly after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

She received a unique gift from Mahatma Gandhi, when she married Prince Philip in Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947, weeks after India and Pakistan’s independence.

The story goes that Mahatma Gandhi was keen to send the Queen a gift but had given away most of his possessions. It was at the suggestion of Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was the last governor-general of India, that he sent a crocheted, cotton lace with the words ‘Jai Hind’ at the centre, created from yarn he had personally spun. But when it arrived in London in a box, key figures in the royal household were left perplexed and some thought it was “indelicate”.

Pamela Hicks, the daughter of Mountbatten and one of the then princess' bridesmaids at the wedding, wrote about it in The Daily Telegraph: “Princess Elizabeth had written me a sweet letter asking me to be one of her bridesmaids and I, of course, was honoured to accept. Before we left, my parents saw Mahatma Gandhi (the spiritual leader of the new India) and he told my father: 'I so wanted to give Princess Elizabeth a present, but I have given all my possessions away.' My father, however, knew he still had his spinning wheel and he told Gandhi: ‘If a cloth could be made from yarn you have spun, that would be like receiving the Crown Jewels.’ And so this was done and we took his present to Britain for the wedding, but Queen Mary (the Queen's grandmother) wrongly thought it was a loincloth and that it was a most ‘indelicate’ gift.”

The Queen showed the lace to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting in Buckingham Palace in April 2018.

The Queen faced several challenges during her reign, but she was also known to be a sport. She readily agreed to be part of the James Bond spoof during the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, in which the spymaster (Daniel Craig) is shown approaching her to escort her to the stadium via a helicopter.

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