Long Lived Our Platinum Queen

Many will find the idea of King Charles III a difficult notion to accept at first, not for reasons of personal disdain (although some will find his green ratbaggery, should it continue to be given public voice, a barrier to affection) but because Queen Elizabeth II reigned so long and was part of so many lives. In Quadrant’s February issue, Mark McGinness marked those 70 remarkable years with a tribute to an equally remarkable woman. That appreciation is reproduced below. — rf

On February 6, bells rang from churches throughout Queen Elizabeth II’s united kingdom; a forty-one-gun salute at midday disturbed the peace of Hyde Park in London, with a further twenty-one guns in Windsor Great Park and sixty-two guns at the Tower of London to mark her seven decades as sovereign. It is already six and a half years since she broke the record of the longest reign by a British monarch formerly held by Queen Victoria (sixty-three years and 215 days). Of course, this Queen wanted no fuss on the day—the anniversary of her accession is an unavoidable reminder of the early death of her beloved father. So it was business as usual. 

On the evening of February 5, 1952, at Tree Tops Hotel in the heart of the Kenyan forest, when Elizabeth Windsor climbed a mgugu tree as a princess and the following morning came down as a queen. She and Prince Philip were in Kenya en route to Australia. On February 6, she was watching the sun rise from a platform in the trees as an eagle soared above them—it was thought that, at that moment, George VI died in his sleep at Sandringham.

A day later, the twenty-five-year-old monarch arrived in London, dressed in black, and descended the stairs of her plane to be greeted by Prime Minister Churchill, who had served as a soldier in the reign of her great-great grandmother, Victoria. Her youth and composure prompted hopes of a new era—a second Elizabethan Age. Interestingly, a tree featured in the accession of Elizabeth I too. The first Elizabeth, also twenty-five, sat beneath an oak at Hatfield, and when told she was queen, replied, “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”

Elizabeth II’s longevity and constitution, reminiscent of her remarkable mother, continue to amaze. She is now the longest reigning monarch on earth. Later this year she will beat King Bhumibol’s reign in Thailand (from 1946 to 2016). The next to beat is Louis XIV, who ruled from 1643 to 1715 (seventy-two years and 110 days).

While contemplating the Sun King, it was said of Queen Victoria and her son (eventually Edward VII), “The Queen continues to reign, and reign and won’t let the son shine.” It might be said of her great-great granddaughter, Elizabeth, “The Queen continues to shine, and shine and won’t let the son reign.” But if one looks right back to 1947, it is not difficult to see why she feels bound to retain the reins and make her septuagenarian son wait a bit longer. Again in Africa, the Princess had spoken from the heart on her twenty-first birthday, four years before she succeeded. “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” Seven decades on, it is universally agreed that Elizabeth has been true to her word.

She has spent most of her 25,568 days doing her duty. She welcomed the Ceausescus as house guests to Buckingham Palace; she has shaken the hand of Martin McGuinness; hosted Paul Keating to a barbecue at Balmoral; listened to Margaret Thatcher once a week for eleven and a half years; and even held hands with Tony Blair under the Dome to mark the new Millennium. This monarch has been a slave to duty.

While she sounded so certain and determined in 1947, Elizabeth’s destiny had only dawned in December 1936, when her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, hoisting Elizabeth’s hesitant, apprehensive father onto the throne. When a footman brought the news to the young princesses that their beloved papa was king, Margaret asked, “Does that mean you will have to be the next queen?” “Yes, someday,” Elizabeth replied. “Poor you,” countered Margaret. Biographers claim that every night thereafter Elizabeth prayed for a brother.

That prayer was not answered but she was able to marry, in 1947, Philip Mountbatten (born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark) the man she had fallen in love with at thirteen. When asked what his job was, Philip always answered, “to support the Queen” and, for all his gaffes and restlessness, he too was true to his word.

DESPITE the hopes, it was never to be a New Elizabethan Age. The fabric of Britain was still rent by the Second World War and as it recovered, Europe emerged and the empire crumbled. But what arose from the remnants of the empire was the Commonwealth, and its survival, against extraordinary odds, is one of the Queen’s greatest achievements.

To keep that widespread family connected, she travelled. In fact, no one has travelled as far, so often and for so long—from her first trip abroad with her parents in 1947 to her last—to Malta in October 2016.

The Commonwealth has, against all odds, survived prime ministerial sackings, Fijian coups and Ugandan and Zimbabwean dictators. It is sixty-eight years since her first Commonwealth tour as Queen, including, still memorably, to Australia. It is said that three-quarters of the country’s population of 9 million saw the Queen in 1954. She visited seventy towns in fifty-eight days. It must have been hell.

Revisionists delight in replaying then-prime minister Robert Menzies’s paean to his sovereign at Parliament House in 1963: “I did but see her passing by, and yet I love her till I die.” But the Opposition Leader, Bert Evatt, was just as warm in his address. They were simply reflecting the national mood. The country was mad for the Queen and Duke.

One can expect a tribute from her fifteenth Australian prime minister, who was born sixteen years into the Queen’s reign. Any hope of Menzian lyric or Whitlamesque wit is bound to be dashed, but one would hope it might be more eloquent than Mr Morrison’s “You were quite the hit” when he was received by the Queen at Windsor last year.

It is remarkable that Elizabeth remains Queen of Australia. Prince Philip could not believe the outcome of the referendum in 1999. On hearing the result, he reportedly burst out, with characteristic bluntness, “What’s the matter with these people? Can’t they see what’s good for them?” No one could deny that the personal qualities of the Queen—her steadfastness, sagacity and discretion—played a part in the plebiscite’s defeat, but also to blame was the model offered as a replacement. The alternative was a president appointed by parliament. But many republicans wanted an elected president. Had that been the option in 1999, we might have already lived through the presidencies of Dick Smith and Eddie McGuire.

In her seventy years on the Australian throne, our sovereign has visited sixteen times—an average of once every four years. Considering the breadth of her realms, it has been an Olympian effort. But is a time-share monarchy enough? Her Majesty’s life is a British one—she must have spent eighty of her ninety-five years in England and Scotland. Her family, in particular her heirs, have visited Australia regularly and kept the flame alive. The Prince of Wales’s affection for the country that (it has been said) made a man of him is genuine and undimmed.

The only unsettling issue has been to see his (otherwise model) son and heir, Prince William, attend the Rugby World Cup unabashedly supporting Wales. Of course, as their Patron, he was no doubt obliged to do so. Now his peerless consort, Catherine, has been appointed Patron of English Rugby.

Many may say, “Well, after all, it’s only sport”, but these primal skirmishes underline the fragility of multiple sovereignty. Perhaps TRHs should be advised not to accept these divisive patronages; they highlight the competing loyalties inherent in the model we have. William and Catherine are, after all, destined to be King and Queen of Australia too. With a shrinking royal family, surely they have sufficient causes and endeavours to patronise? 

These slight cracks can be fixed and, in any case, while they might make one question the system, they do not reflect on our reigning monarch. May she live at least long enough to congratulate herself on her hundredth birthday.

Mark McGinness is a frequent contributor and a long-time observer of the royal family

16 thoughts on “Long Lived Our Platinum Queen

  • rosross says:

    The Queen performed her role with grace, style, integrity and class. Charles may well do the same. He has come in for some unfair criticism which fails to take into account that his mother became Queen in her mid Twenties and he has been the heir in waiting for 74 years. It does make a difference.

    If he has at times spoken out of turn it is because he was not the monarch. As to his ideas, not everyone considers his investment in organic agriculture and holistic health to be crazy, in fact quite the opposite. And there is no doubt his views on some modern architecture have resonated with many. No-one gets it all right.

    Queen Elizabeth II is a hard act to follow but King Charles III should be given a chance to try. I am no monarchist but I respect the value of the monarchy to the British people even as I see a Republic for Australia, when we can sort out the detail, to be inevitable.

  • Stephen Due says:

    Many generations of Australians sang ‘God Save the Queen’ on important occasions. Now it will be ‘God Save the King’ – or would be, as presumably we will not be singing it, since we now have ‘Advance Australia Fair’ (in true modern style, the new anthem is all about ‘us’).
    When, as children, we went to the pictures in the 1950s, the tune of “God Save the Queen” was played before the show started. We all stood to attention, proudly. Those were the days!

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Prince Charles was indulged for too long and should have pulled his head in some years ago. His association with Klaus Schwab and the WEF is most unfortunate. As an aside, I see Schwab as Ernst Blofeld playing Mustapha Mond in the 2022 production of Brave New World. The WEF is the antithesis of the concept of national sovereignty which Charles is duty bound to uphold.

    That said, Edward VII, as Prince of Wales was a rake and reputedly despised by his mother. And yet, by all accounts, he became a very effective King.

    I see no reason why Charles should not do the same.

  • Sindri says:

    “But many republicans wanted an elected president. Had that been the option in 1999, we might have already lived through the presidencies of Dick Smith and Eddie McGuire.”
    That’s not the worst of it (though I can think of many candidates less worthy than Dick Smith, who at least loves the country and has a record of achievement). But you’ve pointed up the catastrophic and obvious problems with simply transferring the powers of the GG to a popularly-elected president.
    The GG, like the queen, has immense powers: commissioning and decommisioning ministers, signing the Parliament’s legislation into law (it doesn’t become law otherwise), commanding the armed forces . . not to mention all the reserve powers. But the GG only exercises these enormous powers on the advice of the executive government. The closest the GG gets to independent action is ensuring himself that the person wanting to be commissioned as PM has the support of the lower House. The GG (and the queen) adhere to convention and don’t go off on frolics of their own because they have no popular legitimacy. It would be outrageous for the GG to decide that he didn’t like a piece of legislation passed by the Parliament (elected by the people) and refuse to assent to it on that basis.
    Let’s say we have a popularly elected President – some attention seeker who competes with other candidates and inevitably comes up with some sort of platform with popular appeal. He or she, on being duly elected, instantly has popular legitimacy. Can you imagine the paralysis that would set in when the popularly elected government passes a highly controversial piece of legislation, and a main-chancing President is opposed to it and refuses to assent to it? Improbable? I don’t think so. Imagine Peter Garrett or Eddie Maguire in that position, or Dick Smith for that matter – with popular legitimacy behind them.
    These problems are not insuperable of course. There are a number of countries that have elected figurehead presidents, I can immediately think of Germany or Ireland or Iceland, where the system works well enough. They even manage to elect some dignified people sometimes, who really do seem to want merely to serve. But they have closely defined, narrow powers – they do not have the enormous powers of the queen or the GG.
    My point is a simple one: if we are to have an elected president, there must be careful and considered changes made to the Constitution, so that the President does not become an alternative power centre to the Parliament. That process can’t be rushed. Or alternatively, if you want a true executive President, like in the US or France, you will have to change the Constitution even more radically.
    It’s astounding that these issues don’t get more of an airing. I for one wouldn’t even contemplate a change to our stable, reliable system of government until these issues had been the subject of mature, rational consideration.

    • Sindri says:

      And I’m wrong of course about Germany, where a specially-convened Convention that broadly mirrors Parliamentary representation elects the President – but that just proves my point.

      • rosross says:

        Well said Sindri. I think many Australians thought twice about it all after the Referendum. Replacing the monarchy is not simple and requires much thought and planning.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    I see no reason to change our current system, and several compelling reasons not to do so. It’s hard to gauge at the moment how much support there is for either of the two most obvious competing alternative means of selecting a President – popular election or appointment by Parliament.
    With all due respect to our resident republicans, pace rosross, my own measure is to judge by the prominent supporters. All other considerations aside, I find it virtually impossible to support or even take seriously anything proposed or supported by the likes of Peter FitzSimons and Malcolm Turnbull.
    I saw a story somewhere this morning where the media is wondering if Charles will prove to be more attuned to modern society than his mother. They evidently like him because they agree with his (to me, wildly inappropriate) statements on environmental issues. If he continues in that mode, the Monarchy will not survive.

    • lbloveday says:

      Doubting Thomas wrote: “…his (to me, wildly inappropriate) statements on environmental issues..”
      My comment to The Daily Telegraph, REJECTED of course:
      “Once branded a crackpot ….,,,,”

      “Once”? Most I’ve discussed him with still consider him a crackpot.

  • Sindri says:

    Thanks Rosross.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    I agree, Doubting Thomas, if Charles the Third joins with the left in obviously unconstitutional preferential ways then the Monarchy is what we used to call ‘a goner’. Thus far, on his first day, he with obvious sadness but with great clarity renounced all of his previous activities and commitments that conflicted with his role as an apolitical Monarch. Now we just have to see how that pans out.
    Charles does not lack goodwill nor the best of intentions. But the road to hell is paved with the latter, so let’s hope he can keep goodwill prominent and his intentions to himself.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Sindri, I am in no rush to change the Constitution, especially considering the way The Voice is pushing forward on this matter. I would like the zeitgeist to become one of great wariness about any Constitutional change whatsoever. It’s not broke, so why try to ‘fix’ it, given the chaos surrounding Western polities currently and the civilizational collapse of the West now looming?

    • Sindri says:

      Elizabeth, I agree with you and Rosross on this. Constitutional change, if it occurs at all, should only occur after the most careful, mature and even sceptical consideration of the benefits, issues and consequences.
      I’m not offering a view on whether Australia should or should not be a republic. If there is to be change, however, I do not want some half-baked, rushed arrangement that is inferior to the system we have now – like the 1999 plan was. One of its proposals, as I recall, was that the PM could simply sack the President by notice. I’m not sure that there was a widespread appreciation of just how profound a constitutional change that was, and frankly how childish and ill-thought out it was as well.

      • Sindri says:

        And to return to my earlier bleat, and to adapt Groucho Marx, I’m not sure I would want to vote for anyone who put themselves forward in a contested election for election for a figurehead President. It seems to work in some other countries, but in Australia, there’s this unworthy suspicion that attention-seekers and main-chancers will be to the fore: President Hinch, President Maguire, President Hadley, you name it

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Our Wonderful Queen now has gone and it’s time for her eldest son Charles to throw off his old self and become a good, apolitical, King Charles the Third.
    I’ve always thought he has what it takes to be a good King…. so long as he puts all the controversial stuff behind him and I’m thinking mainly of his foolish support for the so obviously politicised climate change scam, and if he’s fallen under the influence of Klaus Schwab and the WEF then very definitely he should be doing a classic Henry V on them too. “Presume not that I am the thing I was ; For God doth know, so shall the world perceive, That I have turned away my former self ; So will I those that have kept me company.”
    Can he do it, of course he can….if he wants to or has a mind to, but he’d need support around him and if they’re of the same ilk as the Schwabs of this world he may not want to or have a mind to, but he has plenty of good will….at least from me anyway.

  • Brian Boru says:

    I find myself in agreement with most of the above comments. My only criticism, in order to promote the spirit of equality is that Ita Buttrose has not been mentioned as a potential President.

  • richard.white says:

    Dear Editor,
    As you say, her passing will inevitably see a renewed push for Australia to become a republic, but it would seem to me to be an impossibility without the breaking-up of Australia.
    I find it hard to comprehend Australia becoming a republic comprising 6 constituent States each with a Governor representing the Crown so presumably all six States would have to agree to repudiate a connection with the monarchy. But what would be the result if, say, 1 (or more) State(s) continued to swear allegiance to the Crown? Presumably Australia would have to break up into 2 or more independent countries.
    Has anyone thought this through?
    Perhaps someone could get in touch with that bloke who wears the red bandana.

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