Thursday, April 23, 2020

Queen Elizabeth II is 94

My Mother, a staunch Anglophile, would have been 100 this year.  On April 21, a woman she very much admired, Queen Elizabeth II, became 94.   Queen Elizabeth II has had the longest reign of any English monarch.  A few years ago, she also became the world's oldest living head of state.

I can trace my own love of English history back to the year of 1952, the year Elizabeth came to the throne. My parents subscribed to the Sunday New York Times. That early morning car trip to the drug store to pick up the paper with my Dad, into the picturesque lakeside town of Skaneateles, NY., was part of our weekly routine.  I went along to ogle little china animals that were for sale there and to attempt to wheedle a candy bar out of Daddy before he'd picked up the paper. 

My Uncle Leo, Aunt Judy, myself & my Dad, 1952

As the coronation approached, The NY Times was full of historical pieces about the royal families who had preceded the Windsors. There were images of the many monarchs who were her predecessors, and lots of snippets about the famous and the infamous.  I was a voracious reader and sufficiently interested in the historical background they were printing to not only read, but scissor out and paste into a scrapbook I'd begun, everything I could find pertaining to the royals and the coming coronation.

Anne Boleyn

Of course, the tales of Henry VIII and his doomed Queen Anne Boleyn, made for exciting reading, as did the stories of their daughter,  Elizabeth I. The first Elizabeth, I learned, had almost as many lives as a cat as she survived various plots to dispose of her during the reigns of her half-brother, Edward VI, and her half-sister, Queen Mary. The later was the most dangerous enemy, because Mary's mother had been dispossessed of both husband and crown by Anne Boleyn.  It wasn't long after that I was cutting my historical novel teeth on "Young Bess," "Elizabeth, Captive Princess," and "Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain" by Margaret Irwin, one of my favorite writers. 

Three images of the first Queen Elizabeth

The Second World War was only seven years distant in 1952. My Mom was very proud of the way the English royal family had comported themselves during the German bombing campaign. At one point, after Buckingham Palace was bombed, it was suggested that the Queen Mother and her two daughters should leave England for the safer Canada, which was more closely enmeshed with the English government than it is today. The Queen Mother refused to leave the country, saying:

"The children won't go without me. I won't leave without the King. And the King will never leave."

At sixteen, the war ongoing, Elizabeth signed up with the British Labour Registry, even though her parents, King George and Queen Elizabeth, had to be persuaded. In this "all hands on deck" moment, the Princess was soon in military coveralls, working as a truck driver and a mechanic. Today, Elizabeth II is the only living head of State who served in World War II. 

Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor
& the Queen Mother during World War II

Queen Elizabeth has seen enormous changes in the world during her long rule. She's presided over decolonization as the British Empire has been eroded away by popular political movements. This list --(Ceylon/Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) also includes Canada. The Canada Act of 1982 finally severed the country's legal dependence upon the British parliament. 

Despite a 94th birthday being a momentous occasion for the monarch, the traditional gun salute was foregone this year because of our current pandemic. The Queen's official birthday, in June, which is normally marked with a magnificent display of trooping of the colours, has also been cancelled. 

~~Juliet Waldron

All my historical novels

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