Friday, 1 June 2012

"So unlike our own dear Queen!"

I have on my bookshelves a large volume with the title Sixty Years a Queen. I don't want this to scare off my fellow republicans, so I'd better explain that it is about Victoria, not Elizabeth II, and I bought it because it contains several illustrations by my great grandfather, who was one of Victoria's court painters. The notion of buying such a book celebrating the fact that Elizabeth II has managed to keep breathing for 86 years is repellant.

What is interesting is the soporific effect on the population of Elizabeth's long - and largely sensible - spell as our head of state. We have been lulled into a false sense of security because of her ability to Refrain from Interfering. The truth is, however, that we simply do not know how much or how often she has indeed interfered, since it's difficult to draw boundaries between "offering a view", "influence" and "interference", especially when the actor is of such high social status (can't get much higher, after all). Perhaps it's just spin that she is famous for Not Interfering. Who knows?

What we do know is that the heir to the throne is a career Interferer, and furthermore has had definite and measurable effects on all our lives, and he isn't even king yet! We are due for a nasty shock. In more than living memory, we have "benefitted" from monarchs who have been benign and appealing in various contrasting ways. Edward VII ("Edward the Caresser") was fat, likeable and internationalist. George V, by contrast, was dull but dutiful, and collected stamps. George VI "did the right thing" in the Second World War, according to popular legend. But let's not forget the very close call we had with his brother, the Nazi-loving Edward VIII.

Although she is quite a bit older than I, I am one generation closer to the Victorians than is the queen. Victoria was her great great grandmother, while my great grandfather was Victoria's contemporary. I am fascinated by the 19th Century, which was seminal in founding our modern state and culture, and which saw the Second Enlightenment. So much was wrong back then, but so much was right, too. And at least there was a feeling that - if things were wrong - we could and should do something about it. And things were done, and much was put right.

Now, we're just depressed and tend to throw up our hands in cynical resignation. This is dangerous in the extreme. Just how dangerous will become all too apparent after the death of Elizabeth II, and for this reason, I wish her a very long life.

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