Are you feeling Septuagennial yet?

Today's post will be a Marmite post on some levels, though I suspect it may be one that even detractors from the theme might mark.

King George VI and Princess Elizabeth

Seventy years ago at some point in the early hours of 6th February, King George VI died. In that moment, the UK and nations around the world had a new Queen.

Unusually, most of those countries knew this before the Queen herself as she was at Tall Trees in Kenya at the time.

In due course, history will determine the significance of that moment, but for me, it was a moment of personal, national and institutional transition. A case can be made that this accession was as important as Victoria or William and Mary.

At this point, I should declare an interest or at least my position on the matter. There are strong views held around the role of a Constitutional monarch. Some feel the place would be much better with a Republic and an elected President. How very French.

There are others, and for clarity if any were needed, I'm one of them who are perfectly happy with a hereditary Constitutional monarchy for the UK.

Some important caveats and acknowledgments should follow so my starting point is clear.

In terms of hereditary monarchies, I recognise they aren't en vogue at present. If I were starting with a new State, I wouldn't start here. However, I'm not starting with a new State. The history of these islands are in large part told through the history of its Kings and Queens. They have shaped our institutions from Parliament to the Courts, the development of common law, the established church in England and much more besides.

Of course, the Queen is not only Queen of the United Kingdom. During the period of her reign, she has been monarch and head of State for thirty two countries.

I have family and friends in both Australia and Canada. Whether Australia, Canada, New Zealand or St. Lucia, Nevis and Kitts wish to retain the current arrangements is entirely a matter for them. It's clear the monarch doesn't seek to defend territory but has actively transitioned fifteen States to Independence and varied models of self-rule. Far from being a colonising monarch, she has been ahead of the curve in welcoming the independence of nations from the former colonial power of the British Empire.

I have no argument with Australian family who say the model doesn't work for Australia. However, I disagree fundamentally with those who say it doesn't work in the UK (after a millennium of refinement).

Queen Elizabeth II

In an early (and more stamp-like portrait) the youth of the Queen on accession can be seen. But it's worth restating. At just 25 and before her coronation, she made a promise to the people of the UK and around the world.

"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."

For me this promise has been at the core of the role she has transformed over the past seven decades. At the time of her accession, significantly fewer women had careers or were prominent in public life, homosexuality was a crime, the British Empire was in its death throws after the second world war and the Royal Family were destinctly Edwardian in style.

Many use the term 'new Elizabethan age' to describe the scale and bredth of change during her reign. It is hard to imagine that she has been on the throne for longer than most people have been alive. I for one have only known one monarch in my lifetime, the first time most people can say that in over a century.

The promise references the great imperial family - a reference to the British Empire now reborn and refashioned in the Commonwealth of Nations.

What I suspect even a hard line Republican would find hard to argue is that this Queen has provided genuine service to the nation over seventy years.

I know some Republicans who see the privilege and power of a monarch achieved by birth rather than merit (though elected office doesn't necessarily equate to merit ) - few see the personal constraints and old fashioned sense of duty that also comes with the role.

Many of those republican thinkers would replace her tomorrow but I've yet to meet one who would swap places with her and do the job with those constraints.

At the time of drafting this post the Queen has had 14 UK Prime Ministers (though that may change during the drafting process).

While accepting other opinions are available, I wouldn't have wanted President Churchill. McMillan, Wilson, Heath, Thatcher, Blair, Cameron or May. The very fact that the monarch is not of Politics is a huge bonus and brings a stability that many countries envy. I hope that doesn't change in my lifetime,

Finally, with the possible exception of the handling of Diana's death, the Queen has the almost unique capacity of not putting a foot wrong politically throughout her reign. Not a bad record for all the flaws in the system.

The letter marking seventy years since accession tells me a few things. Firstly, the promise she gave was sincere, secondly as others have observed, abdication is never going to happen and thirdly we have a thoughtful and transformative Queen.

So today, the Queen is the first British monarch ever to celebrate a platinum jubilee. She must be doing something right as events to mark that fact will be taking place across the UK and much further afield.

National Carillon, Canberra

In the UK celebrations will focus around the weekend of 2nd-5th June with an additional Bank Holiday and events across the country. Ironically, I'll miss them as I'll be in that bastion of monarchy, France

In 1970, the national Carillon tower containing 57 bells was given to Australia by the UK. This marked the Golden Jubilee of the capital Canberra.

This year that tower and the island in Canberra on which it sits will be renamed the Queen Elizabeth Tower and Queen Elizabeth island respectively. Similar events are planned across the Commonwealth to mark the jubilee.

One last thought, speaking of France, there is one record the Queen could yet break,.

Louis XIV - The Roi Soleil (The Sun King)

Elizabeth II is the longest reigning UK monarch at 70 years. However, in world history, she's the second longest reigning monarch.

The current holder of that title is Le Roi Soleil or The Sun King, Louis 14th of France,

Louis came to the throne of France aged 5 and reighned for 72 years 110 days. So given the longevity of the female Windsors, it's a record that could yet be taken by Elizabeth. The date for your diary being Sunday 21st April 2024. I for one hope to raise a celebratory glass of bubbles then.


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