This past week I have been watching the progress of a great lady and a woman to be respected. In old dictionaries the first definition of ‘progress’ was “a royal journey marked by pomp and pageantry,” and we certainly saw that this past week, complete with a 1902 Landau.
Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee and was celebrated by her subjects throughout the world for her more than 60 years as Queen of England and head of the Commonwealth. (And probably something else I have forgotten.) She has held her post with a steady hand and remarkable stamina and stoicism (known by the British as stiff upper lip) which she demonstrated over the past few exhausting days. Although British royalty no longer wield the political power, they still have an influence and claim some powerful women. Only Queen Victoria reigned longer than Elizabeth II has (so far, at least). Victoria lasted 64 years, even after spending about 10 of them in seclusion mourning the loss of her husband, Prince Albert. Like Victoria, Elizabeth II married for love. The Victorian era was marked by industrial and global expansion and peace, and also denoted proper behavior and prudish morals (at least publicly) encouraged more by Prince Albert than the Queen and associated today with the middle class.
Another female British monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, was also among the top 10 longest lasting royalty of England. She ranked sixth in crown longevity, reigning 45 years, during an era known as Elizabethan and making history as a time when the art of theater blossomed, and Shakespeare wowed (and still wows) the world with his plays. Unlike her sister queens, Elizabeth I never married, and was known as “the Virgin Queen,” Perhaps “virgin” was a title given to any unmarried woman, however, she managed to be discrete in her personal life.
All three women were and are excellent leaders when necessary, avoided war when possible, and generally have made the British proud to be British. The first two marked their reigns strongly enough to give their names to them. We must wait, I suppose, to see if history will give a name to the era of Elizabeth II.
I have admired all three of these queens and found British royalty fascinating, perhaps simply because their reigns generally last a long time so that one gets a feel for the era, the customs, the arts, the intrigues. But my favorite British monarch probably never existed. The legendary King Arthur may have been the combination of many early kings, or entirely fictional, the creation of many storytellers and king makers. The King Arthur I love is the King Arthur of T. H. White’s novel, “The Once and Future King.” I like to think of it as an historical novel, but it is actually classified as fantasy, considered the best of that genre.
It is the story of the Age of Chivalry, of love, friendship, betrayal, honor and forgiveness and an era of true nobility. The characters are the immortal Merlyn and his sometimes bumbling magic. There is Wart, as a young Arthur, tutored by Merlyn and learning how to be a man and a king by experiencing life as other animals, and when king, forming the Knights of the Round Table devoted to doing good. Sir Lancelot, the very ugly and too perfect knight who fought his own demons. And Guenever, the woman who bewitched the men who loved her, causing havoc, as women have to royalty and lesser men, not just in fantasy but history. Elizabeth II came to the throne because her uncle abdicated so that he could marry the woman he loved, leaving the throne to his brother, George, Elizabeth’s father.
Her reign has covered colonialism and a World War; the age of industrialism to an age of electronic communication, nuclear power and terrorism, and struggles for freedom by the people against the leaders of countries that once were colonies. And, also, the transition from Great Britain’s role as world leader to a new world power, an upstart country (and one of England’s former colonies) that had been a nation little more than two hundred years (compared to Great Britain’s beginnings in the Eighth Century.)
Historians will decided whether her era, and ours, will be named and associated with a time of improvement and progress, as defined in today’s dictionaries (to move toward perfection or a higher state, improvement) for the world’s people and countries, or regrettably, a return to the Dark Ages.