“A rock of stability in a changing world” is how British Prime Minister David Cameron describes Queen Elizabeth II today, as she celebrates 63 years serving as Queen, longer than any other British monarch in history. In The Telegraph:
She will reflect on what she acknowledges as “a remarkable life”, though for her the occasion will be tinged with sadness because it is “a record she would rather not have had”. Her record-breaking reign was only possible because her father George VI died at the age of just 56.
While “the Queen had wanted to spend the day privately at Balmoral, as she does not regard outliving her ancestor [her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria] as a day for celebration,” she “has bowed to public demand by agreeing to open the Scottish Borders Railway, on which she will travel from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, near Galashiels.”
The occasion will be celebrated by church bells ringing out across the country and a flotilla of boats processing down the River Thames behind the royal rowbarge Gloriana, recalling the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant in 2012. Tower Bridge will be lifted as a mark of respect and, as the procession passes HMS Belfast, a four-gun salute will sound out.
The BT Tower in London will carry the scrolling message “Long May She Reign” and the former Royal Yacht, Britannia, now a privately-owned tourist attraction in Edinburgh, will be the centre of the fireworks display in the evening.
The Army will exercise a “dignified restraint” in its own celebration of its commander-in-chief’s achievement, with a drumhead service in Bury St Edmunds, and the Band of the Coldstream Guards playing a specially-composed piece of music in London.
By the numbers: According to the Telegraph, over the Queen’s 63 years, she has worked with 12 prime ministers, visited 116 countries, given 56 televised Christmas messages, launched 23 ships, sent 380,000 telegrams and owned 30 Corgies.
The first Queen Elizabeth gave her name to an age, as did Victoria, in an ever more powerful kingdom. But that is not going to be the legacy of this Elizabeth, who has reigned over Britain’s long transition from empire to Commonwealth, from world power to relative international insignificance.
The historian David Cannadine said Queen Elizabeth’s legacy would feature both transition and decline — the change of British society into “a much more fluid, multicultural, more secular society,” and “the downsizing of the British Empire into the British Commonwealth, the downsizing of Britain as a great power.”
NYT adds a little more backstory to the numbers above:
Her reign has included 12 British prime ministers, seven archbishops of Canterbury and seven popes. One of the prime ministers, John Major, called her “an absolute constant, that is very reassuring.”
In his memoir, Tony Blair recounted his first meeting with her as prime minister: “You are my 10th prime minister,” the queen told him. “The first was Winston. That was before you were born.”
Cafe contributing editor Father Andrew Gerns observes that Queen Elizabeth II also becomes “the longest
serving head of a major religious body in the world. Which means that the person in this role is both a woman and a lay person.”