The Real Elizabeth?

 The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II marks a time in the history of the British Monarchy, which may never be repeated.  The fact that one monarch has spent (survived?) so many years on the throne, amidst enormous changes throughout the world, is a cause for wonder at both her and the monarchy’s adaptability.  Elizabeth came to the throne as a young woman in the shadow of  war and the enormous personality of Winston Churchill.  She has seen the Empire become a Commonwealth, the shrinking of Britain’s military influence, and great changes in the demographics of her subjects.  Personally, she has weathered similarly earth-shattering events that have changed the image of “the Royals.”  Through it all, however, the monarchy carries on, maybe due in great part to her.  A number of books have been written about this very private and reputed shy individual.  The latest, The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, by Andrew Marr is as good as any.  Marr spends a great deal of time at the beginning of the book convincing the reader that Queen Elizabeth is a significant person, her life worthy of examination.  I found it tedious, since, for goodness sake, if I didn’t already agree, I wouldn’t be reading the book.  He covers the sweep of her long reign in chapters that capture certain eras, and he does an impeccable job of portraying the times, issues, challenges against which Elizabeth had to make decisions. Despite the book being historically well-researched, I came away feeling as if I had not learned much more about “the REAL Elizabeth.”  Maybe she can not be known outside of her safe, immediate circle.  I chose this picture of her as a young woman because of her joyous, infectious smile.  That is one hint to the “real” Elizabeth often repeated in Marr’s book: that her laughter is contagious, her smile electric.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Real Elizabeth?

  1. Barb

    I found the Sally Biddell Smith’s book, Elizabeth the Queen: Life of a Modern Monarch, to be a much more interesting book. I came away with a lot of respect for Elizabeth and a better understanding of her decisions in life.

  2. Faith Johnson

    I just finished reading The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, by Andrew Marr. I agree with Lisa that after an awful lot of pages, I don’t know that much more about Elizabeth as a person than I did at the start. I seemed that Marr consciously stayed away from the types of details that fuel press interest in the Royals, but that the Royals would prefer to keep private. It seemed to me that he was demonstrating respect for the family and a refusal to add to the pressure and stress of the public life that Elizabeth and her family are forced to lead. I actually didn’t mind that. I enjoyed the way he presented the material in terms of overall themes and looking at periods of time as a whole rather than tediously recounting a chronology of events. After all, as Lisa says, if we weren’t already familiar with and interested in the subject matter, we wouldn’t be reading the book. As a reader interested in history, I thought he successfully substantiated his points about the importance of the monarchy’s role to Britain, and more specifically the contributions of Elizabeth as that monarch.

    I can also speak from a more personal point of view on this subject. I lived in England from 1981-1984 (Thatcher years) and 1994-1997 (Major years), was present at a royal visit to my workplace, and benefited from the decision to open Buckingham Palace to public visits (not mentioned in the book, but at least in 1997 this was only in August when the family is at Balmoral, and you had to reserve in advance). Although there was a lot of talk off and on about the expense of maintaining the monarchy, I didn’t get the impression that the average person wanted to do away with it – rather, there was actually a lot of pride in it. I can’t begin to describe how beloved the Queen Mum was. (Elizabeth’s mother, “Mum” is the English form of “Mom,” and when I was there this was the affectionate way she was usually talked about.) From what I could see, this feeling was universal, while being most deeply ingrained in those who remembered WWII.

    Preparations for the royal visit to my workplace were interesting. This was a bit before e-mail was used much across the enterprise, but we received several memos about correct protocol – when to curtsy or bow, whether or not you could address the Queen or Prince Philip first (no), whether or not you could extend your hand to the Queen (only if she does so first), and other things. When asked, our U.S. section said Americans were under no obligation to curtsy or bow, but we could if we wanted to (so, after over 200 years separation – Eh, no big deal…). My husband, Bob, was in an office they visited. He said Prince Philip asked well informed and pointed questions. Workers were excused from their desks during the visit (and encouraged to go) so that they could line the route of the visit and see the Queen. It was a much nicer visit than the Presidential visits I’ve suffered through back at home in the workplace. During one of them they locked our office doors for 1 ½ hours (no lunch, no bathroom breaks) because the President was due to walk down that corridor. Never heard if he actually did.

    One final thought, in my opinion, Marr brought some balance to the Charles and Diana story – necessary after seeing something like the shrine to Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed in Harrods. (I just saw it in January.)

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