prospect |  Queen Elizabeth II did her job

prospect | Queen Elizabeth II did her job

(Illustration by Zé Otavio for the Washington Post)
(Zé Otavio for the Washington Post)

What made her extraordinary was not who she was, but what she gave

She became queen before many of us were born, before many of our mothers were born, before many of our grandmothers were born, a fixed point on a rotating axis. Whether you like her or not, she’s always been the. Death and taxes and Queen Elizabeth II were the only certainties in life for 70 years, until she died on Thursday aged 96.

Chances are, what you loved or hated wasn’t the woman herself but the institution she embodied, a sprawling $28 billion corporation of inherited titles and assets. The woman herself? She was a cipher by design. Her position has prevented her from expressing opinions on politics, elections, social movements and individuals – anything that matters, really, because modern monarchs don’t run the government even when they appear. on his money.

You knew she was a fan of the outdoors: corgis, horses, hunting expeditions. You may have read somewhere that as a teenager she served as a mechanic in World War II. She saved her war rations to pay for her wedding dress and thus won the love of a nation that in those dark days needed a fairy tale but practical.

You knew, vaguely, that the job was never meant to be his. She acceded to the throne through an abdicated uncle, a father who died too soon, without a male heir. In 1952, the country’s legacy suddenly rested on the sensible shoulders of a 25-year-old mother of two.

Was it a fairy tale? Was it feminism? The tallest woman in the world, and her power came not from her hard work or a wedding ring on her finger, but from a chaotic ladder of genealogy spanning the centuries: beheadings and sterility, abdications and overthrows, all leading to this singular woman holding the throne longer than anyone before, or probably ever will.

Little girls are not taught to play the role of queen. They play the role of princesses, which is a much more vaporous and romantic role. (If you don’t believe me, check the costume aisle on Halloween or Disney Company’s product lines).

Being a queen is a grown woman’s job, and not for the faint-hearted. There’s a certain amount of keeping everyone in line, smiling and putting up with whatever is “it” at the moment. In Elizabeth’s case, it was a parade of prime ministers, a series of national tragedies, a daughter-in-law named Diana whose untimely death caused the kind of frenzied grief that is granted to beautiful princesses of 36 and not reserved, 96-year-old queens.

The queen’s role is not to find herself – the arc of princesses, real and fictitious – but rather to sublimate herself: in the duty of family, in the duty of work and in the duty of fatherland.

She was forever tied to Britain’s past and forever responsible for the future of the monarchy. A king must reign; a queen must reign and also lend her body to the act of motherhood, which Elizabeth has done four times. For her first birth, her husband Philip was supposed to play squash. On her fourth, she would have asked him to be in the room.

Was it a political decision in the name of gender equality, or did she just want her husband’s support while doctors searched around her cervix? We’ll never know, and Elizabeth’s point is that we never needed it. His existence as a monarch was already so revolutionary that his acts did not have to be.

And then these kids grew up, and their hair turned gray as Elizabeth’s turned white, and it started to look like she could live forever or die at any moment.

In recent years, in particular, its mortality has become more evident. She became covid. She has reduced her public engagements. In June 2021, her 73-year-old husband died, and in a photo that has circulated widely since the funeral, Elizabeth sat socially distant and alone in St. George’s Chapel, wearing double masks, gazing at the coffin carrying Prince Philip making her way down the aisle with no one within arm’s reach to comfort her. At this point, she already seemed unsteady on her feet and very, very small.

By the time Buckingham Palace announced on Thursday morning that the Queen’s health was in poor condition, it was obvious we were talking hours rather than weeks, as her family rushed to her bedside.

You know what came over me, in a way I didn’t expect? When I realized that all my life the lyrics to the de facto English anthem have been ‘God save the Queen’, but now and for the rest of my life, and maybe for the rest of that of my daughter – through the reign of Charles, then William, then George, as a series of powerful men replace this powerful woman – they will be ‘God save the King’.

Listen, I’m an American, and as such, I’m free from any legitimate impact of the monarchy. I don’t have to worry about the tax burden, questionable lines, intermarriage, outside marriages, jewellery, jubilees, two dozen official residences, Crown pomp and the Queen’s situation . As an American, I don’t have to deal with all that.

But as an American, I can also notice, both with wonder and dispassion, on what made the Queen so significant: She always seemed like a remarkably average woman.

She was not imbued with a supernatural spirit, presence, beauty or grace. His appearance was wholesome rather than striking. She was neither sexy nor bubbly. She didn’t seem to have any sense of the words. His quotes and public speeches weren’t particularly deep. She didn’t give introspective interviews about being a “have it all” working mom. She wasn’t on book tours, launching podcasts, or chatting with Diane Sawyer. She does not have build your brand the way we now expect famous and powerful women to do; instead, she sought to preserve an ancient mark – for better or worse, but not for herself.

This, to me, is inheritance. That’s the remarkable thing. What for 70 years the most important figure in Britain was a woman who didn’t do many things or embody many of the characteristics that society often demands women do and be. For 70 years the Commonwealth’s most prominent resident was an extremely average woman who was only made sublime because people allowed her to be.

She did her job. She did her job stoically, valiantly, tirelessly, uncomplainingly, for 25,000 days while her contemporaries retired or died, and her children divorced or were caught up in Jeffrey Epstein scandals, and one of her grandsons quit and moved into Tyler Perry’s house in California and the other grandson stayed behind and fathered his own heirs who may one day continue the work his grandmother had done since before the invention of birth control or Barbie.

She did her job. Whatever each of us thinks of the monarchy, we can think of showing up to do the job. “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether long or short, will be devoted to your service,” she once told her future subjects in a radio address on her 21st birthday. . “And the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

She insisted that she was just a humble civil servant. And the most extraordinary thing is that this is perhaps what she has always been.

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