It was 90 years ago today, during the General Strike, that Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born to the Duke and Duchess of York. She was the first grandchild of King George V, but as the daughter of a second son, her place in the succession was by no means assured, as it was widely expected that her uncle the Prince of Wales would in due course marry and have an heir.
However, that did not happen; we all know the story of Mrs Simpson and the abdication, one result of which was the succession of an admirable line of monarchs and their spouses: George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. It could have been different, but it wasn’t. For that we must all be thankful. The United Kingdom has been blessed in the Queen of ours, now 90 years old. Today, as it customary on birthdays, especially those of ages ending in a nought, is a day of rejoicing. Because it is Her Birthday, it is a day of national rejoicing.
The newspapers are full of it, so it is only right that here at the Catholic Herald we too should acknowledge the celebrations. Britons at home and abroad, who read this website, would expect no less, and so too perhaps do all our readers from around the Commonwealth, and other nations where English is spoken, and indeed all other nations as well. Elizabeth II is a global brand, one that has been expanding in reach and recognition as the years have passed. She has her own look (those hats!), her own way of doing things, which is instantly recognisable, indeed unique.
There are a few voices in certain quarters who view her as an anachronism. Given that this is Britain, a country that has a long tradition of free speech and freedom of expression and thought, these dissenting voices are not to be condemned or dismissed. We do not, or at least ought not, to react with anger when someone says something we may not like or not agree with. We should be open and tolerant. When the Queen is described as an anachronism, we should try and learn something from what is being said.
She is in one sense an anachronism: she was born in a different age to our own, and many of her values are no longer as commonly held as they once were. But this is a pity. Rather than seeing her an an anachronism, we should see her as a reminder of the value of tradition. Tradition is often to be cherished, and where it has decayed, to be revived. British people everywhere, for example, could take a leaf out of the Queen’s book and get themselves into a church on Sundays. There are so many lovely but underused country churches belonging to the Church of England. If we were more like her, there wouldn’t be.
She is an anachronism too in the sense that her path to the headship of state is not one that anyone would have planned; if one were drawing up a perfect constitution, the Queen, and this Queen in particular, is not what you would come up with. But the fact that she has been an exemplary head of state is a sign to us that Providence sometimes provides better answers than human planning. Of course, there have been disastrous monarchs who have inherited the throne, but there have also been democratic systems who have thrown up some pretty awful presidents. One does not mean to be unkind, but the current American election – I mention no names – reinforces the sense of our great good fortune in having Elizabeth II as our head of state.
Except it was not fortune; nothing happens by pure chance; there were no fairy godmothers around the cradle of Princess Elizabeth of York, but the angels were there, and they have guarded and led her for these last 90 years.