With the Diamond Jubilee this year and the upcoming Olympics in London, there has been much recent attention to the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Published this past January, Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch is one of several timely biographies released this year.
Celebrating 60 years of serving as queen, Elizabeth II is the second longest ruling British monarch, and her good health at age 86 has taken many by surprise (generally, pleasant). Her path to the throne was not one anticipated from birth. Although born into the extended royal family, it was her uncle, Edward VIII, who was the anticipated heir to the throne of Elizabeth II’s grandfather, King George V. But when Edward abdicated and her father became king, ascending the throne as George VI, Elizabeth, at age 10, became the heir presumptive. (Part of her father’s life is portrayed in the 2010 film, The King’s Speech.)
Among other things, this book was helpful in giving me a basic understanding of how the roles of monarch and prime minister work together in British government. I was surprised at both how involved she is, and also how much she is restrained from giving her public opinions on political issues.
One thing that stood out to me as the book traces Elizabeth II’s 60 years as queen was how much the world has changed over the past six decades. To give some context, she was crowned queen while Harry Truman was President of the United States. Imagine Truman still being President today! When Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952, flying was still a somewhat novel way to travel. Today, the royal family can update the world via Facebook status and Twitter. In fact, that is just what they did to announce the engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton.
Another observation that many others have also seen is her seeming lack of involvement in her four children’s lives, particularly being absent during their early childhoods and later, addressing concerns when they were headed down the wrong path. (In fact, reading the book, this is one of the only “faults” the author seems to allude to; otherwise, you might think the queen nearly perfect.) Certainly, the two roles of Queen and mother both in her youth would be difficult to bear in and of themselves; she stepped into both around the same time. (Johanna @ My Home Tableau has an excellent post on this here.)
With 688 pages comprising 21 chapters, it is a bit of a read; but when 86 years must be fit into one biography, it actually ends up seeming rather short.
Table of Contents:
- ONE – A Royal Education
- TWO – Love March
- THREE – Destiny Calls
- FOUR – “Ready, Girls?”
- FIVE – Affairs of State
- SIX – Made for Television
- SEVEN – New Beginnings
- EIGHT – Refuge in Routines
- NINE – Daylight on the Magic
- TEN – Ring of Silence
- ELEVEN – “Not Bloody Likely!”
- TWELVE – Feeling the Love
- THIRTEEN – Iron Lady and English Rose
- FOURTEEN – A Very Special Relationship
- FIFTEEN – Family Fractures
- SIXTEEN – Annus Horribilis
- SEVENTEEN – Tragedy and Tradition
- EIGHTEEN – Love and Grief
- NINETEEN – Moving Pictures
- TWENTY – A Soldier at Heart
- TWENTY-ONE – Long Live the Queen