Woman of the 20th Century


Most definitely, the late Queen Elizabeth II was the most admirable and greatest woman of the 20th Century. Her greatness was due mostly to what she was and how she conducted herself; ‘adjectives’ most used being dedicated, duty bound, and yes, regal. She was acknowledged worldwide during her long reign and more so when she died and during her State-funeral of ten days, when the entirety of Britain focused itself on recollecting her life and also paying respects to her in all the places she rested finally, in mile-long queues in London.

Much has been written about her, her life has been recorded in photographs and films right from her childhood when by a twist of fate, she became the heir to the British throne. Her uncle Prince Edward was the Prince of Wales and ascended the throne on the death of his father George V. But shortly after, King Edward VIII abdicated to marry the woman he loved as he said – the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Thus, Edward’s younger brother, the Queen’s father George, was made King, he being reluctant, but called by duty to ascend the throne. When he, King George VI died – 6 February 1952 – she became Queen Elizabeth II. She was fairly, newly married; had a son and daughter and was only 25 years old. At her coronation, she promised to do her duty as sovereign of Great Britain which included Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, and very many countries overseas which formed the Commonwealth of Nations, acknowledging her as their Head of State. She promised: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

She lived by that promise. She was a devout Christian and a perfect Queen of her territories, truly dedicated, very committed and without one tiny stain of swerving from being an excellent ruler. When she ascended the throne, British royalty was remote from its subjects; a mystique was purposely created around them. Then with Diana causing turmoil and being so popular with people, the other Royals had to change. The change was most marked and final when Diana died and the then Prime Minister Tony Blair advised the Queen to return to London, order the lowering of the flag to half-mast and participate in the funeral. The Queen had decided to be aloof since Diana was no close royal any longer, after her divorce from the Prince of Wales. Advised, she relented and even bowed as Diana’s cortege passed where the women of the Royal Family were.

With all her emphasis of living an exemplary life and being a model of royalty to all, the Queen had more than her fair share of trials and tribulations.

The first, I believe, is that her husband Prince Philip sometimes strayed slightly from the straight and narrow. He had agreed to comply by the demand her father King George VI made on him when he asked for her hand in marriage. It was that he would always care for her, see to her wellbeing and help her in the onerous responsibilities that would fall on her shoulders as a Queen. He promised to be supportive always. He was ‘all these’, most definitely. But he had, it was rumoured, his partying friends; was a daredevil sports risk-taker; and occasionally attended parties where notorious characters were present: example Christine Keeler. The Queen very wisely gave him that freedom, since as her consort, he did his duty well, though he often put his foot-in-mouth with the kind of remarks he made. However, they had a very united and loving marriage, and when he died a year and a couple of months ago, she seemed to be truly affected. However, no show of tears or emotion in public, hence the thick veils that covered ‘mourning royal family women’.

By her own admission, in a speech in London, marking the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne, was that 1992 was an ‘annus horribilis’ and “not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.” The marriages of her two older sons – Charles and Andrew ended in separation and divorce, Princess Anne’s marriage too, was on the rocks, and a part of Windsor Castle she so loved, was burnt.

Her daughter-in-law, Princess Diana, caused her immense pain of mind and created a huge dent in royal discretion and dignity. The Queen bore these and many other upsets well; came through triumphant; but we are sure, at a price. Basically, a vulnerable woman though showing stoicism, she would have suffered internally and the worst of it, not able to show emotion. The ‘stiff upper lip’ and never showing tears in public, being ‘British rigid rules’, particularly for royalty. The latest cross she bore was having Meghan Markle malign the royal family, as racist.

Thus, her greatness – considering ‘duty first’ to the country; setting an example to younger royals but accepting their misdemeanors and keeping the esteem of the family alive. She did not have the luxury to indulge in personal emotions and exhibit disappointment.

So, it’s echoing the cry that resounded in Britain these last weeks and more, “The Queen is dead. Long live the King!” Charles III has shown he will be somewhat of a people’s King, though earlier their disapproval of him was common, mainly due to Diana’s making much of his affair with Camilla and even saying that he had better not be King.