The post-war world had never felt the weight of such devastation. Burdened by the destruction of two world conflicts, it was a world characterized by humanity’s loss of faith in itself. A lack of moral and common ground throughout the modern and postmodern eras ushered in a society defined by constantly changing thoughts, technology, and dispositions.
In Great Britain, the British royal family was in no way immune from this transition. The political agency of the monarchy had gradually decreased ever since the English Civil War in the 17th century, which redefined the sovereign reign as dependent on Parliament. However, as Robert Hazell and Bob Morris write in the Review for Constitutional Studies, “…this process of attrition [had] continued into modern times, so that Queen Elizabeth II [concluded her reign with] less power than she did on her accession in 1952.” Arguably, modernity acted as a catalyst for many of these changes, as technological advancement, pluralism, and the rise of mass media began to close the gap between the public and the Royal Family. However, Queen Elizabeth II’s graceful embrace of the monarchy’s growing obscurity likely proved to be the institution’s saving grace. Through her, the monarchy adapted to the times while maintaining its national importance and long-standing values.
Elizabeth II was one of the first members of the Royal Family to deliver broadcasts over the newly-accessible radio, and also the first to appear on television screens in living rooms across the world. Her poignancy as a monarch and public figure is a significant aspect of her reign and legacy. Even before her accession to the throne, she possessed a clear dedication to servanthood in the public sphere. On her twenty-first birthday, she delivered a radio address in which she “…dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth.” It was 1947, only two years after Great Britain had claimed victory over the Axis Powers. But the nation still faced the destruction wrought by war. In this address, Elizabeth urged the post-war public to join her in advancing the mission of the Commonwealth, in creating a kingdom united by “unwavering faith, high courage, and…quiet heart[s]”. Over the radiowaves, she vowed:
“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.”
Thus, an invitation from the royalty to the public began, calling for joint action; an intentional tightening of the gap between monarch and subjects, which brought one closer to the other and made each the stronger for it. Even before her reign officially began, she embraced the uncertainty of the times.
In June of 1953, Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of England and delivered her coronation oath. It was the first televised royal coronation and the world watched as Her Majesty solemnly promised to govern the Commonwealth, maintain Justice and Mercy, and uphold the Church of England. The way in which Queen Elizabeth II embraced her reign revealed her adaptability. She was willing to adjust the face of the Monarchy, to make it more accessible to the people it served. The Monarchy’s role in welfare and public service, Hazell and Morris assert, “…shows how far the Monarchy has traveled in recent generations…it has moved to a much more demotic…and visible head of state form, interacting with the general population…”. Queen Elizabeth II’s reign definitely exemplified these changes. She traveled extensively, visiting every region of the Commonwealth, and in so doing, strengthened international relations. She and her family also demonstrated a strong devotion to charity and public service.
However, even in her adaptability, Queen Elizabeth II’s unwavering spirit is especially notable. She followed through on her personal declaration of servant leadership to the public and the imperial family. She promoted and protected the beliefs of the Church of England, refusing to consider abdication in the midst of religious decline. Her steadfast devotion served as a still point for an ever-dynamic Great Britain.
The Queen’s example demonstrates how virtue is found in this balance—this interplay between adaptability and principle. Queen Elizabeth II was equally devoted to both, and her example of servant leadership redefined and maintained the reputation and relevancy of the monarchy itself. Her legacy of graceful steadiness will continue to serve the people she loved and will remain a defining aspect of the Crown she left behind.
“But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”
– Queen Elizabeth II, 21st Birthday Speech