Thursday, December 20, 2007

Well done, Your Majesty!

Not an affair to remember in the annals of British royal history -- but certainly a date to remember.

As of this morning, Queen Elizabeth II, who was born on April 21, 1926, has surpassed Queen Victoria as Britian's oldest reigning monarch. Victoria was 81 years, 7 months and 29 days old when she died on January 22, 1901. She had ruled for sixty-three years, seven months, and two days.

Elizabeth I

True, Victoria ruled for more years than Elizabeth II has (to date), and has an entire era named for her (the Elizabethan era is of course named for Elizabeth I (1533-1603), but her reigning majesty's milestone should be recognized nonetheless.

Elizabeth II ascended the throne on the death of her father, King George VI, on February 6, 1952. Since her mother lived to be 101, it's quite possible she may outlast her heir apparent, Prince Charles, who will turn 60 next November 14. And if Charles is still Prince of Wales on that date, he will have surpassed Queen Victoria's eldest son and heir, the future Edward VII, who was 59 years old when he finally became king.

Since the Norman Conquest in 1066, there have only been a handful of queens regnant (queens who rule in their own right, as opposed to being the consort of a king--a "queen-consort" through her marriage to him).

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1833) by 19th c. French romantic painter Paul Delaroche

The teenage Lady Jane Grey (known as the "Nine Days' Queen") was never crowned, but ostensibly ruled England in the brief window of time between July 10-19, 1553, as the puppet of a conspiracy to keep a Protestant on the throne and prevent the Catholic Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, from ascending the throne. The hapless Jane Grey, the granddaughter of Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary Tudor, was judicially executed within the precincts of the Tower of London on April 12, 1554.

Mary I

Elizabeth I's older half-sister, Mary, ruled England as Mary I from 1553-1558. Mary earned her nickname "Bloody Mary" for the numerous executions of Protestants. carried out in her name.

Elizabeth I acceeded to the throne on Mary's death, and it was not until 1689, after the successful "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 led to James II's abandonment of his throne and the coronation of William III of Orange and his wife, Mary Stuart (James II's elder daughter) that England saw a regnant queen once more. William and Mary (she was Mary II) ruled jointly, although they had both taken a parliamentary oath swearing that William would be the primary ruler.

Mary II

However, William was a warrior-king and during the spring and summer months when he was out of the country on military campaigns, Mary was fully in charge of the kingdom and rose to the occasion. She died in 1694 and William continued to rule alone until his death in 1702.

Queen Anne

William's successor was his wife's younger sister, Anne, under whose reign England and Scotland were united, thereby becoming the first monarch of Great Britain.

After Anne, there was not another regnant queen until the barely eighteen-year-old Victoria acceded to the throne in 1837, on the death of her uncle, William IV.

So, here's to Queen Elizabeth II, the second longest serving head of state in the world after King Bhumibol of Thailand. Her reign has seen 11 prime ministers, starting with Sir Winston Churchill. Long may she reign over us (well, them). God save the queen.


Anonymous said...

I love all the stuff about the Royals...can't wait for "Royal Affairs"...your historical knowledge is remarkble...I love it

Leslie Carroll said...

I'm continually fascinated by our (Americans') continual fascination with the British royals. Frankly, I think that accounts for the success of historical romance as genre fiction, especially the Regencies. They're 99% set in England and although they rarely feature the actual reigning monarch, are filled to the gills with dukes, earls, and viscounts.