‘The Queen of England.’ It’s a title that rolls off the tongue so easily. It’s one that many of us Americans have come to recognize Queen Elizabeth II by, and we hear it on the news almost every day now that a future king that will one day enjoy state visits to The White House has been born. However, it’s essentially the same as specifically referring to Barack Obama as ‘The President of Washington.’
A Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2012, oil on canvas by Ralph Heimans.
The fact is that The Queen is the head of state of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Commonwealth Realms, which include Australia, New Zealand, and our neighbor, Canada. ‘Queen of England’ might do for short, but in reality, there’s no such thing.
The last independent Queen of England was actually Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, who reigned from 1558-1603. Elizabeth was pressured throughout her life to marry, but she never did, and so she never produced an heir tothe throne of England. When she died, a life-sized effigy of Elizabeth was placed atopthe beloved queen’s coffin as it lay in Westminster Abbey while the public came to pay respects. This symbolized the English monarchy in the absence of a sovereign in thecountry as London awaited the arrival of her cousin and successor, King James IV of Scotland. The two countries have shared a monarch ever since.
King James IV of Scotland and I of England.
James took the throne as King James I of England and ruled both countries until his death. This union of the crowns created a very familiar sight recognized all over theworld in politics and art: the union flag. Have you ever really wondered how the British flag came about? The Scottish flag was blue with a white ‘x,’ and the English flag was white with a red cross. When the crowns combined, so did the flags. However, even though the two nations shared the same king and a similar flag, they were completely independent of each other until 1707.
Anne, a great-granddaughter of King James I & IV, was the sovereign of England and Scotland from 1702-1707. In many ways, she was the last monarch who could be called ‘The Queen of England’ or ‘The Queen of Scots.’ Her life was exceptionally sad. She was plagued with poor health. On top of this, she had been pregnant seventeen times and suffered the loss of over twelve stillbirths and miscarriages. Her only child to survive infancy died at the age of 11, two years before she became Queen.
Queen Anne of England, later Anne, Queen of Great Britain.
When Anne did succeed in 1702, despite struggles with depression and gout, she carried herself with majesty and rigorous determination. By this time, Ireland was subordinate to the English Crown, and Wales was a part of the Kingdom of England. Still, even during the reign of Queen Anne, Scotland was functioning under it’s own parliament with it’s own laws as an independent sovereign state. From her very first speech to Parliament in London, Anne was in favor of a union of both countries. After several years and much debate, a Treaty of Union was passed, uniting the nations into a single kingdom, called Great Britain. Anne ruled Britain until her death in 1714.
Great Britain truly flourished into a vast empire and it remained so for almost a hundred years. The reign of George III saw some major blows to the empire, most notoriouslythe loss of the American colonies. Until very recently, his 59-year reign was consideredthe one that cost Britain imperialism (in Britain) and in America, he had been considered a tyrant.
King George III of the United Kingdom, 4x Great-Grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II.
George III made one political decision that influenced the monarchy up to this very day. His Parliament created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland by officially adding the Emerald Isle to the union. This was done partially as a way of making sure the British elite could keep their profits from land in Ireland, and it was also done as a clever way of keeping the French at bay, after they had tried to aide theIrish in an attempt for independence in 1798. After all, the French were all about thepath for freedom during that era, after first helping the Americans and then deposing their own king.
By 1811, George was considered permanently insane and spent the rest of his life in seclusion. He was nearly blind with cataracts and almost went deaf. He spent nights roaming the halls of Windsor Castle aimlessly and was incapable of understanding that his wife died in 1818. He spoke nonsense for 58 hours on Christmas in 1819, and in January of 1820, he died.
The Coronation Chair on display in Westminster Abbey, London. The chair was commissioned
in 1308 and every monarch (except for Mary I and Mary II) has been crowned in it since.
Fast forward to 2013, after a glorious Victorian Era, an abdication crisis, two ruthless world wars in which the UK and US became inseparable allies, and right into the heart of the modern Elizabethan Age, and Queen Elizabeth II has redefined the monarchy. Today, the entire Royal Family travels around the world to promote and spread peace and happiness. The Queen alone carries out well over 430 engagements annually, and Prince Charles (the King-to-be) exceeds that. On top of these numbers, The Queen is patron of over 600 charities.
William the Conquerer (right) depicted commanding his army on the Bayeux Tapestry. The Tapestry is a commemoration of William’s victory in his conquest of England in 1066.
These are the shoes that the young Prince of Cambridge will someday fill as a British King, who is a 28th-great-grandchild of William the Conquerer (1028-1087).
Prince George of Cambridge.
Despite such a long, complex, and fascinating history of the thousand-year old institution, the British monarch today has little political power and is mostly ceremonial.The Queen of the United Kingdom has, however, proven that her role has the power of influence. Despite the occasionally difficult cards she and her family are dealt, they always keep calm, and carry on.