The Queen is Dead, God Save the King

The longest reigning Queen of England has passed. In her honor we will look at great women in history that came before her.

HISTORICAL

Kate Lacivita

9/11/20229 min read

This week, on September 8th 2022 the longest reigning monarch in English history died at 96 years old. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II reigned as Queen of England for 70 years, 214 days. Beginning her reign in 1952 when her father, King George VI, died. She was the second longest reigning monarch in the world, right behind Louis XIV of France (r.72 years, 110 days who was also known as the “Sun King” because he loved the color gold so much he shown like the sun).

Her son, now King Charles III will begin his reign at the age of 73.

I thought it appropriate to put a pause on the research post I was preparing and to save it for next week upon hearing of this historic death of the Queen of England. I am fascinated by monarchies and how they function and stay functioning. Since 871CE (Alfred The Great of the House of Wessex for example, the first King of England) has ruled, in some form or fashion of what is considered England. To me, it is crazy to think that a single family can trace their ancestral and cultural roots back over 1,000 years. Kind of mind blowing. Since most people don’t even know anyone past their grandparents (that I know of, save my husband’s family who has a whole tree mapped out).

I do not want to make this post a “pro” or “against” opinion about monarchies. As a historian we are not entitled to such opinions when documenting what are the facts about something. When making a point sure, but facts are what they are. There are no opinions when truth is being recorded.

Because also Queen Elizabeth II is such an iconic figure across the world, there is a lot of information about her that we can dig into and highlight as her greatest accomplishments. Today, I wanted to document this historic movement as something we all have lived through. Countless history books from now will speak about her reign (like they do with Elizabeth I or Henry VIII for example) and we can think “man, I lived during that time”. Much like when JFK was assassinated, or the OJ Simpson case was televised, or when Obama was elected president we are the participates of these world events unfolding before us. It’s exciting to be apart of the human race at these times.

What I thought would be fun today would be to try and list some interesting facts about English history that I hold to be important or worth remembering in my opinion. Some especially so since I am a woman.

There has been approximately 61 ruling Kings/Queens of England since Alfred the Great in 871.

There has been only a handful of Queens of England. It was not until 2013 through the Succession of the Crown Act that a rightful 1st born girl could inherit the throne before her brothers or males in the family line. Therefore, these queens had to have no living male direct descendent to compete with or be named heir through the wish of the current ruling King/Queen.

Elizabeth II official coronation wearing the crown of St. Edward the Confessor

Empress Matilda (Disputed) (August 5th, 1110 - September 10th, 1167)

Named heir to the throne by her father King Henry I. King Stephan usurped the throne from his cousin and held his coronation in 1135. This lead to a bloody civil war that ended with King Henry II (Matilda’s son) crowned king in 1154 upon Stephan’s death the same year

Lady Jane Grey (July 10th-19th, 1553)

She only held the crown for 9 days. The Great-Grandaughter of Henry VIII was named heir to the throne by Edward VI (Henry’s son) to try and stop Roman Catholic rule to taking over England after the Reformation. She was deposed and executed by Bloody Mary in 1554.

Mary I, Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary (July 1553 - November 17th, 1558)

She was given the nickname “Bloody Mary” for her harsh church reforms and countless heretic burnings and execution of Protestants. She was the daughter of Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who was devout Catholic and tried to restore Catholic authority onto England.

Elizabeth I (November 17th, 1558 - March 24th 1608)

To much of everyone’s surprise Mary I named Elizabeth, her half sister, as heir to the throne. The Virgin Queen ruled a golden area of prosperity and voyage (Virginia settlement and state are named after her) for England. She ruled for 44 years, the 9th longest in English history.


Mary II (February 13th, 1689 - December 28th, 1694)

She ruled as co-ruler beside her husband as fear her father, James II, would restore Catholic rule. He fled in 1688, where parliament saw a vacancy in the throne as he had abandoned his right to rule. Thus establishing that is was Parliament that gave the right to the throne as well (through succession of course).

Queen Anne (March 8th, 1702 - May 1st 1707)

Unable to produce an heir of her own, she succeeded the right to the Protestant heirs of Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England (b. 1566-1625) son of Mary Queen of Scots and father of Charles I of England. During her reign we see a significant decline if the authority of the crown.

Queen Victoria (June 20th 1837 - January 22, 1901)

Only second in longest reign behind Elizabeth II, she was Queen of England for 63 years. Her birth and death is known as the Victorian era.

Queen Boudicca of the Iceni in 60CE (The Warrior Queen)

Something I stumbled across in my readings of British history. During Roman occupation (Nero’s rule) there lead a revolt against the Roman occupation in the British isles by Queen Boudicca of the Iceni (near what is now Norfolk). It was quickly quashed and her husband left the throne to Nero and his two daughters after his death. Tacitus and Dio write about these events, but it is uncertain what was the cause as both say it was sudden, but only brought about by Queen Boudicca. Pretty interesting story that I will dive deeper into later on.

Empress Matilda

Elizabeth I

Queen Victoria

Queen Boudicca of the Iceni in 60CE (The Warrior Queen)

Elizabeth II (February 6th, 1952 - September 8th, 2022)

Longest reign of any English monarch of 70 years. Her coronation was the first ever to be broadcasted on television, where the whole world for the first time in English history was able to watch and experience what happened during the anointing of a King/Queen, She changed the “British Empire” to the “British Commonwealth“ and saw further dismissing of the crown amid scandals that would occur through her 4 children. The Crown now stands as a figure head, with some political power but not as much as seen in the past.

When WWII broke out, Elizabeth enlisted when she turned 18 and in 1945 trained for 6 weeks to be an auto mechanic in the Woman’s Auxiliary Training Service. She provided much needed stability in England during uncertainty in the rule. Between her uncle abdicating, her father dying and a war just happening, her grounding stance helped calm England after a turbulent time in it’s history. (Her uncle Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936, the same year he ascended to the throne. He showed great distaste for ruling and wanted to marry a 2 times divorcee Wallis Simpson which was not possible as Head of the Church of England and a proper Queen Consort)

She also held the British Empire afloat after many colonized states rebelled and broke away from their power, claiming independence and having it granted. She turned the “Empire” into a “Commonwealth” of states now comprising of 47 colonies and states that more or less are willingly apart of them.

Elizabeth II also helped modernize the monarchy. She made it a point to become more approachable, relatable and up to date on what the people wanted to see changed. She regularly appeared on television for many events and addresses, and even brought ancient traditions to the modern era by holding the first televised coronation for the whole world to join her in her ascension to the throne. No one was for this, even Winston Churchill advised against it. She insisted. Over 27 million people tuned in to watch and 11 million listened in over radio. You can watch it HERE (I have had it on in the background most of typing this up)

She dealt with common place of modern marriages, how they function and their role in society. 3 of her children were divorced and remarried, and she learned to accept and approve these in her lifetime (kinda groundbreaking as the rule of marrying a divorced man/woman was verrrry frowned upon). She started the “walkabouts” in the 1970s, now a royal tradition and practice, to walk about the people at close rage and greet them. This was a huge change to the safe and very far away distance of address that was custom when visiting other countries.

Her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (and also her 3rd cousin) died in April of 2021. He was 99. They were married at Westminster Abbey in 1947 and were married for 73 years. He kept the name ”prince consort” due to the historical tradition that a king is always above a queen. So, a King can have a queen consort but a queen cannot have a king consort, so he remains a prince.

There have only been 3 elected women prime ministers:

Margret Thatcher became the 1st in 1979 and served for 11 years.

Theresa May was elected in 2016 but resigned after the Brexit vote in 2019.

Liz Truss was elected on September 6th, 2022.

A tapestry showing Edward the Confessor wearing his crown

Edward the Confessor (1002?-1066) was one of the last Anglo-Saxon Kings of England in his 24 years of ruling until his death in 1066. His original crown was used as a relic once he was canonized in 1161 that was kept in Westminster Abbey and used in all coronations of future kinds/queens of England as his wish on his death bed. His reputation of his piety grew after his death & the need of his successors for good, honest English royalty is what got him Sainted. Although that crown was used from 1220 until 1626. Anne Boleyn was even crowned (while pregnant with Elizabeth I) at her coronation with this crown to emphasize her legitimacy to rule after marrying Henry VIII in secret.

However, in 1649 Charles I was deposed from the throne and executed by the new Republic Parlament and all royal regalia was sold off. A replacement crown was then made in 1661 for King Charles II when the monarchy was restored, which is the one we see used today. It is similar in shape and color as the original, but the arches are Baroque in style,

After 1689 with King William III, no monarch was crowned with this until King George V who revived the tradition after 200 years. When not used, the King/Queen chose a smaller, lighter diamond crown to be woven made just for them because of the weight. It would instead sit at the high alter during the ceremony.

Today the gems are permanently fixed into the crown (where as before they were “rented” and placed in there only during coronation and then taken out as to deter stealing the crown and to better fit the new king/queen’s head). The crown is 12 inches tall and weighs a hefty 5 pounds of solid 22 caret gold with over 444 precious gemstones.

The Crown of St. Edward the Confessor

Also, for fun here is a portrait of Louis XIV and all his French sassiness. He ruled France from 1643-1715 (72 years, 110 days). He built the Palace of Versailles (his fathers hunting house that he loved). He consolidated the monarchy into absolutism and ruled harshly and lavishly. A devout Catholic he destroyed the Protestant Huguenots and forced them to either convert or migrate out of France. He funded the Claude de Midi for the arts and French Academy of Sciences.

Hall of Mirrors in Palace of Versailles

The English Commonwealth and the continuation of the British Monarchy are held in the balance now as modernization is taking over a new age of technology. Opinions about the traditions that are held and the history the monarchy has in colonization and imperial expansion has left a new generation of people wondering if it is something of the past or a gateway of the future. Only time can tell what decisions Charles III will make and how long the family can continue to survive in such an antiquated way of life that most only learn about in history books. What will happen to the monarchy going forward? As a historian I am happy to watch it unfold before my eyes.

Because I wrote this off the fly I forgot to get my resources in check. A Few of the websites I used are below.

https://www.thecourtjeweller.com/2021/06/st-edwards-crown.html

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edward-king-of-England-1002-1066

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Boudicca

https://www.history.com/news/queen-elizabeth-ii-key-moments

https://www.grunge.com/680882/queen-elizabeth-iis-most-notable-accomplishments/

https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/KingsQueensofBritain/