A revolutionary: how the Queen has changed the Monarchy to suit modern Britain


At 5pm today British time (almost 45 minutes ago) Queen Elizabeth II took over her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria as Britain's oldest-reigning monarch ever.

She took over from King George III (the monarch who lost the American Colonies and who went mad) on Wednesday 12th December. Elizabeth II, Victoria and George III are the only British monarchs to have become octogenarians. Victoria is still the longest-reigning British monarch of all time, but Queen Elizabeth II will also break that record if she is still on the Throne in September 2015.

If she is still on the Throne in 2025 (when she will be 99 years old) she will overtake Louis XIV as Europe's oldest reigning monarch ever.

At the end of January another milestone will be reached - Prince Charles will overtake Edward VII as the longest-serving heir apparent in British history.

Yesterday, the Queen was still working - she met the King of Tonga, George Tupou V - despite being 81 years of age and sporting a large bruise on the side of her neck. The Queen's determination to carry on working for her nation despite her age and her ailing health is one of the things that make Britain great. This great monarch rules over more land than any other Head of State on Earth - she reigns over not only Britain but places such as Canada, Australia and even large chunks of Antarctica!

In this article, Robert Hardman tells us why the British - and all the other people over whom the Queen reigns - should be proud of her and the modern Royal Family she has created. You can safely say that it is unlikely that Britain will become a republic any time soon...

A very unlikely revolutionary: how the Queen has subtly changed the Monarchy to suit modern Britain

20th December 2007
Daily Mail

On the stroke of 9am, the wail of bagpipes below the window signals the start of the Monarch's working day, just as it has every weekday morning since Queen Victoria.

This particular morning begins with a visit from the President of Kazakhstan, who happens to be passing through London.

Happy and glorious: The 81-year-old Queen does not wish to dwell on her age

Then there is the usual 11 o'clock meeting at which the Queen and her private secretary mull over anything from any of her 16 realms and 14 overseas territories which might require her attention or signature.

As Queen of a large part of the Earth's surface - including Canada, Australia and a chunk of Antarctica - she is never short of reading material.

The day continues with audiences, a memorial service and, finally, the annual ball for members of the Diplomatic Corps - 1,000 of them. It's so big that there is not enough room for all of them to sit, so they are served a buffet dinner instead.

Having spoken to representatives from every single one of the 157 countries on parade, the Queen makes a quiet exit shortly after 10pm.

Thus ends a normal day in a normal year for the head of state. The next morning, none of it has made the headlines. And why should it? There has been nothing remotely unusual about a busy day like this. Unless, that is, you pause to consider that the central figure in all this is well past retirement age.

Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II's great-great-grandmother, ruled from 1837-1901. Today, her descendant surpassed as Britain's oldest-reigning monarch ever, though Victoria - who ruled over an Empire so large that it was impossible for the Sun ever to set on all of it - still remains the longest-reigning monarch.

Only three monarchs have reached the age of 80. But todaythe Queen enters the record books. At the age of 81 years and 244 days, she will overtake Queen Victoria to become the oldest Sovereign in British history.

It will be a monumental achievement - even if the Queen herself will be ignoring it.

Palace officials say she will be preparing for Christmas at Sandringham and regards tomorrow as just another day. After all, this is the same Monarch who vetoed a set of stamps to mark her 70th birthday on the grounds that it was of no interest.

In any case, she regards last month's Diamond Wedding anniversary as the only date worth celebrating.

Like many women - and men, for that matter - the Queen may not wish to dwell on her age. But the rest of us are entitled to think otherwise.

You do not need a 21-gun salute to realise that this is a major moment in Britain's royal story. It is remarkable to have a head of state whose first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill and whose reign has spanned some seismic social and political upheavals.

But what is, perhaps, most striking about tomorrow's milestone is not the passage of time, but the way the Queen continues to do the job.

Britain's two other octogenarian monarchs were frail and largely inactive by the time they reached 80. George III had suffered from bouts of insanity; Queen Victoria had largely withdrawn from public life.

Since her 80th birthday last year, however, the Queen has shown no signs of slowing down whatsoever.

On that particular birthday, she walked the length of Windsor for the best part of an hour, receiving enough presents to fill a lorry. She has subsequently spent numerous days - just like the one above - clocking up at least 500 engagements.

She has entertained 80,000 people to tea at various garden parties (there are always so many hands to shake that it takes her at least an hour to cross her own lawn).

The Queen's latest adventure was a tour of Uganda.

She has presented thousands of medals at dozens of investitures. And she has travelled the world.

In May, the Queen embarked on her fourth state visit to the United States. Within one hour of landing, she was in the thick of a walkabout before delivering a speech on live television.

Her latest adventure has been a tour of Uganda, concluding with the Commonwealth summit in Kampala.

In addition to these trips, she has visited three Baltic states for the first time, raising her tally of nations visited to 132.

It is, I suppose, hardly surprising if many people take her for granted. She has been in the job for more than 55 years, which means that you have to be a pensioner to remember another Sovereign on the notes, the coins, the stamps.

The big royal events come round like the seasons - Trooping the Colour, the State Opening of Parliament, the Cenotaph, the Christmas Broadcast - and there, as ever, is the Queen, a reassuring constant in the national landscape. Her presence seems so normal we hardly give it a second thought.

Abroad, though, the Queen is increasingly regarded with a mix of awe, incomprehension and, in some places, downright jealousy by royalists and republicans alike.

For the past 18 months, I have been lucky enough to have a ringside view of all this as the writer of the current BBC1 series and book, Monarchy: The Royal Family At Work.

It has been a recurring theme of the Queen's visits overseas that she is not welcomed merely as a head of state. She is now a historic phenomenon.

As the Governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, reflected after welcoming the Queen to his state in May: "In America, a political figure who's really notable might have a wonderful public career for ten or 15 years - maybe 20. But the notion of a 50-year career in leadership - that's just unheard of here."

What has struck me most, though, is that, after more than half a century, the Monarchy is not standing still. It is changing. There is an appetite for the new. The Queen is now much keener to do things differently than she was at the start of her reign.

Conventional wisdom dictates that institutions, political parties and businesses (even family ones) need a regular change at the top to regenerate themselves.

The Monarchy is a different organism. If it stands for anything, it is for continuity and stability. But Queen Victoria and George III simply allowed the institution to stagnate. The present Queen, however, is clearly determined not to make the same mistake.
Over the past 15 years, the Monarchy has undergone more upheaval than at any stage since the Abdication Crisis of 1936.

Some of this has been big news. Reforms such as the opening of Buckingham Palace to the public and the publishing of the royal accounts was a response to the demands of a more critical, less deferential society.

But there has also been a less obvious shift in the royal mindset. Lord Luce, who recently retired as the Lord Chamberlain (the Queen's most senior adviser) quotes the Sicilian writer Giuseppe Lampedusa when describing the thinking inside today's Royal Household: "If we want things to stay the same, things will have to change."

Time and again, I have spotted small - sometimes tiny - changes. But, when put together they are indicative of a fresh approach to everything. And, at Buckingham Palace, change can come only from the top.

In many ways, a Palace garden party may look like it always did. Except that the guests are no longer expected to wear morning dress. They are no longer expected to be married to their companions either. And those who once might have expected a royal introduction are the least likely to get one.

The Gentlemen Ushers, who quietly pick out people to meet the Queen, now avoid those with mayoral chains and OBEs in favour of those who have never had the chance to shake a royal hand in their lives.

On royal "away-days", the official greeting lines - once known as "chain gangs" - have been trimmed back to a handful of worthies. Priority time is given to those whose service has been unsung and, increasingly, to youth.

Royal officials know that apathy towards the Monarchy - as with politics - is greatest among the young.

The Queen refuses to cut back on her Royal Engagements despite her age

When I studied the preparations for a royal tour of Brighton, I saw a quiet but marked shift away from the protocol of the recent past. The official welcome consisted of just two handshakes on the station platform. There was not so much as a bugler, let alone a brass band.

The subsequent civic reception was made up of local charity workers. The only VIP whom I encountered was a member of England's blind cricket team.

"Royal" Brighton is famous for its Royal Pavilion, but the Queen did not set foot inside it.

The city wanted her to see its new university-class library instead.

Outside, there was still no brass band but a percussion group called Silver Sounds made up of pensioners in T- shirts beating dustbins. Inside, there was no formal assembly of librarians. Instead, the Queen met a "baby boogie" class in the children's section.

None of this is very remarkable except that it would never have happened like this a few years ago. These days, hosts are more adventurous in their arrangements for the Queen because they find that they're pushing at an open door.

A few months ago, the Queen spent a typical day touring parts of Yorkshire. One stop included a curry lunch in Huddersfield.

Nothing unusual there, perhaps, except that, in previous years, the lunch would never have been curry. Local organisers and royal officials would all have been mindful of the received wisdom that the Queen does not like spicy food.

This time, someone suggested a selection of dishes from a local Kashmiri restaurant. The idea was passed up the official line all the way to the top, and back came a royal thumbs-up.

This new attitude is not about token gestures or gratuitous modernisation. It is about using common sense to adapt with the times.

No one is pretending that the Queen is, somehow, a different person - because society has changed. But if some things can be improved by abandoning convention, the response is now likely to be: "why not?"

Why not have a rock concert in the garden? Why not have a competition to design a royal menu, or decorations for the Palace Christmas tree? Why not have a press conference now and then?

The same goes for the royal staff. The Royal Household is no longer dominated by former officers from certain regiments and public schools. The Queen's new Press secretary is a woman, as was her predecessor.

The Palace is pioneering a new, staterecognised diploma for all the footmen - who now include women, too. Staff internet caf»s are being installed at the Palace, Windsor and elsewhere.

Queen Elizabeth II: The Monarch shows no sign of slowing down despite her advancing years

The State Bentleys in the Royal Mews were among the first cars in Britain to run on liquid petroleum gas, and the Palace water bill has been cut by having a borehole dug in the garden.

Monthly accounts are completed by the second day of the following month. No one pretends that Monarchy is a cheap business, but the Civil List (which covers the Queen's running costs as head of state) has not increased since it was fixed at £7.9 million in 1990.

There can be no other budget in the public sector which has remained exactly the same for 17 years.

And all this happened under the watchful eye of an octogenarian boss who will not discuss retirement or hand-over. Why should she? Prince Charles is ready and willing to relieve her of any duties if required, and is already the best prepared Prince of Wales of all time.

Edward VII was the longest serving heir apparent in history, succeeding to the throne at the age of 59 years and two months. At the end of next month, Prince Charles will be older.

On the throne, it's business as usual. Much of this change, no doubt, stems from that serial innovator Prince Philip. But nothing happens without the Queen's say-so.

"She really does take an interest in it all," says Lord Luce. "It is always a mistake to assume that the Queen does not want to be bothered with minor details."

There are still many milestones yet to come. The Queen is neither the longest-serving Monarch in the world (King Bhumibol of Thailand has been reigning six years longer), nor the oldest (King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is two years older). It will be 2015 before she breaks her great, great grandmother's reigning record: Queen Victoria was Monarch for 63 years.

If she remains on the throne until 2025, she will beat the all-time European record of 72 years set by Louis XIV of France.

The Queen may not be remotely competitive about these things. But even she might be prevailed upon to acknowledge that such an occasion might, at least, warrant a stamp.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Dec 20th, 2007 at 12:58 PM..
No Party Affiliation
A touching tribute to Her Majesty, i felt tears well up in my eyes after reading this.