To undertake the task of writing a brief account of figures who have crossed the firmament of history like stars, at once agile, brilliant and enchanting, is no easy task; and to attempt to write something, whether brief or lengthy, about personalities who, as considered in the previous article, symbolize their very nation, is an equally difficult task.
First, because it is easy to make the mistake of providing a unilateral view of the circumstances surrounding them; second, because being stars of extraordinary size, especially when long-lived, their trajectory demands deeper study. There is yet another risk that warrants caution: in a similar way to the sun which, besides illuminating, also dazzles, the life of such men or women surpasses the banal triviality that so pleases the indifferent; and sometimes it unsettles, due to its brilliance.
Having established these caveats, let us now deal with some aspects of the long career of Elizabeth II, who embodied the qualities of supremacy, nobility and serenity, as a paradigm for her people.
“We were born in times of war…”
Born in London on April 21, 1926, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary became the heiress presumptive to the British throne in 1936, when her father became king of the United Kingdom following the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII.
As a young girl, her distinctive physiognomy began to take form, more graceful than beautiful, despite her always warm and affable smile, which did not hide the weight of the future that she certainly sensed. Her acutely perceptive eyes, so characteristic of those who discern more than what they see, were those of an analytical personality who let nothing escape her observation, drawing profound conclusions. But it was in the ensemble of her expression that revealed an almost innate sense of authority and duty, most clearly reflected in the strong lines of her lips.
Finally, from a nature privileged by Providence, the moral qualities that would accompany her throughout her life began to emerge: constancy in purpose and loyalty to what is rightly ordered.
When the Second World War when broke out before Elizabeth had reached fifteen, the tragic context provided the occasion for the future Queen to more deeply forge her firm and decisive character, as she would later say: “The wartime generation – my generation – is resilient.” In those circumstances, without the least diminution of her noble condition, Elizabeth served in the Armed Forces as a driver and mechanic, being promoted to honorary junior commander, due to her high level of responsibility, despite her young age.
Loyal to her people
She ascended the throne in February 1952 at only twenty-five years of age, with the coronation ceremony taking place on June 2 of 1953. Since then, Elizabeth II has made the monarchy a life mission, setting herself a goal of fidelity to her state: “I am sure that this, my Coronation, is not the symbol of a power and a splendour that are gone, but a declaration of our hopes for the future, and for the years I may, by God’s grace and mercy, be given to reign and serve you as your Queen.”
Throughout the mishaps to which every Head of State is subject, the attributes of the good diplomat would shine in the English leader; of the woman who knows how to cultivate her own intelligence and, with a glance, manage to place those she meets in the position due to them.
She had plenty of opportunities to use this diplomatic gift, since her interest in the political world began in the early years of her reign, when she had weekly meetings with the English Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It is certain that from these briefings she was able to glean a good deal of the genuinely Anglo style of administration expressed by the paradigmatic statesman.
During her seven decades wearing the British crown, she made some 250 official trips as head of state. Almost all the Commonwealth countries have had the opportunity to receive such a distinguished visit. The sovereign met with scores of presidents and sometimes saw her personal history – either as protagonist or spectator – become bound up world history itself. But she continued ever steadfast amid such varied events as the independence of the British colonies in Africa, the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Being a mother: “the best of jobs”
However, in addition to being a monarch, Elizabeth was also a mother – a duty which, according to her, “is the best of all jobs.” From her marriage with the Duke of Edinburgh, Philip Mountbatten, four children were born to her: Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward.
In the photographs that portray Elizabeth’s family life, it is noteworthy that all the composure that so characterized her in the midst of the solemnity and pomp of court was not forsaken or minimized on these occasions. On the contrary, such moments showed the integrity of her character, without detriment to maternal affection and warmth.
Even in informal situations, such as a picnic, her cleanliness is remarkable, always exquisite and impeccable. There is not one hair out of place, and even if the folds of her dress appear to be random, one would say it is a well-studied naturalness.
Although the British leader was careful to maintain a balance between courtesy and joviality, especially when in public, her life was permeated with difficult trials.
Elizabeth II made the monarchy a life mission, setting herself a goal of fidelity to her state
At left, Elizabeth II in April of 1983; at centre, the queen in an official portrait as sovereign of Canada; at right, in 1962. In background, Windsor Castle (England)
According to her, the most turbulent period of her life was 1992, defined as an annus horribilis. In that year, the marriages of her children Charles, Anne and Andrew broke up, which not only dealt a blow to the English monarchy but also saddened their mother’s heart.
However, these and other misfortunes did not shake her. Maintaining an ever erect bearing, she seemed to have a gift of navigating national and personal events with both finesse and prudence.
Reverence for the sacred
The occasions for expressing this virtue so dear to her were seen even in the ecclesiastical sphere, and she demonstrated great respect and even genuine sympathy towards the Papacy.
The photos of meetings with Pontiffs, beginning with Pius XII in 1951, right up to the present day, speak most eloquently. Far from claiming any discordant attitude with the Papacy, Elizabeth II recognized in the successor of Peter the bearer of a duty greater than her own.
How to explain, for example, that when in 2010 Benedict XVI made the first state visit of a Pontiff to the United Kingdom since Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church in 1533, he was received in such a warm and, one might even say, filial manner?
An incomparable model of dignity
In conformity with the path that she chose for herself, uniting the vicissitudes of a childhood spent in the midst of war with the subsequent years that shaped her decisive character, Elizabeth II’s trajectory can be summed up in the principle that she verbalized: “Suffering is the price we pay for love.” Indeed, she who loved her mission and, consequently, her people, also decided to give her whole life for them.
At the epilogue of her existence, she became a unique model of dignity, honour and grandeur, put at the service of her nation, but which went beyond the insular limits of the British kingdom and the Commonwealth.
We hope that on the threshold of death God granted Elizabeth II the necessary graces to embrace the whole truth and thus have her soul welcomed into the heavenly dwelling place. “Long live the Queen!” ◊