Queen Elizabeth II: the end of the “new Elizabethan era”

This article by Laura Clancy is republished here with permission from The UK Conversation. This content is shared here because the topic may be of interest to Snopes readers; however, it does not represent the work of Snopes’ fact checkers or editors.

When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952, Britain was only seven years away from the Second World War. Reconstruction work was still ongoing and rationing of key commodities such as sugar, eggs, cheese and meat would continue for about another year.

But the austerity and restraint of the 1940s was giving way to a more prosperous 1950s. It’s perhaps no wonder then that the Queen’s estate has been hailed as the “elizabethan new age”. Society was changing, and now a young and beautiful queen sat at its helm.

Seventy years later, Britain is very different. Elizabeth II reigned over perhaps the most rapid technological expansion and socio-political change of any monarch in recent history. A look back at the life of Elizabeth II raises key questions not only about how the monarchy has changed, but also about how Britain itself has transformed over the 20th and 21st centuries.

global britain

If the reign of Elizabeth I was a period of colonial expansion, conquest and domination, then the “new Elizabethan age” was marked by decolonization and the loss of the Empire.

When Elizabeth II came to the throne, the last remnants of the British Empire were still intact. India had gained its independence in 1947, and other countries soon followed throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Although it existed as early as 1926, the current Commonwealth was formed in London Declaration 1949, making member states “free and equal”. The Commonwealth has a veneer of colonial power given that it share a story with the Empire, and continues to invest the British monarch with symbolic power.

The Commonwealth featured prominently in the 1953 coronation ceremony, television programs showing Commonwealth celebrations at the Queen’s coronation. dress decorated with the floral emblems of the Commonwealth countries. She continued to to celebrate the Commonwealth throughout his reign.

The colonial history of the Commonwealth is reproduced in the values of Brexit, and the related nationalist projects that suffer from this Paul Gilroy calls “postcolonial melancholy”. The Queen was the living embodiment of British stoicism, the “Blitz spirit” and world imperial might, on which so many Brexit rhetoric suspended. How will the loss of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch affect the nostalgia upon which contemporary right-wing politics draws?

At the coronation, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is said to have replied to proposals to broadcast the ceremony on live television that “modern mechanical arrangements” would detract from the magic of the coronation, and “religious and spiritual aspects should [not] be presented as if it were a theatrical performance”.

The television was a new technology at the time, and there were concerns that televising the ceremony would be too intimate. Despite these concerns, the coronation telecast was a great success. The research project “Media and Memory in Walesfound that the coronation played a formative role in people’s earliest television memories. Even non-ardent monarchists could give an intimate account of their experiences.

The royal image has always been publicized, from the profile of the monarch on coins to the portrait. For Elizabeth II, this involved a radical shift: from the emergence of television, through tabloids and paparazzi, to social media and citizen journalism (processes linked to democratization and participation). Because of this, we now have more access to the monarchy than ever before.

In my book, Running The Family Firm: How the monarchy manages its image and our money, I argue that the British monarchy relies on a delicate balance between visibility and invisibility to reproduce its power. The royal family can be visible in spectacular forms (state ceremonies) or family forms (royal weddings, royal babies). But the internal functioning of the institution must remain secret.

The search for this balance by the monarchy is observed throughout the reign of the queen. An example is the 1969 BBC-ITV documentary Royal family. The royal family used new techniques of “Truth cinemato follow the monarchy for a year – what we would now recognize as “fly-on-the-wall” reality TV.

It gave us intimate glimpses of domestic scenes, such as family barbecues, and the Queen taking baby Prince Edward to a candy store. Despite its popularity, many feared the voyeur style shattered the mystique of the monarchy too far. Indeed, Buckingham Palace redacted the 90-minute documentary so that it was not available to the public, and 43 hours of footage remained unused.

Royal Confessionalsmodeled on celebrity culture and notions of privacy and disclosure, have haunted the monarchy for decades. Diana’s Panorama The 1995 interview was iconic, where she told interviewer Martin Bashir about royal adultery, the palace’s plots against her and her deteriorating mental and physical health.

More recently, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle interview with Oprah Winfrey discussed what they described as “corporate” racism, lack of accountability and her dismissal of Markle’s mental health. These interviews truly laid bare the workings of the institution and broke the visibility/invisibility balance.

Like the rest of the world, the monarchy now has an account on most major UK social media platforms. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Instagram account, run on behalf of Prince William, Kate Middleton and their children, is perhaps the most obvious example of royal familialism in contemporary times.

The photographs appear natural, off-the-cuff and informal, and Instagram is billed as Cambridge’s “family photo album”, allowing for “intimate” glimpses into Cambridge family life. Yet, as with any royal performance, these photographs are precisely staged.

Social media has given the monarchy access to new audiences: a younger generation who are more likely to scroll through royal photos on phone apps than read newspapers. How will this generation react to the death of the monarch?

Political figures

The Queen came to the throne during a period of radical political transformation. Clement Atlee of the Labor Party had been elected in 1945 in a sensational landslide election that seemed to signal voters’ desire for change. The creation of the NHS in 1948 as the central policy of the Post-war welfare statepledged cradle-to-grave support.

Winston Churchill’s Conservative Party took over Parliament in 1952. Churchill spoke of a different version of Britain: more traditional, imperialist and staunchly monarchist. These contrasting ideologies were visible in responses to the Queen’s coronation in June 1953.

Satirical protest cartoon by David Low “The next morning”, published in the Manchester Guardian on June 3, 1953, depicts party rubbish (bruning, champagne bottles) and the text “£100,000,000 spree” scrawled on the floor. The cartoon quickly garnered 600 letters of criticism for its “poor taste” and drew attention to contrasting political ideologies.

In the 1980s, the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher began a systematic dismantling of the post-war welfare state, emphasizing instead neoliberal free markets, tax cuts and individualism.

At the time of Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” years at the turn of the new millennium, the Queen was an older woman. Princess Diana was known as the ‘people’s princess’ of the time as her new brand of intimacy and ‘authenticity’ threatened to expose a ‘disconnected’ monarchy.

In 2000, three years after Diana died in a car accident in Paris, support for the monarchy was at its the lowest point. The Queen allegedly acted inappropriately, failing to respond to the public’s grief and to ‘represent her people’. L’Express, for example, published the big title “Show us you care: Mourners ask the Queen to lead our grief”.

Eventually she gave a televised speech which softened her silence by emphasizing her role as a grandmother, busy “helping” William and Harry deal with their grief. We have also seen this role of grandmother elsewhere: at home 90th anniversary photographs in 2016, taken by Annie Leibowitz, she sat in a domestic setting surrounded by her youngest grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

And then ?

It’s the image of the Queen that many will remember: an older woman, immaculately dressed, clutching her familiar, iconic handbag. While she was the head of state through many of the seismic political, social and cultural shifts of the 20th and 21st centuries, the fact that she rarely gave a political opinion signifies that she successfully navigated the constitutional political neutrality of the monarch.

She also made sure to remain an icon. It was never really given a “personality” like the others royalswho have initiated a love-hate relationship with the public because more is known about them.

The Queen has remained an image: indeed, she is the most represented person in British history. For seven decades, Britons have been unable to make a cash purchase without meeting his face. Such daily banality demonstrates the intertwining of the monarchy – and the queen – in the fabric of Britain.

The Queen’s death is sure to cause Britain to reflect on its past, present and future. Time will tell what the reign of Charles III will look like, but one thing is certain: the “New Elizabethan Age” is long gone. Britain is now recovering from recent breaches of its status quo, from Brexit to the COVID-19 pandemic to continued calls for Scottish independence.

Charles III inherits a country very different from that of his mother. What goal, if any, will the next monarchy have for Britain’s future?

Laura Clancyis a Lecturer in media at Lancaster University. This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

Comments are closed.