The Bayeux Tapestry is one example of the depiction of historic events that I recall when contemplating the significance of the Diamond Jubilee flotilla. I am fascinated by historic paintings of special occasions. They are as old as human kind. Some are inaccurate, shaped by ego and politics. I’ve gazed at them in galleries, and imagined myself as one of bystanders witnessing the parade, or battle or crowning.
Live television enables my fantasy to come true. In my lifetime, I have witnessed a man walking on the moon, the state funeral of Winston Churchill, more than one Royal Wedding and the fall of the Berlin Wall – just to name a few.
This morning , I will be one of millions of faceless folk who will watch as a Royal flotilla sails the Thames, an event that echoes the pomp of centuries and the music of Handel. Eating scones and sipping tea, in my pyjamas, history will unfold before me in real time and high definition.
When HM the Queen ascended to the throne 60 years ago this week, a second Elizabethan age began. My parents also lived during the reigns of 2 Georges, and the never crowned Edward. My grandparents could add Victoria and another Edward to the list of monarchs whose reigns defined their lives. Yet I have known only one, Elizabeth II.
Religious foment, great works of theatre and poetry, plus grand discoveries were the hallmarks of the first Elizabeth’s reign. The same may be said of the second. They were both young when they ascended the throne, relying on elderly statesmen to guide them in the early years. Both gained confidence, becoming independent thinkers. Neither were flawless. Both were human.
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The first Elizabeth denied herself family and a lifelong companion, the politically expedient choice. The second Elizabeth became a wife, mother and now great-grandmother. Both choices led to scandal and public embarrassment. Yet the Elizabeths stayed the course, putting duty before all.
This post is not a political argument. A case can be made for and against monarchy in the 21st century. This post is an acknowledgement of the consistency, tenacity and dedication that the Elizabeth of my era has shown for 60 years.
We forget that the anniversary of ascendance is also an anniversary of a death. Her father George VI died 60 years ago this week. This day must, for our Elizabeth, be bittersweet. Much like her life, I assume.
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The University of Michigan Library reprints public domain books, creating “reading copies”. You do not have to be a UML student to purchase a copy. I have one at my side right now – The Horse-world of London by William John Gordon. it was originally printed in 1893 by the Religious Tract Society, complete with illustrations.
Chapter VII captured my attention this morning – The Queen’s Horse. It begins:
In the horse-world of London, the highest circle, the most exclusive set, so to speak, is that housed at Buckingham Palace.
The accompanying illustration is of the “The Queen’s Creams” pulling a state carriage attended by liveried hostlers.
Gordon takes his reader on a tour of the Royal Mews, physically describing the space, comparing the generous square footage of the stalls to others in London. He relates a humorous tale of preparing the horses – actually failing to prepare the horses – for a state occasion. The Queen to whom he refers is not HM Queen Elizabeth II, but Victoria, she who gave her name to an era.
I toured the Royal Mews in June 2010, long before I acquired a copy of “The Horse-world of London.” Fewer horses are stabled there now, yet the stalls are still as spacious. The vaulted ceilings still exist. The tack is still on display. Even some of the state carriages mentioned in the book can still be seen.
My DIY Travel Tip
Don’t rely on the content of modern books, and youthful tour guides who deliver standard patter. Root through the stacks at your local library for antique books – or reprints – with descriptions of the building, area or country you plan to visit. Had I toured the Royal Mews with the knowledge I’ve gleaned from it, an extra dimension would have been added to the experience. I could have imagined the bustle and sounds of a stable when mechanical vehicles did not exist – and so could you travel in the past with some inexpensive effort.
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My mother is elderly. She was a young woman during the Blitz of World War II. She still has nightmares about her experience, and for most of her life she wouldn’t talk about it.
One memory she has shared is her respect for King George VI, and his wife Queen Elizabeth. The Royal Family shared the horror, terror and deprivation. My mother gathered with her family around their radio to listen to Churchill and the King. Mother has never forgotten.
I’ll be taking Mother to see The King’s Speech, when it arrives in my local Cineplex on December 22. Mother is too frail to travel to downtown Toronto for the December 10 limited showing. Afterwards, I’m going to listen to the stories I believe the film will spark. I can’t wait to see The King’s Speech.