OPINION: Queen Elizabeth II in the eyes of a young American

Price Wilborn, Commentary writer

On Sept.8, after 70 years on the British throne, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away at 96 years old. The Queen’s reign, beginning in 1952, saw unimaginable change in all aspects of life. Taking the throne less than a decade after the conclusion of the Second World War, advancements in technology, government, society and the human condition.

Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 was the first televised coronation in British history. The monarch’s annual Christmas message – the first being broadcast on radio in 1939 – was first played on television in 1957. Now, the Christmas message can be viewed on social media platforms. King Charles III’s coronation is poised to be only the second shown on television, but millions will undoubtedly tune in using online streaming services, as well.

The Queen held a large part in British, American and global popular culture throughout her reign. She was depicted in countless movies, television shows and documentaries. Many Americans (myself included) have become infatuated with the Netflix series “The Crown,” which depicts a highly dramatized reign of Elizabeth II. Beginning with her taking the throne in 1952, the ongoing series has created devoted fans of the show and of the Royal Family.

There are not very many alive today that remember life before the death of the Queen’s father, King George VI. In 2020, the average age of a citizen of the United Kingdom was 40.5 years old. Globally, the average age is 30 years old. According to the United Nations, only 703 million people were over the age of 65 in 2019.

The majority of the world’s population did not live in a time where someone other than Queen Elizabeth II reigned on the British throne. The Queen served as a constant throughout times of tragedy and heartbreak, but also through times of opportunity and inspiration. From the 1966 disaster at Aberfan that killed 144 and the death of Princess Diana in 1997 to terrorist attacks on the United Kingdom and the world, the Queen provided comfort and stability for her citizens.

She was there for citizens of other countries, too. In 1963, after the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, the Queen had the bell at Westminster Abbey rung in mourning, an act usually reserved for British citizens. In 2001, after the Sept. 11 2001, the Queen instructed the Coldstream band to play the “Star-Spangled Banner” in solidarity with the United States and joined thousands of British citizens in singing the US national anthem in a memorial service days after the attack.

The Queen was never a political figure and never made her political views known to the public. On her 21st birthday – just six years before her coronation – then Princess Elizabeth declared “that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.” In times of trouble and in times of happiness, she was there. She stood firm in her service and devotion to her nation and the Commonwealth of Nations, of which she was head.

Her constitutional obligation to remain neutral on political issues gave the Queen only gestures toward citizens of the United Kingdom and the world. The gestures shown when she bowed her head at the funeral of Princess Diana or after the September 11 attacks are just a small look into the countless gestures made by Elizabeth II when she was the Queen. They were powerful and meaningful, bringing comfort to British people whenever they were collectively hurting.

She was a beloved figure in the United Kingdom and around the world because she represented an ideal. She represented the ideal of steadfast, unwavering leadership while personifying what the Crown should be: ever-evolving and ever-changing to meet the needs of the people first.

To young people around the world, Elizabeth II was the epitome of public service. She had nothing to gain and everything to lose, yet people loved her. Because she was never political, she was able to honor the people who make Britain great. Prime Ministers of all parties bowed to her because she represented the people and the nation in a way that they never could. 

I have always found it fascinating that the United Kingdom is so devoted to their monarchy – that this monarchy has survived since and can be traced back to its inception by William the Conqueror in 1066. Through talk of doing away with the monarchy, the institution remains strong. Time-tested rules and traditions ensure that the monarchy evolves yet stays important in British daily life.

Many Americans do not care about the death of the Queen, but in the United Kingdom, not only have members of the Royal Family lost their matriarch, but British citizens feel that they have lost a family member, as well. The Queen served as a mother and a grandmother to all British citizens, whether they agreed with her role as monarch or not.

The death of the Queen renewed criticism of the colonial history of England. At its height, the British Empire ruled over almost half a billion people around the globe. Many would say that “the Sun never sets on the British Empire” because of the amount of land and people the nation colonized.

The Queen represented this history of oppression. In her 70 years on the throne, the United Kingdom found itself relegated from a global power to a second-rate nation. There were mixed feelings in these former colonies. Because of what she represented, many felt they could not mourn the passing of the Queen. Others celebrated her life and legacy as an individual and the strides the nation took during the second Elizabethan era.

People around the world adored the Queen. She was an ideal, an image and a goal of what leaders everywhere should strive to be. This constant in the lives of countless will be missed by many beyond measure. Her devotion to service and people will not be forgotten.

As a young American who will never comprehend the full impacts that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had on her subjects and history, I feel her son, King Charles III, said it best in a speech given the day after his mothers death:

“Queen Elizabeth was a life well lived; a promise with destiny kept and she is mourned most deeply in her passing.”

Commentary writer Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.