Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Three Queens

Buckingham Palace
Wood Engraving
by J. Woods, 1837

I have always been fascinated by the history of the British Monarchy. Love them or hate them, they have been an interesting cast of characters on the world's stage. The inclination in the 21st Century is to do away with the Monarchy and move towards a Republic. That may evolve naturally, as these things often seem to do. But in any case, if the Monarchy didn't exist, we would invent them. Somehow it seems to be part of the human condition. I wonder if we would invent as interesting a bunch of people as we have now. Oh, they seem dull, but trust me -- they're not. Even with the unfortunate, beleaguered Diana gone, the Royals still never fail to entertain. Three of my favorite Royals were the longest-reigning Queens -- Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II. These were not women who sat back and allowed themselves to be pampered. Well, okay, maybe they were pampered, and they lived in unimaginable wealth and privilege. But they were also the CEOs of an enormous world-wide organization. It is said of Queen Elizabeth II that she is one of the most politically astute, savvy and knowledgeable people in the world today when it comes to politics and current affairs. Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria were no dummies either. When each of these three interesting women became Queen, they were all much younger than silly Paris Hilton is now.
Queen Elizabeth I was 25 years old when she ascended the throne, and she remained Queen for 45 years until her death in 1603. Her reign was called The Golden Age, and for me it is one of the most fascinating periods in history. When Elizabeth first came to power, England was an insignificant country, and when she died England had become a major power, both nationally and internationally. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Elizabethan period was the cooking. Many amazing recipes were created in Queen Elizabeth I's day. New foods such as tomatoes and potatoes were introduced from the New World, along with exotic spices from the Orient. An Elizabethan home would employ dozens of servants, each with a specific task. Dairy maids were used to shape butter into equisite shapes such as swans and various fruit. Sugar was the equivalent of $300 a pound, and because of this only the mistress of the household was permitted to work with sugar. But wonderful desserts were created during the Elizabethan Age and they are still used today.

Queen Victoria was 18 years old when she ascended the throne -- a teenager. She was younger than most people are today when they first leave home. Her reign as the Queen lasted 63 years and 7 months, longer than that of any other British monarch before or since, and her reign is the longest of any female monarch in history. The time of her reign is known as the Victorian era, a period of great industrial, political, and scientific progress. Queen Victoria was married to her first cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and had nine children. Prince Albert died of typoid fever in 1861, and it was rumored that Queen Victoria married for a second time -- to a household servant by the name of John Brown. When Queen Victoria died, two items were placed in her coffin. One was Prince Albert's dressing gown, and the other was a lock of John Brown's hair. On her finger she wore the wedding ring of John Brown's mother.

Queen Elizabeth II was 25 years old when she ascended the throne, and as of today is the eldest ever reigning monarch in British history. She will have to reign until September 9, 2015 when she will be 89 years old to better her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. During Queen Elizabeth II's reign there have been 11 different Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, and numerous Prime Ministers in the Commonwealth Realms of which she is (or was) also Head of State. She has known a total of 138 Prime Ministers and 12 U.S. Presidents during her reign. Both her mother and her Aunt Alice lived to be 102, and the Queen is healthy so she could very well live another 20 years. If that is the case, her heir to the throne -- Prince Charles -- will be 81 years old when he becomes King, and his son and heir -- Prince William -- will be 46. The British Monarchy may possibly fade into the sunset along with the British Empire after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Many people feel it is becoming irrelevant in the 21st Century. Only time will tell.

No matter what happens to the British Monarchy, these three women will continue to be fascinating chapters in world history.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

I agree. Since we have no actual royalty in the United States, we have to create some: the Kennedys, the Obamas, and a whole class of old-moneyed aristocrats who are as privileged as royalty and who feel as entitled, despite the fact that we brandish our "democratic ideals" all over the world.

Nancy said...

I, too, am fascinated by the monarchy. I loved the Showtime series The Tudors. I know it's television - but King Henry VIII was an amazing character in history!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

All fascinating women. For me though, Elizabeth I's reign was the most impressive. If England had a weaker monarch at that time, she may never have become the power that she did. Elizabeth I seems almost too good to be true.

Belizegial said...

I admire the women of the monarchy. We had the distinct pleasure of Elizabeth II presence on our shores in 1994. All businesses and schools closed down for the royal state visit and the streets were lined with school children waving flags and cheering adults alongside. She is/was a beautiful visitor, polite, kind and so very british.

Hope you have a very merry Christmas.

houndstooth said...

I freely admit to being intrigued by the monarchy. You have to love the stories of such strong women, as well! How interesting that both Elizabeths were both twenty five when they ascended to the throne.

Smalltown RN said...

Like you I to have been fascinated by the monarch. Queen Elizabeth I being the most facinating of them all ....what strong women indeed...educated, and well spoken something to certainly aspire to.

Happy Monday to you!

Charles Gramlich said...

My historical interests have always leaned toward the military side. To my shame, perhaps.

mary b said...

Elizabeth I is the one who fascinates me the most.
Along with your summary, she also brought England back from the edge of bankruptcy. She was very intelligent, well read, spoke 7 different languages, and so on.
You probably already saw this movie, but it is my favorite, the one with Helen Mirren, Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. I believe it was a made for HBO movie.
But then again, everyone Helen Mirren plays, she plays extremely well.

Alicia said...

Very interesting post. I don't know much about the British monarchy but this inspires me to read more about them. I'm going to make that a point in the new year.

Mia said...

People have been talking about casting them aside forever. I doubt it will happen any time son.

I think Victoria's influence was too great. Especially in nudity and public displays of sweaty passion.

Jo said...

Susan, yes, that is a good example. The Kennedys are referred to as "America's royalty". If royalty did not exist, we would create them.

Nancy, wasn't that a fabulous series? I think it was quite historically accurate too. Henry VIII was Queen Elizabeth I's father. Interesting people!

LGS, there was a meme going around recently, asking which three people we would like to spend some time with if we could. One of my choices was Queen Elizabeth I. She was an amazing person, wasn't she?

Enid, oh, yes, Queen Elizabeth II is the very personification of British, and so elegant and ladylike. I have seen her a few times too. I was hoping she would be coming to Vancouver for the Olympics. And thank you. I hope you have a wonderful Merry Christmas too. :-)

Houndstooth, yes, they were both very young woman, and they both turned out to be very intelligent, strong women and long-reigning Queens. And they're both very intersting.

Mary Anne, oh gosh, yes. Queen Elizabeth I was a powerhouse. All three of these women were absolutely fascinating, weren't they?

Charles, well, the strength of the military grew with the reigns of both Elizabeth I and Victoria. So you're not that far off.

Mary, wasn't Helen Mirren incredible as both Queen Elizabeth I and II? She transformed and became them. Elizabeth I was one of the most fascinating people in history, wasn't she?

Alicia, the history of the British Monarchy is incredibly interesting, and very intertwined with American history as well. They're a fascinating bunch of people.

Mia, LOL. I often wonder how Queen Victoria ended up having nine (!!!) children. *heh* And no, I don't think the Monarchy will be disappearing any time soon, even though some folks would be happy to see them go. It would be a loss.

Bill said...

The other interesting thing about all three is that none of them were born to be queen. The ascendancy is patriarchal. I'm for changing that.

People talk about Elizabeth abdicating to give Charles a go. That is never going to happen. Monarchs don't retire. A couple of hundred years ago, if Charles had been impatient to wear the hat, he'd have just had her whacked.

Victoria certainly had to learn on the job. She couldn't understand why she had to lose a perfectly good prime minister just because he got less votes than someone else.

But as you say, she was no fool. And that speaks to your comment about Obama's experience. Three of the most impressive leaders in history came to the job with no experience, as do many others.
So the question is whether they were born great, achieve greatness, or had it thrust upon them.

Mia said...

Obama's a queen? You'd think Fox News would've reported that.

Victoria had 60+ years to learn on the job. Obama has less time. And his position is much more powerful.

Bill said...

If you want to look at it that way, Victoria assumed the throne as little more than a child. Obama is in his late 40s with 30 years extra experience of both the privileged life and the not so privileged life. Call it a draw?

It prompts the question of how England survived with such inexperienced heads of state.

Paula Slade said...

Jo, I too enjoy stories of the British monarchy! I think they are far more interesting than our country's politicians. These three women are remarkable in every sense of the word, not only for what they accomplished in their lifetimes, but for how young they were when they were given such a heavy mantle of responsibility. I often wonder, even with all the wealth and privilege that is provided them, if they have ever wanted to trade places with a "commoner." I recently read that Prince William spent a night sleeping on the streets of London in order to call attention to the plight of the homeless. Oh, would I love to hear the report he gave to his grandmother!

Mia said...

Elizabeth II was a community organiser.