On Wednesday Queen Elizabeth II became Britain’s longest reigning monarch. Social media exploded with both throwback and current photographs of moments throughout her 63-year reign. For all of Wednesday, the Internet was infatuated with Queen Elizabeth II, congratulating her for an apparent achievement.
Since the 17th century, the United Kingdom has had a constitutional monarchy, which means the crown has slowly but surely become more of a cultural symbol than an actual reigning power. The global obsession with Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family is a lot more aggrandizing than the role they have in the British government. Queen Elizabeth II was rewarded for being the longest reigning monarch, but does she really reign?
As I muse over this “milestone” I cannot help but think about Queen Elizabeth I. Right until her death in 1603, she was both hated and loved, revered and criticized, followed and feared. If you look objectively at Queen Elizabeth I and how well she performed her monarchal duties, it is clear she excelled. She made the U.K. a formidable force in Europe and worked in peaceful unity with parliament and the Church at a time when the U.K. had known only a great deal of unrest. In other words, she governed.
Queen Elizabeth I ruled for 44 years, which is an incredibly long period of time to actually rule a country. Does Queen Elizabeth II get to “mark history” because she managed to “reign” for a greater number of years in an era where her duties are not as stressful or controversial as her predecessors’ duties? It seems unfair.
I am not condemning the royal family. In fact, I very much appreciate the piece of history and unbreakable connection to the past that they bring to both the U.K. and the world. It is fairly obvious, at least in the case of the U.K., that modern constitutional monarchies are more of a symbol of respect and nostalgia than an actual governing body. Keeping that in mind, bestowing Queen Elizabeth II with the title of longest reigning monarch is almost besmirching the title itself.
Queen Elizabeth II just became the U.K.’s longest reigning monarch, but only technically. Yes, she made a mark in history. She remains a queen and she is still a significant figure in the grand scheme of history, but she is not a governor. She is a symbol of unity. Of course, she is the U.K.’s longest symbol of unity, and the face of her country, but that is it.
In a day and age where people forget about history and are engrossed in social media, I hope that the celebrity status Queen Elizabeth II receives urges people to read about British history. If they do, then Queen Elizabeth represents and reminds people of a United Kingdom that once was, and that is perfect.