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What path did Elizabeth II go through, and what awaits the British monarchy after her death

“This was a real Russian gentleman … He planted an English garden, on which he spent almost all the rest of his income. His grooms were dressed as English jockeys. His daughter had an English madam. He cultivated his fields according to the English method.

This quote from The Young Lady-Peasant Woman describes well Anglomania – a passion for everything English, which originated in Russian noble culture in its time as a counterbalance to Gallomania and then willingly appropriated by the raznochintsy intelligentsia. The Russian intellectual has always searched on a distant island for what he lacked: before the revolution – progress and freedoms, after – stability and the charm of tradition. In the eyes of the Russian intelligentsia, the British royal family and personally Elizabeth II became one of the symbols of this tradition. The stars on the political, cultural, and intellectual horizons flashed on and off, but she lived and lived, as if personifying the inviolability of the monarchy. It seemed to be eternal, but on September 8, the newly minted Prime Minister Liz Truss heard the code phrase: “London Bridge collapsed.” This meant that Elizabeth departed to another world and her successor, the former Prince Charles, and now King Charles III, ascended the throne.

Her life

There are many biographies of the late queen, both printed on paper and published on the Internet. Most of them are either enthusiastically varnished to the delight of loyal subjects, or full of various conspiracy theories: that, they say, Elizabeth personally ordered the murder of the former Princess Diana and that she secretly rules the formally independent countries of the Commonwealth with an iron fist. Behind this mixture of enthusiasm and conspiracy theories, it is not easy to see the real Elizabeth – tough, quick-tempered, religious and smart.

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain

The Queen at Buckingham Palace, December 1958

Donald McKague/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

These qualities Lilibet (as she was called in childhood) demonstrated while still a child. Churchill, who met Elizabeth when she was two and a half, told his wife: “This is a person. She has an imperious air and a thoughtfulness, surprising for such an infant. The future queen was rarely capricious, but she always stood her ground, knew how to occupy herself when adults were not up to her, and kept her room and clothes in exemplary order. And most importantly, from childhood she knew her place and always with calm readiness participated in all solemn events where her presence was required. She received a good upbringing and education with a humanitarian bias – at one time her grandmother, Queen Mary, wife of George V, especially made sure that Lilibet and her sister Margaret studied the history, geography and culture of the empire. There is a known case when Maria expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that children devote a lot of time to mathematics, and asked their governess: “Who decided that arithmetic is more important for them than history? They won’t have to keep expense books at home.”

Elizabeth and her sister were lucky – the queen grew up in a loving family and married a loved one, her second cousin Prince Philip, who, by a happy coincidence, also knew his place well. He passed with honor through the silent obstruction of the court, where the wildest rumors circulated about him, and sacrificed his titles, career and Greek citizenship, agreeing to always be on the sidelines with his queen wife. Not to say that it was easy for him. When his son Charles was born in 1948, Philip was forbidden to give him his last name – Mountbatten. Then he declared in his hearts: “They treat me here like a damn amoeba.” But Elizabeth always took care to soften these blows, and carefully ensured that, at least within the family, Philip’s word sounded as weighty as hers, and she succeeded.

The Queen loved her corgis and horse races with abandon, and at the hippodrome, Elizabeth, usually restrained, behaved unusually emotionally, jumping up and waving her arms. She had a great sense of humor, she mimicked people well, liked to joke, was charming when she wanted to and was not arrogant. Elizabeth controlled her quick-tempered character perfectly, demonstrating firmness with servants and the ability to understand people: she quickly acquired a circle of selflessly devoted ladies-in-waiting and girlfriends and with their help created her image, which was considered the standard of taste. It was hard work: the combination of a hat, clothes, shoes and jewelry was sometimes selected for hours.

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain with a corgi

Elizabeth II with Corgi, December 1973

PA Images/Vostock Photo

She was also devout, largely due to the influence of her maternal grandmother, Cecilia Nina, the priest’s daughter. Christian principles firmly driven into her head led her sister to a personal tragedy – in 1955 Margaret refused to marry her beloved and loving captain Peter Townsend because he was divorced and this marriage would be a violation of “her duties towards her country.” And that is why, apparently, Elizabeth was so dragged out with the divorce of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer – the very idea of ​​dissolution of the marriage seemed to her disgusting.

She liked to reign. Although, probably, “liked” the wrong word – she perceived it as a job destined for her and strove to do it as best as possible. She took a keen interest in politics, met frequently with world leaders as required by her position, and participated in the running of her empire and her kingdom. The image of an old woman who does not decide anything is as far from reality as the image of an all-powerful queen who twirls world politics.

Her empire

Ironically, Elizabeth, who during her lifetime became a symbol of continuity and stability, had a chance to witness the collapse of the empire founded by her ancestors. By 1952, when Elizabeth ascended the throne, the main diamond, India, had already fallen out of the imperial crown, and the rest kept their word of honor. The empire was going through a long, difficult and painful process of half-life-half-transformation.

Little depended on the queen here – except to show a good face in a bad game and her commitment to the progressive cause of decolonization. Somewhere it turned out better, somewhere worse. Perhaps best done in Africa. Although the Mau Mau rebellion broke out in the year of Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, and then was brutally and bloodily suppressed, in the memory of most Africans, the queen remained one of the main champions of independence. At one time, she defiantly refused to travel to South Africa, since there was an apartheid regime there, and the black population did not forget this. When she nevertheless visited the republic in 1995, she was greeted by huge crowds with “Welcome” posters. “Maa Lizzy” in Africa is mourned both in social networks and in the press. Flags were flown at half-mast in Kenya and Ghana, and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted: “The history of modern Nigeria will never be complete without a chapter on Queen Elizabeth II, an outstanding world figure and an outstanding leader.” Of course, not everyone agrees with such an assessment, and the leftist African intelligentsia rewards the late queen with not the most flattering epithets, recalling the responsibility of the ruling British dynasty for the enslavement of other peoples.

Queen Elizabeth II in Kenya

Queen Elizabeth II and President of Kenya Daniel Toroytich arap Moi, November 10, 1983

Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

History loves to joke. The empire began to fall apart even under Elizabeth’s father, but she got the dubious honor of being present at the end of this process. And under her, imperial nostalgia began to revive – not the usual regret of old people about their youth, but the desire of a new generation to revise historical assessments. “New imperialists” such as Niall Ferguson and Michael Gove emphasize the benefits that the British brought to the colonized peoples. This position is subjected to harsh criticism from the left, but its apologists stand their ground.

Such rhetoric often finds understanding both on the ground – in recent decades, countries that have never been British colonies (Rwanda, Gabon, Mozambique and Togo) have joined the Commonwealth – and in high offices, where talk of Global Britain and Empire 2.0 is heard. It is no coincidence that one of the ministerial portfolios in the government of Liz Truss was received by Quasi Kwarteng – the author of the book “The Ghost of Empire”, which details the mistakes of the bureaucratic system that weakened Britain. At one time, the opponents of the “new imperialists” spoke of this book with enthusiasm, but now it looks more like a scrupulous analysis of previous mistakes, which it is important not to repeat in a new round of development.

Her throne

Contrary to the idea of ​​the monarchy as an unshakable institution, which embodied the British love for stability and continuity, Britain has a long and glorious republican tradition. Everyone remembers the times of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate and the execution of Charles I Stuart. But republicanism flourished and developed further, especially after the French Revolution. In 1848, they even had to pass the Treason Act, according to which republican propaganda was punishable by exile to Australia or life imprisonment. This law has not been applied for a long time, but it has not been formally repealed. Britain experienced another powerful surge of republican sentiment in 1870, under Queen Victoria. The fact that in the next hundred plus years it did not repeat itself in this form is a considerable merit of Elizabeth.

She herself, her parents and advisers skillfully built the image of an ideal monarch. There is a war – Elizabeth in the ranks of the Auxiliary Territorial Service learns to drive an ambulance. The Second World War is over – Elizabeth and her family share the hardships of the post-war years and the austerity regime with ordinary Britons (the Queen has a long habit of turning off the lights in Buckingham Palace to save electricity). Even the wedding of Elizabeth was a model of PR: for Britain, with difficulty getting out of the consequences of the global conflict, this ceremony became, in the words of Churchill, “a flash of light that illuminated the difficult path that we had to go through.”

Perhaps it was then that the country fell in love with the future queen, and she did everything not to lose this love, never flaunting her wealth and demonstrating that she was no better than her subjects. This love was severely tested in the 1990s, when the royal family and the whole of Britain was shaken by the scandal associated with the divorce proceedings between Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and then Diana’s death in a car accident. But the queen’s popularity outlasted this challenge.

Queen Elizabeth II with family

British Royal Family, January 11, 1988

Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Vostock Photo

The question is whether King Charles will be able to maintain this popularity. The institution of the monarchy in Britain still enjoys the support of the majority of the population, but the new king is a much more controversial figure than his mother. Elizabeth managed to stay above the fray, people projected their ideas, hopes and dreams onto her and onto the monarchy she personified. Karl is not like his mother: he is (at least for the moment) less popular, spoiled the image with old scandals – first with a divorce from Princess Diana, and then a civil marriage with his longtime mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles. In addition, the prince was not shy about expressing his often controversial opinions on a number of sensitive issues – from climate change to relations with China and problems with immigration, calling himself “a dissident who challenges political consensus.” In 2002-2006, he tried to influence government ministers by sending them his notes and sketches on significant topics – the famous “black spider memos”, named after Charles’s specific handwriting, which reminded journalists of a string of spiders. This story, however, rather added to his popularity, as ordinary Britons found that the prince held the same views as most of his future subjects, disapproving of the construction of modernist new buildings in central London, defending the rights of small farmers and ridiculing the excessive attention paid to the rights minorities.

In the long run, the monarchy’s chances look even better so far. Charles III set a record, at 73, becoming the oldest crowned pretender to the throne in British history. The next generation, Prince William and his wife Kat Middleton, are much more popular than the current king. Princess Catherine is very reminiscent of the young Elizabeth in her behavior, demonstrating the same understanding of the responsibility that she bears as a member of the royal family, and the willingness to further strengthen the institution of the monarchy in the storms of the 21st century. On the other hand, Lady Diana Spencer also seemed to many at one time the ideal future queen.

The author is the Head of the Group of South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region at IMEMO RAS

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