Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Grand Dame Herself: Queen Elizabeth II

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, first a princess, now a Queen, was born on April 21rst, 1921, to Albert, the Duke of York and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. After Edward VIII abdicated the British throne to marry the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, Albert found himself the new head of the monarchy. Albert wasn’t the only member of the family with a new role; Elizabeth, the older of his two daughters, was now the heir apparent.

Ever mindful of the abdication scandal, Elizabeth, and her sister, Margaret, were brought up cautious of their behavior. Never swear, always look your best, smile, speak cautiously, and remember your place. During World War II, Prince Elizabeth was part of the Auxiliary Service, where she trained and worked as a mechanic. In November 20th, 1947, after a courtship, the Princess married Phillip Mountbatten of Greece.  It should be noted that Phillip had to give up his Greek title and became a British citizen prior to the wedding. He was made the Duke of Edinburgh and with Elizabeth’s coronation, became Prince Phillip.

Elizabeth and Phillip were in Kenya, on safari when her father, George VI succumbed to lung cancer. The new queen and her husband immediately flew backed to England. She was proclaimed Queen on February 8th, 1952. A coronation is a major affair of state, which takes planning. First, though, the old King needed a funeral.

On June 2, 1953, Elizabeth was formally crowned Elizabeth II. Broadcast live over the radio and filmed for posterity, Elizabeth was part of a ceremony that has been in place since the 8th century, and held in Westminster Abbey since the 10th. Each piece of the Regalia has a meaning, and is on display at the Tower of London.

Regalia and weapons are used by the Monarch, the Clergy, her family, her Knights, and men-at-arms.

First, the weapons: thirteen royal maces dating back to the 17th century, which are carried by Sergeants-at-Arms; three 17th century swords: the blunt-end Sword of Curtana (signifying Mercy), the Sword of Spiritual Justice and the Sword of Temporal Justice. Another sword, the Sword of State, which is a two-handled weapon, is brought in and used to symbolize the Monarch’s authority and this sword is exchanged for the Jeweled Sword of Offering.

The Trumpets, of which sixteen remain, have been dated to the late 18th century. Every trumpet has a silk banner hanging from them. They are no longer played.

St. Edward’s Staff was presented for Charles II’s coronation in 1661 by Sir Robert Viner. No one really knows what it represents now, but claims have been made that the monde (the top cap) supposedly has a portion of the ‘True Cross’ contained within.

The Ampulla holds the sacred oil, of which the Monarch is anointed during the coronation process. The Coronation Spoon receives the oil from the Ampulla. It is believed that the silver-gilded Spoon was made for King Henry II or King Richard, and thus is the oldest item in use for the coronation.

After the Sovereign is anointed, he/she is invested with the coronation robes and ornaments. These garments consist of the Supertunica, the Imperial Mantle, a Stole, the Armills, the golden Orbs, the Coronation rings, the Scepters, and the Spurs. The Armills are velvet-lined gold & enameled bracelets.  The orb represents the Monarch being the heed of the Anglican Church and symbolizes Christian sovereignty over the world. Two Scepters, the Scepter with Cross and Scepter with Dove are handed to the Sovereign after he or she puts on a pair of gloves. The Scepter stands for the Monarch’s temporal power under the cross while the Doved one stand’s for the Sovereign’s spiritual powers. The investments of the robes and ornaments are supposed to represent “the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace.” Every Monarch gets a new set made especially for him or her.

There are multiple Crowns in the Crown Jewels. The actual crown used in the Coronation Ceremony is St. Edward’s Crown, dated to 1661. This solid gold masterpiece has 444 precious stones, purple velvet, and ermine. AS the heavy crown is placed upon the Monarch’s head by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the cry of “God Save the King/Queen!” is cried out.

As the ceremony ends, the new King or Queen takes the Holy Communion. He or she then goes to St. Edward’s Chapel for some silent prayer. After emerging, St. Edward’s Crown is replaced with the Imperial State Crown. This magnificent crown was made in 1838 for Queen Victoria, and has been redesigned for succeeding coronation ceremonies and includes 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 5 rubies, and 273 pearls.

This year marks Elizabeth’s 60th year as Queen. As far as longest reigning British monarchs, she ranks #2 for Britain. Queen Victoria stands as the longest reigning, with 63 years and 200+ days. This also goes for the United Kingdom. As for modern currently enthroned rulers, only King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX), sitting on his throne for over 65 years, has Elizabeth II beat.

Queen Elizabeth II is constitutional head of the United Kingdom (England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland,) and Head of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is not an automatic title; rather it is a symbolic Head of State of which each member must recognize. When Queen Victoria was alive, the British people said the sun never set on the British Empire. It might be said the same today, although the member countries no longer far the might of the Queen’s armies, they are proud to be a part of the Commonwealth.

This year marks sixty years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. If the Grand Lady follows suit of her mother, she will continue on for another twenty years, easily passing Victoria’s time and setting a record. Elizabeth has shown she is willing to change with the times, having a website, posting videos on YouTube, and keeping up on the social sites. She has kept her family moving ahead in bad times and good, learning from the Diana years. Her popularity is as high as it ever was. She is everyone’s Granny, and everyone’s Queen. How can one not love her charismatic smile?

May she reign another twenty years…GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!

For more reading, in general:

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain
By Charles Phillips
2009 Metro Books, New York
ISBN # 978-1-4351-1835-5

The Crown Jewels
By Kenneth Mears
1994 The Historic Royal Palaces Agency

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