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Sunday, June 10, 2012

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Last week, Britain celebrated 60 years of reign by Queen Elizabeth II. The sovereign is now 86 years old while her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, is 91. The couple had now been married for almost 65 years. In 1,000 years of the history of that country, this queen is the second longest reigning monarch. The longest reign in that country was by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. She reigned for 63 years.

Yet Queen Victoria does not hold the record for being the longest serving monarch in history. That distinction goes to an African king, Sobhuza II of Swaziland who ruled for almost 83 years. In Asia there was a monarch, Muhoji IV Rao of the small state of Phaltan in India, who ruled for 74 years. Today, the longest reigning monarch in Asia is King Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. He ascended the throne in 1946 and has been ruling for 65 years.

So what makes a sovereign reign for such long periods? This is a relevant question in the modern day and age. Take the case of Queen Elisabeth II of Britain. What is remarkable about her monarchy is its capacity to adapt to change with the changing times. It is also about the "ability of the British to mix reverence for tradition, with the capacity to innovation." This queen had knighted the pop group Beatles. Winston Churchill was her first prime minister. She was the one who accepted the resignation of Anthony Eden after the Suez crisis. She had hosted President Kennedy of USA and greeted the release of Nelson Mandela from an apartheid jail in South Africa. She also came out of the storm over the divorce and death of her first daughter-in-law Princess Diana.

The queen is said to be able to read the mind of her people and "respond creatively" to their demands. To many, she is known as the "enabling monarch." She has never interfered with the affairs of the government of the day. In fact, she does not rule but only reigns. Her quiet advice, therefore, on many national and international issues have been listened by all 12 British prime ministers who have served her since her accession. From Churchill to present day Cameron, they have all given her their undivided attention. She has in these 60 years of her reign also seen 12 US presidents from Harry Truman to President Obama. Yet, this queen never attended any formal school or college. She had been tutored privately at home. A recent poll shows that over 80% of her people support the queen.

In her personal life the queen maintains a strict schedule. She happily mixes her work as a monarch with her duties as a wife, a mother and a grandmother. She enjoys certain unique privileges. She does not need to have a driving license or to register her cars. She also does not need a passport. In her spare time she likes to read mystery novels, work on crosswords and watch wrestling on TV. Her passion for dogs and race horses are well known. There is no doubt that she is one of the richest people in the world. Her net personal worth is over $500 million. This does not include her crown, lands and castles.

She personally owns several properties, like Balmoral castle in Scotland and Sandringham House in Norfolk. She has stud farms, fruit farm and an extensive art and jewellery collection. She also has the largest stamp collection in the world. But some of her real estate, like Buckingham Palace in London worth over $5 billion alone and Windsor castle, as well as other prize properties (about 60 of them) and collections are held in a trust.

For sixty years now she has put up with relentless public scrutiny and yet she has not been tarnished by any personal or financial scandal. She is now given an annual state grant of around $59 million for upkeep and protocol. But she pays taxes like other British citizens for the revenue she earns from her properties.

In 1961, Queen Elizabeth came to Dhaka, which was then the capital city of the eastern province of Pakistan. She stayed at what is known as the Sugandha State Guest House, located next to Ramna Park (now the Foreign Service Training Academy). This house was a villa built during the British colonial era. It was remodeled and refurbished for her overnight stay. She visited the Adamjee Jute Mills in Narayanganj, which was the largest jute mill in the world. The queen revisited Dhaka in 1983 on her way to Delhi to attend the Non-Aligned Summit. This time she stayed for a couple or more days in independent Bangladesh. A sprightly lady, she impressed the people here on both occasions with her warmth and interest about their welfare.

It is unknown to many that Queen Elizabeth's coronation gown, on her instructions, had been embroidered with floral emblems of Commonwealth countries. Thus the English Tudor rose, the Australian Wattle, the Canadian Maple Leaf and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) Jute found their place there.

The queen is so much on public view that an institutional wall protects what remains of her private life. This job is done by her courtiers. Do not forget that this queen had to guide the social role of the royal family. This was from a "starchy and unrealistic model of conventional middle class values at the time of her accession, to more accepting of human failings in the wake of her children's divorces." In the middle of all this, the queen performed her role not only in 16 countries where she is still accepted as the constitutional monarch but also the ceremonial role as the head of the Commonwealth of Nations.

The queen, however, had to observe silently some of the notable changes that took place in 20th and early 21st century in her country. First, her reign saw the demise of Britain as a global power. In 1815, Britain was the biggest empire in history. It was so huge and far flung that it was said that "the sun never sets in the British empire." At that time the empire had 43 colonies in five continents.

During her watch that empire shrank. Majority of them became independent countries. She now has only 14 "overseas territories," of which some of them have not acquired independence or have voted to remain with her. These tiny territories ranges from 6.5 sq kilometer (Gibraltar) to 12,200 sq km (Falkland Islands). The British have also experienced tectonic changes in culture and class in their island country. The British nation is now very multi-cultural. She has also seen the lobotomy of the British economy and its present whimpering state. But through all this the queen upheld British national pride and self-belief.

We felicitate Queen Elizabeth for 60 years on her throne. May she reign longer over her realm, longer than Queen Victoria, and in good health.

The writer is a former Ambassador and a regular commentator on contemporary issues.


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Dear your majesty, I am making this message to thank you for all that you have done for the world. You should win a big trophy saying, "Go Queen Elizabeth" and thank you. Wish you the best.

: lily

Where were the Queen's other children & grandchildren last week? Why weren't they included in the events?

: Susan Kukuk


  • F Khan
    Sunday, June 10, 2012 11:34 AM GMT+06:00 (362 weeks ago)

    A very informative writing indeed!

  • tulani
    Sunday, June 10, 2012 01:06 PM GMT+06:00 (362 weeks ago)

    King Sobhuza died when he was 82/83. He couldn't have reigned that long.





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