Saturday, 2 June 2012

Diamond Queen: how heavy is her crown?

To mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee this weekend, BBCTV has been showing, 1950s films of her wearing The Imperial State Crown. It is so heavy due to being set with over 3000 jems, that the young Queen had to practise wearing it in advance of her Coronation - even at one point speaking to Prince Charles in the bath while wearing it.

But what is the true "weight" of the Crown for a constitutional monarch? I understood this better when I prepared my tours of Whitehall Palace and enquired deeper into the life of Elizabeth 1st.

The life of her predecessor, Queen Elizabeth 1st, combined the role of modern Prime Minister with some of the role of Queen Elizabeth 11. At Whitehall Palace, Elizabeth 1st lived in a flat ("The Privy Gallery") above her Ministers, so that she could conduct late night chats about policy while she scribbled notes which she kept in the bag around her waist. She attended what we would call "Cabinet meetings in Number 10" and took wise counsel from her most able advisors. She may have had a Foreign Secretary/Head of MI6 e.g. Francis Walsingham, but she took the really important decisions on foreign policy.  Having said, a lot of administration was done at the local level ("Localism") in Elizabethan times e.g. help for the destitute was funded by civic bodies themselves.

She was also in control of state, Church and public appointments, a role now undertaken through a competitive process, by the PM (an advice) or by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. She could also give away Crown properties to her favourites. In other words she treated her property as her own.  This contrasts with our Queen who sees herself as custodian of lands and treasures which belong to the Nation - or so she informed Jackie Kennedy.

Elizabeth 1st appointed her advisors. She set the tone on economic policy with the result that while the rest of Europen was bankrupt, England remained solvent.  Ultimately, Elizabeth 1st "ruled" England. To manage this, she employed what we would call a "police state".

In addition to all this, she undertook the duties of Queen Elizabeth II which are:
  • being Supreme Governor of the Church of England, 
  • nominal Head of Civil Service, judiciary, armed forces etc
  • welcoming and entertaining overseas Heads of State/ambassadors
  • attending concerts, banquets, civic receptions etc
  • awarding Honours and Knighthoods
  • touring the country 
  • meeting and talking with her people
  • making State speeches
  • supplying her successor.
The reason why the work of the Crown has been split in several directions is that it is far too much for one person. In addition, due to the Commonwealth and international relations, Royal Tours are a serious business and contribute to UK trade relations and international diplomacy. The Queen has helped maintain the useful institution of The Commonwealth. By contrast, Elizabeth 1st never left these shores.

The "hollow Crown", its "golden care" - which Shakespeare so often considers, refers to the whole job of the Crown, not to its constituent parts. It was once a mammoth task.

If the modern State Imperial Crown were worn by both the Prime Minister and the Queen, it would indeed be this same "Crown". In some ways, the weekly meetings of the PM and the Queen are the closest we now come to the single role of Elizabeth 1st.

In a way, our Queen wears the Imperial State Crown as a kind of symbol for both herself and the Prime Minister. Yet it is not purely symbolic since she undertakes the ceremonial duties of Elizabeth 1st and, in some areas, she has more of them than her predecessor had. She also has to manage an intrusive, eagle-eyed, modern media. In addition, she gave birth to an heir - and three "spares".

The "hollow Crown" means the wear and tear, bitterness and trials of power combined with royalty. If one added to the cares of our Queen, the combined trials of her twelve Prime Ministers, it would indeed feel "hollow".

As it is, the Queen's Crown may have had its own secret bitternesses, but thankfully the Crown's weight has not crushed her. Nor has living her whole life in the public eye driven her mad : a real miracle. Instead, she has steadfastly remained Queen of Smiles.

This must be due to common sense, good advice, support from her family, her own dutiful character* and faith. God has also answered the weekly prayers of the Church for her safety, protection and long life.  She will recognise this at the Church Service in St Paul's next Tuesday. 

Hence, by the grace of God and improved division of labour, Elizabeth 11 has not ended up like Elizabeth 1st : slashing the arras with a rusty sword in lonely frustration.

* On "Myers Briggs character analysis", used by the British Civil Service, the Queen appears to be "ISTJ", Introverted Thinking with a liking for facts and a structured life - the quiet, serious, stable personality with an impressive sense of duty and perseverance.  This type is a perfect person for a lifelong job.

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