God save the Queen

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, who has reigned since 1953 as Elizabeth II, was, Dalrymple reminds us,

thrust into the rôle of heir to the throne at the age of 10, and that of monarch at age 26, without choice, consultation, or inclination. She was reared to be a function incarnate. Her wishes counted for nothing, except in the most trivial matters.

Supremely unfree

She was

imbued with an iron sense of duty by an adored father who died at a comparatively early age (and whose portrait she still wears on her bosom at official functions), and was obliged repeatedly to make emollient speeches and appear always to be deeply interested in the dullest of dignitaries. The highest standard of living in the world was probably insufficient recompense for the sacrifice—that of herself as an individual human being—that she had to make.

Bound to obey the dictates of the government that acted in her name

Aware of her limitations, educated in the arcana of her constitutional rôle but little else, interested mainly in thoroughbred horses, Elizabeth had constantly to juggle several, often conflicting imperatives:

  • the need to preserve her throne
  • the need to do her duty by her country
  • the need to act morally (for she was clearly a highly moral person)
  • her need to please her family

Wedded to duty

These, Dalrymple points out,

were not things always easy to reconcile, and sometimes they were irreconcilable. Prince Philip did not want to live in Buckingham Palace, whose grandeur is cold and forbidding, nor did she; but as it was customary for the reigning monarch to live there, she overruled her husband’s and her own inclinations. This was a decision typical of many others. In the struggle between what she wanted and what she thought was her duty, the latter always won.

It is curious, says Dalrymple,

how, in a democracy such as the British, the unelected head of state should have been so much more wedded to duty than any popularly elected politician.

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