Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Will the Queen's legacy be in what she says or what she does?

As the Queen draws closer to breaking Queen Victoria's record for the longest reigning sovereign in British history, there will be much commentary about the significance of the moment. Much of it will be the inevitable saccharine tributes with the oft-quoted 21st birthday speech thrown in for good measure. But some of it will be critical as well. As in the case of David Starkey's comments that the Queen "has done and said nothing anybody will remember." Although I think that is a harsh assessment, when it comes to her actual reign, he raises a point.

Other than 1992's 'Annus horribilis' speech and her aside right before the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum for people to "think very carefully about the future," I genuinely can't think of anything that will provide history with the defining words to encapsulate her reign. The Queen is the embodiment of keep calm, carry on, and only respond if the problem doesn't immediately go away. On occasion it backfires and she is brought to heel for it. But moments like that are rare.

It could be said - and no doubt it will be - that it is not what she says, it is what she does. Or doesn't do. The Queen does not give sound bites. She does not give interviews. She does not pander to the public. She does not need to. She steers clear of controversy and remains neutral. It is one of the reasons why she is so well respected. She may not say much but, how can you argue with such a shining example of selfless duty?

In the last 63 years, had she expounded on every topic like Prince Charles, the media would stockpile the ammunition. Her public pronouncements have been limited to her annual Christmas speech and at the State Opening of Parliament. I can't think of anything memorable in either case. But then again, I'm not expecting to. I doubt anyone else is either. The times of looking to the royal family to set an example are long gone.

When the Queen dies and newscasts look back upon her reign, the images are likely to be filled with scenes from her coronation, along with public appearances of her waving and smiling throughout the decades. Commentators who have only observed her at distance will speak for her, using the word 'duty' over and over again to define her legacy and what she was really like as a person.

In the absence of her own words, she will leave us to draw the definitive conclusions.

© Marilyn Braun 2015

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