photo of Queen Elizabeth smiling and laughing wearing a black and red hat

Queen Elizabeth II to make royal history

3 June 2022
70-year reign breaks all British records
Queen Elizabeth II has become the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee. Historian Dr Cindy McCreery, an expert on the history of the Royal Family, explains the occasion and offers her opinions on its meaning.

What is a Platinum Jubilee?

A Platinum Jubilee is a celebration to mark a 70-year anniversary. Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee marks 70 years of service, the longest reign of a British monarch. It is dated from the day Elizabeth succeeded to the throne when her father King George VI died on 6 February 1952. Elizabeth was 25 years old.

“They’ve never reached a Platinum Jubilee in Britain before,” said Dr Cindy McCreery, an expert on the history of the British monarchy in the Department of History. “Queen Victoria came closest; she celebrated a Diamond Jubilee (60 years) in 1897 and it was considered a remarkable event all around the world. Now Queen Elizabeth II has reached 70 years. It’s a milestone that no other British monarch has ever reached. She’s a record breaker.”

The Crown

Elizabeth was crowned on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey more than a year after her accession. This delay was to respect the memory of George VI and to prepare for the elaborate ceremony, which was televised as well as broadcast via radio to millions around the globe. Elizabeth’s coronation was a deliberate mix of tradition and innovation. It was traditional for it to be held at Westminster Abbey, which had been the site in England for coronations for 900 years. Elizabeth was the 39th sovereign to be crowned in Westminster Abbey. Innovations included the historic first television broadcast, and the lesser-known modernisation that allowed her son Prince Charles, aged four, to watch the coronation in Westminster Abbey.

Platinum Jubilee

Buckingham Palace has released a full program of celebrations throughout 2022. Although the anniversary is 6 February, the celebrations will mostly take place over a 4-day holiday weekend from Thursday 2 June to Sunday 5 June, when it is summer in the UK.

“There will be parades, a BBC party at the palace and lots of local community events, including street parties and lunches with Union Jack bunting,” Dr McCreery said. “There’s a pudding competition and I’m sure there will be a bonanza of commemorative coffee mugs and china, plus special stamps to mark the milestone.”

Queen’s legacy

“The Queen’s story is not yet complete and we should be mindful that the future does matter, and events can change rapidly,” Dr McCreery said. “It’s a little premature to review her legacy but there are a few things that are clear.”

Respect: “The Queen has done so much to instil a sense of respect and confidence in not just the Royal Family and the role of the monarch but in Britain as a nation. It’s going to be hard in the future to disentangle the history of Britain since 1952 from the history of Elizabeth II. In many ways, she has served as a beacon of service and duty and quiet dignity that, in turn, has had beneficial effects on the reputation of the nation itself, and that has done enormous good for Britain.”

Painful decolonisation: “Her legacy will be complex because in recent years we are less dewy-eyed about the British colonial past. This was an era of rapid and often painful decolonisation. Since her reign began, we have seen the departure of many countries from British rule, the establishment of republics and independence movements, often involving warfare, and great civil unrest and suffering. On the whole the Queen has weathered those storms very well.”

Family behaviour: “In recent years there has been concern around the behaviour of members of the Royal Family and what role the Queen may have played in perhaps shielding them from legal or press attention. Down the track there may be disquiet around the power she’s had in protecting them from investigation.”

The press: “Social change, economic change and political change have seen a great reduction in deference to the Royal Family. Journalists and the public are pushing to know more about the Queen and her family in a way that was not acceptable or possible in the 1950s; it’s a fundamental social change. It’s complicated as well because the Royal Family has actively courted the press. The 1969 film The Royal Family was promoted by Prince Philip to show the public a harmonious happy family life, but the problem is that once you open up, it’s subsequently very difficult to control the press. There is now a dependant relationship between the Royal Family and the press – as much as they dislike it and complain about it, they know that without the press they are potentially nothing or not meaningful. It’s a complex relationship.”

Moments of doubt: “The Queen has been very successful in appearing as someone who is above party politics and doesn’t interfere in the running of the country. But there are moments of real doubt such as the Palace Letters controversy that we’ve seen in Australia. It wasn’t the Queen herself who has been exposed as interfering in another country’s policies, but to have her private secretary egging on the Australian Governor-General John Kerr around matters related to the Dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975, there is definitely interference there. It’s hard to imagine that goes on without her tacit awareness. That does cause problems and could raise further issues in Australia around what is the benefit of having a monarch from one nation serve as the head of state of another nation.”

Influence in Australia

“For many in Australia, particular older women, they will have a continuing sense of admiration for the Queen,” Dr McCreery said. “It dates to that first visit to Australia in 1954 when three-quarters of the population lined the streets to see her in person. If you talk to older people many will remember that moment or will want to talk about it. For that generation, they see her as part of our history and their personal and family history and identity. That is not expected to wane after she dies and a new monarch ascends the British throne.

“For younger Australians who don’t have that historical memory or don’t have British heritage, there would understandably be a different relationship. The Queen hasn’t been to Australia since 2011 and she won’t be doing any more long-haul travel, so for younger Australians there may be little recognition of her importance after she dies. For some, she’s very important. For others, not so much.

“We should also acknowledge that Australia has long had a strong republican movement, which ironically is partly due to its historical relationship with Britain. Numerous British and Irish migrants, angry with British (mis)rule at home (and in some cases arriving in Australia as convicts transported due to their political activities), brought their republican associations with them, as did subsequent migrants from America and elsewhere. First Nations Australians of course have a special tradition of self-governance of this land that predates western political models of government, and in many ways this poses a challenge to both monarchists and republicans in Australia.”

What’s next for the Queen?

“Just like everyone else the Queen pivoted during the COVID-19 pandemic and she stopped the weekly in-person meetings with the British Prime Minister and moved to telephone calls,” Dr McCreery said.

“As she ages further, we will see more remote video engagements to conserve her energy. But I expect she will absolutely step up to important moments of national celebration unless there is a health crisis.

“In 2022, she is expected to attend official Platinum Jubilee functions in June. After that, some official events might be done in person, by video link or delegated to other Royal Family members, such as Prince Charles or Prince William.

“If there is a health crisis, there is a policy in place and counsellors of state who step in to take over some of her official duties. If she is hospitalised for weeks, then a Regency could be established with Prince Charles serving as Regent. I don’t think this will happen unless it’s serious. She is loath to move to that formal level of stepping back from her duties. Instead, we will see a slow reduction in her duties but not a complete break.”

Dr Cindy McCreery is director of the Modern Monarchy in Global Perspective Research Network. She is running an international online conference in June called Going Platinum: Australian responses to the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Banner photo of the Queen: Shutterstock

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