Queen Elizabeth II: ‘New Elizabethan Age’ ends with death of oldest monarch


But the austerity and restraint of the 1940s was giving way to a more prosperous 1950s. It’s perhaps no wonder then that the Queen’s succession has been hailed as the ‘New Elizabethan Age’. Society was changing, and now a young and beautiful queen sat at its helm.

Seventy years later, Britain is very different. Elizabeth II reigned over perhaps the most rapid technological expansion and socio-political change of any monarch in recent history. A look back at the life of Elizabeth II raises key questions not only about how the monarchy has changed, but also about how Britain itself has transformed over the 20th and 21st centuries.

global britain

If the reign of Elizabeth I was a period of colonial expansion, conquest and domination, then the “new Elizabethan age” was marked by decolonization and the loss of the Empire.

When Elizabeth II came to the throne, the last remnants of the British Empire were still intact. India had gained independence in 1947, and other countries soon followed throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Although it existed from 1926, the current Commonwealth was constituted in the London Declaration of 1949, making member states “free and equal”. The Commonwealth has a veneer of colonial power given that it shares a history with the Empire and continues to invest the British monarch with symbolic power.

The Commonwealth featured prominently in the 1953 coronation ceremony, with television programs showing Commonwealth celebrations to the Queen’s coronation robe decorated with the floral crests of Commonwealth countries. She continued to celebrate the Commonwealth throughout her reign.

The colonial history of the Commonwealth is reproduced in the values ​​of Brexit and associated nationalist projects which suffer from what Paul Gilroy calls “postcolonial melancholy”. The Queen was the living embodiment of British stoicism, the “Blitz spirit” and global imperial might, on which much of the Brexit rhetoric was based. How will the loss of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch affect the nostalgia upon which contemporary right-wing politics draws?

The media and the monarchy

At the coronation, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill reportedly responded to proposals to broadcast the ceremony on live television that said “modern mechanical arrangements” would undermine the magic of the coronation and that “religious and spiritual aspects should [not] be presented as if it were a theatrical performance.

Television was a new technology at the time, and there were concerns that televising the ceremony would be too intimate. Despite these concerns, the coronation telecast was a great success. The ‘Media and Memory in Wales’ research project found that the coronation played a formative role in early memories of television. Even non-ardent monarchists could give an intimate account of their experiences.

The royal image has always been publicized, from the profile of the monarch on coins to the portrait. For Elizabeth II, this involved a radical shift: from the emergence of television, through tabloids and paparazzi, to social media and citizen journalism (processes linked to democratization and participation). Because of this, we now have more access to the monarchy than ever before.

In my book, Running The Family Firm: How the monarchy manages its image and our money, I argue that the British monarchy relies on a careful balance between visibility and invisibility to reproduce its power. The royal family can be visible in spectacular forms (state ceremonies) or family forms (royal weddings, royal babies). But the internal functioning of the institution must remain secret.

The search for this balance by the monarchy is observed throughout the reign of the queen. An example is the 1969 BBC-ITV documentary Royal Family. The Royal Family used new ‘cinema verité’ techniques to follow the monarchy for a year – in what we would now recognize as ‘on the fly’ reality TV.

It gave us intimate glimpses of domestic scenes, such as family barbecues, and the Queen taking baby Prince Edward to a candy store. Despite its popularity, many feared the voyeur style shattered the mystique of the monarchy too far. Indeed, Buckingham Palace redacted the 90-minute documentary so that it was not available to the public, and 43 hours of footage remained unused.

“Royal confessionals,” modeled on celebrity culture and notions of privacy and disclosure, have haunted the monarchy for decades. Diana’s 1995 Panorama interview was iconic, where she spoke to interviewer Martin Bashir about royal adultery, palace plots against her and her deteriorating mental and physical health.

Most recently, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey discussed what they described as ‘corporate racism’, lack of accountability and his dismissal of Markle’s mental health. These interviews truly laid bare the workings of the institution and broke the visibility/invisibility balance.

Like the rest of the world, the monarchy now has an account on most major UK social media platforms. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Instagram account, run on behalf of Prince William, Kate Middleton and their children, is perhaps the most obvious example of royal familialism in contemporary times.

The photographs appear natural, off-the-cuff and informal, and Instagram is billed as Cambridge’s “family photo album”, allowing for “intimate” glimpses into Cambridge family life. Yet, as with any royal performance, these photographs are precisely staged.

Social media has given the monarchy access to new audiences: a younger generation who are more likely to scroll through royal photos on phone apps than read newspapers. How will this generation react to the death of the monarch?

Political figures

The Queen came to the throne during a period of radical political transformation. Clement Atlee of the Labor Party had been elected in 1945 in a sensational landslide election that seemed to signal voters’ desire for change. The creation of the NHS in 1948 as the central policy of the post-war welfare state promised cradle-to-grave support.

Winston Churchill’s Conservative Party took over Parliament in 1952. Churchill spoke of a different version of Britain: more traditional, imperialist and staunchly monarchist. These contrasting ideologies were visible in responses to the Queen’s coronation in June 1953.

David Low’s satirical protest cartoon ‘The Morning After’, published in the Manchester Guardian on June 3, 1953, depicted party rubbish (banners, champagne bottles) and the text ‘£100,000,000 spree’ scrawled across the floor. The cartoon quickly garnered 600 letters of criticism for its “poor taste” and drew attention to contrasting political ideologies.

In the 1980s, the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher began a systematic dismantling of the post-war welfare state, emphasizing instead neoliberal free markets, tax cuts and individualism.

At the time of Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” years at the turn of the new millennium, the Queen was an older woman. Princess Diana was known as the ‘people’s princess’ of the time as her new brand of intimacy and ‘authenticity’ threatened to expose a ‘disconnected’ monarchy.

In 2000, three years after Diana died in a car crash in Paris, support for the monarchy was at an all-time low. The Queen is said to have acted inappropriately, failing to respond to public grief and ‘representing her people’. L’Express, for example, ran the headline “Show Us You Care: Mourners Ask the Queen to Steer Our Grief.”

Eventually, she gave a televised speech that eased her silence by emphasizing her role as a grandmother, busy “helping” William and Harry deal with their grief. We’ve seen this role of grandmother elsewhere, too: In photographs of her 90th birthday in 2016, taken by Annie Leibowitz, she was seated in a domestic setting surrounded by her youngest grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

And then ?

It’s the image of the Queen that many will remember: an older woman, immaculately dressed, clutching her familiar, iconic handbag. While she was head of state through many of the seismic political, social and cultural changes of the 20th and 21st centuries, the fact that she rarely gave a political opinion meant that she managed to navigate constitutional political neutrality. of the monarch.

She also made sure to remain an icon. She was never really given a “personality” like the other royals, who initiated a love-hate relationship with the public because we know more about them.

The Queen has remained an image: indeed, she is the most represented person in British history. For seven decades, Britons have been unable to make a cash purchase without meeting his face. Such daily banality demonstrates the intertwining of the monarchy – and the queen – in the fabric of Britain.

The Queen’s death is sure to cause Britain to reflect on its past, present and future. Time will tell what the reign of Charles III will look like, but one thing is certain: the “New Elizabethan Age” is long gone. Britain is now recovering from recent breaches of its status quo, from Brexit to the COVID-19 pandemic to continued calls for Scottish independence.

Charles III inherits a country very different from that of his mother. What goal, if any, will the next monarchy have for Britain’s future?


Comments are closed.