Opinion | Queen Elizabeth May Be the Last Global Monarch


Yet Queen Elizabeth has remained true to the “very simple” vow she made as a 21-year-old princess. Decade after decade, while her images on the currencies of the many Commonwealth realms in which she is still the constitutional head of state have changed to reflect a maturing queen, she continued to faithfully carry out her many royal duties, which often included long voyages. In the process, she has become the longest-lived and longest-reigning British monarch, and if she is still on the throne on May 27, 2024, she will surpass Louis XIV of France, as the longest-reigning European monarch ever. (He got the job at age 4.)

That is the only point of comparison between Elizabeth II and the flamboyant Sun King, who took care to have his absolute rule glorified in lavish paintings and palaces. Reserve, simplicity and obedience to constitutional constraints have been intrinsic to Queen Elizabeth’s reign, making for a tableau that writers, artists, directors, tabloids, haberdashers and the public have filled with whatever colors, emotions and details they deem fit.

The Queen Elizabeths of Helen Mirren, Claire Foy and Olivia Colman, three of the actresses who have portrayed her, are very different, though each is a plausible interpretation of the known facts of her life. The queen’s communications secretary, Donal McCabe, made a point of noting that the royal palace was not “complicit in interpretations” made in “The Crown.”

Ms. Colman, who played the queen in that series, saw in her an “ultimate feminist.” “She’s the breadwinner. She’s the one on our coins and bank notes. Prince Philip has to walk behind her. She fixed cars in the Second World War. She insisted on driving a king who came from a country where women weren’t allowed to drive” — that was Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at Balmoral Castle in Scotland in 2003, when he implored the queen to drive slower.

In her Christmas broadcast in 1966, the queen explicitly addressed the constraints women confront around the world. “In spite of these disabilities, it has been women who have breathed gentleness and care into the harsh progress of mankind,” she said.

Comments like that and shows like “The Crown” may give people a sense that they know Queen Elizabeth. Yet it is a measure of her mystique that no one knows for sure whether she has seen any of the movies or television series about her. Nor, for all the crises she has faced, from the death of Princess Diana to Prince Andrew’s friendship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, is it really known how those have affected her. Perhaps that’s what Mr. McCartney meant with the line “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl / But she changes from day to day.”

The paradox is that throughout all the changes — the scandals, Britain’s hesitant entry into the European Union, the country’s wrenching exit from it and all the other turmoil in the world — and despite the fact that we really know so little about her, the image of the sturdy, politely smiling little queen in pastel-colored coats and matching hats, at times accompanied by an equally sturdy little Welsh corgi, has become a reassuring constant over the decades. There are not many.



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