When the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth became Queen in February 1952, the average age at which her subjects died was, at 69, a year shorter than the number of years for which she was to reign over them. Had she herself died at that age, then her reign would still have lasted for 44 years, making her Britain’s eighth-longest reigning monarch, beating her namesake into ninth place by just under a year. Instead, as we all know, Elizabeth II reigned longer than any other British monarch, a full seven years longer than her own great-great-grandmother.
It should be stressed that these statistics are not being presented out of an obsession for record breaking, but rather to indicate the sense of permanence nearly all of us felt about Her Majesty. After all, as fewer than ten per cent of Britons are old enough to dimly remember her father on the throne, in essence, all of us had only been the subjects of just one monarch.
Coupled with that longevity was her ubiquity. Although her mantra was, of course, ‘I have to be seen to be believed,’ her image was also on every banknote, every coin, every stamp, and could be found in countless offices, village halls, schools, army messes, clubs, and hospitals. Indeed, it is almost impossible to spend a day in the United Kingdom without seeing the Queen in some form.
What then, is the effect on a society of living with a head of state who is not only omnipresent, but was, until today, seemingly eternal? And furthermore, what will be our sense of loss?
A cynic might look down upon Britain’s relationship with Elizabeth II, but to do so would be to mistake voluntary adoration with forced adulation.