- A N WILSON
Not another “Ooooooh, isn’t she lovely?”-
Over the last 18 months I’ve been on an entirely coincidental Windsor reading jag. Admittedly the shadier side of the abdication turmoil that placed George VI in personally horrifying, but ultimately successful position, and the following Windsor in-fighting. So I was expecting a higher-brow but otherwise fairly standard 90th birthday year tribute to his daughter, being A N Wilson and so forth. This isn’t another life story. This is an essay that places the Queen, her role and how she inhabits that role in a deeper perspective. It’s wide-ranging and not simple to summarise pithily – bringing together so background strands and new viewpoints to redefine our appreciation of a dedicated life.
We’re all familiar with the basic Abdication story, the private family forced onto a throne they neither wanted nor were trained for. Wilson explores the Queen's life set against a wider background, factoring in the contemporary mind-set that modern generations overlook but which affected common and even political considerations at the time. And then moves forward to analyse how those lasting reverberations still overshadowed the breakdown of a slew of modern royal marriages.
- And imagine the schizoid demands of the role: to represent tradition yet finely judge the need to modernise to maintain relevance. To be a public figure yet retain mystique. Elizabeth inherited the throne of a high profile country whose Empire was leaching out Independencies. Her innovative creation and support of the Commonwealth with a view to nurturing international stability stepped ahead of the times. Counter-intuitively, her ‘outmoded’ role – that of the Constitutional Monarch – made her an obvious neutral figurehead to lead it. It is the unifying width of her personal links built up during her long experience that make her more than a mere figurehead and potentially irreplaceable. Time will tell.
She has ridden out political switches and social change: usually well, but not always. There have been power plays behind the scenes – the court Old Guard’s resistance to modernisation in the ‘60’s, well-meant but poorly handled documentaries and ill-considered televised Charity events, Mountbatten’s dynastic plans, the unique pressures within and handling misjudgements of royal marriages, the vicissitudes of working with successive governments and Heads of State, the requirement to constantly steer between implication and effect …...
This is a Queen whose political influence springs from being carefully apolitical. If we move toward a republic – there is argument that we may – that it won’t be in her lifetime doesn’t just stem from public affection. The respect gained and working example set may carry over for some time if well followed. Her power does not spring from sole intellectual ability – her education was patchy and unbalanced (statesmanship, nothing before the reign of George V, leave French to Margaret). Her upbringing was remarkably secluded even by the upper class standards of the time, but somehow produced a grounded, intuitive person. Her successes stem from continuing a family tradition of hard work and dedication and committing fully to the often derided concept of service.
The arguments are neat and uncluttered, the writing is clear without being simplistic, the pages are well set out (reading over a slip of paper to try and make sense of a crammed page; no thank you). References made to past influences are made clear enough to understand if you don’t have previous knowledge of the matter the author is citing – and if you do, he invites you to re-assess what you knew in light of his context. An accessible read for a newcomer to the topic and an enjoyable read for those who have background understanding.
I gobbled it up in a pleasurable morning (173 A5 pages) – but I will give it a second read for detail, too. I read the hardback, but it is presently available as a digital book (I checked on my Gen 3 kindle) and if you want to request it through your local library the ISBN is 9 781786 490681.
Unexpectedly, a 4/5