3 Feb 2022

The Platinum Jubilee: celebrating 70 years

Elizabeth II will celebrate 70 years on the throne on Sunday 6th February. She is the world’s longest reigning monarch.

The Queen is a constitutional monarch; day-to-day power is exercised by the democratically elected government, and the Queen must be seen as politically impartial. She symbolises the permanence and stability of the nation, rooted in a heritage and traditions that date back to William the Conqueror. She is a keen observer and questioner, but at all times stands above the ebb and flow of party politics.

Her status as a national figurehead is reinforced by her public profile and commitments. Throughout her reign she has presided over a range of ceremonial occasions, from investitures and trooping the colour to the State Opening of Parliament. These very British rituals reinforce the central role of the monarchy in public life.

The State Opening of Parliament, presided over by the Queen who wears the Imperial Crown, is a magnificent ceremonial occasion, but it is also a theatrical reminder of the chequered history of the relationship between the monarchy and the House of Commons. Before the State Opening the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Houses of Parliament, a tradition that dates back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. When the official known as Black Rod arrives at the chamber of the House of Commons to summon the MPs to the Lords, the door is symbolically slammed in his face, an assertion of the hard-won independence of the Commons.

The monarch has been known, since feudal times, as ‘the fount of honour’. Over the course of 30 investitures a year the Queen, and members of her immediate family, bestows honours on some 2,600 people. In doing so, she acts as the symbolic figurehead of British society.

The Trooping the Colour, an annual ceremonial pageant attended by the Queen and members of the Royal Family, is a reminder of the central role members of the royal family play in the armed forces. The Queen became a Colonel of the Grenadier Guards when she was just 16, and as the sovereign she is also the head of the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force.

Great state occasions, such as the marriages of the Queen and members of the royal family, and the Queen’s coronation, have always had the power to unify and transfix the nation. The subject of millions of photographs and hours of television footage, the Queen is the main player, sometimes robed, crowned and carrying a sceptre, in the drama and symbolism of these national rituals.

The Queen has said that she ‘has to be seen to be believed’, and she spends much of her life on show, meeting the public, and reinforcing the role of the royal family within British society. Whatever the occasion, from state banquets and charity galas to ship launchings and high street walkabouts, the Queen succeeds in making personal contact with everyone she meets and adding royal lustre to even the most mundane occasions.

In the Commonwealth and the wider world, the Queen has been a tireless ambassador for Britain, and has probably experienced more state banquets, handshakes and troop inspections than any other head of state. Her trips abroad are not merely ornamental: behind many of them has lain serious diplomacy, from repairing the diplomatic damage caused by the Suez Crisis of 1956 to restoring political confidence and maintaining the momentum of the Peace Process on her state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011.

Recognised and respected the world over, with a face that graces British stamps and currency that is the most reproduced image in history, the Queen is the living embodiment of the United Kingdom. Her respect for history and tradition, her indefatigable dedication and good humour, and her ability to accommodate change and reject hidebound rituals, are universally admired attributes, which serve to enhance the reputation of the UK on the international stage.

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