why will the new Elizabethan era be remembered?

why will the new Elizabethan era be remembered?

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When Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952, pretty country houses which would now be worth several million could be bought for under £ 10,000. Sweets, tea, butter, margarine and meat were still rationed foods. Only a small minority had refrigerators, washing machines or telephones. Outside bathrooms were common, cars ambitious, televisions a novelty, central heating barely a voice. Outside, the cities were filled with smoke from the omnipresent coal fires. Inside, the houses were filled with smoke because most of the adults’ lips contained cigarettes.

The children started playing unsupervised shortly after they were able to walk. Crime rates were low and doors were often open. Hangings were common enough not to be worth reporting except in the most sensational cases. National youth service was difficult to avoid, and some conscripts were sent to fight and die in Korea.

The women remained mostly at home and, with the exception of the monarch, almost never held any prominent positions. Gays were persecuted, more than in the past in the early 1950s. Many Brits would never have seen a non-white face. The country was still largely industrial. And he still had an empire, even if he didn’t have the resources to support it.

Each of these facts, except the last seven words, changed during the reign of Elizabeth II. Never had Britain changed so much under the rule of a single monarch. Maybe no other country has either. Her whirlwind and turmoil around her (not least in her own family of hers) made the queen’s steadfastness all the more remarkable. “Good old Watson! You are the only anchor in a changing age, ”Sherlock Holmes said in His Last Bow. Elizabeth II has played that role in our day.

Still, she failed to impress her personality on the era. The word “Elizabethan” in 2022 still conjures up images of Sir Francis Drake playing bowls at the entrance to the Armada, Sir Walter Raleigh laying his cloak in a puddle and Miranda Richardson jumping in Blackadder.

Churchill, in a majestic radio speech by the prime minister the day after Elizabeth II became queen, invoked “the greatness and genius of the Elizabethan age” and the concept of “new Elizabethans” took hold for a while. A plane and a new fast train (less than seven hours from King’s Cross to Edinburgh) were both called Elizabethan. And public figures began to urge people on the need to work harder and reproduce the spirit of the times of the good Queen Bess. Historian Sir Michael Howard later reflected that this was a good analogy: “Once again we were, as we were then, a second-rate power, poised on the brink of failure.”

Related: Queen Elizabeth is more relaxed – in the photos

But it didn’t stick. The last eponymous age was the reign of Queen Victoria. “Victorian” instantly evokes her image of her times, or at least their perception as “prudent, severe; old-fashioned, obsolete ”, (Oxford English Dictionary). It is also used in the United States, particularly to describe homes.

Victoria spent 63 years on the throne and the change during that time was enormous. When she became queen, most of her travels involved horses and only a couple of railroads had been built. At the time of her death, the first cars were on the roads and the Wright brothers were well on their way to inventing the plane. But the attitudes of society and people’s lives were far more static than her great-great-granddaughter would become under her.

Perhaps it is because the second Elizabethan age witnessed such an extraordinary pace of change that trying to enclose it in a single adjective is in vain. It is more convenient to divide it into decades, with evocative images (although not necessarily accurate). The 50s are boring and conformist, the 60s an age of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, the 70s full of controversy and the 80s like Thatcherism, for better or for worse. to taste), and so on.

While Victoria might have been perceived as the embodiment of her own age, certainly in her sad and gloomy widowhood, Elizabeth II was supportive (but not opposed) to hers. And perhaps this is the key to her success as a monarch. In a country whose politics has become increasingly contentious and bitter, and a nation often disappointed in its place in the world, it has remained solid and unchanging, a lighthouse on a rocky coast that sends a mundane message of decency, kindness and a little of God . And if she ever found herself faced with a real political crisis that required her intervention as the arbiter of last resort, her instinct for fairness would almost certainly lead her to the right answer. She imagines if Margaret, her cheeky all-modern sister, had taken the throne and thinks how different things might have been.

I am inclined to think that some of his impartiality is due not only to his premature joining at the age of 25, but also to the rather poor education he had received before then. Unlike King Charles III, he didn’t have time to acquire the kind of ideas that could have fueled controversy. Charles now has to unlearn much of what he knows. It is much better, perhaps, not to acquire opinions in the first place.

It is likely that Charles, 73, has a relatively short reign: although it worked for Edward VII, who only reigned for nine, and still managed to have an evocative epoch of his own. “Edwardian” had a certain elegance: a chimeric idyll before cannon fire took over. Unfortunately, Charles isn’t a very adjectival noun. Caroline, Carolean and Carline were suggested. It seems unlikely that they will catch on.

Perhaps his reign will be characterized by this decade. Judging by the results obtained so far, we will have to look for one of the favorite adjectives of the king, recently applied to his opinion – when he was still allowed to have one – about the plan for the air transport of refugees to Rwanda: the era frightening.

  • Matthew Engel’s book The Reign – Life in Elizabeth’s Britain, Part 1: The Way It Was, 1952-1979 will be released next month.

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