The Queen has seemed a pitiable onlooker as the House of Windsor crumbles about her. But Rosalind Miles sees a powerful woman now galvanised to save the crownby Rosalind Miles / May 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
She is an unlikely feminist heroine. But she may be the one woman in Britain for whom the personal really is political. Four years ago, we owed the Queen a year-long jamboree for her 40 years on the throne. Instead, she had the “annus horribilis” of her sons’ wives’ scandals, and a dreadful fire in her favourite home. Last year these woes culminated with news, on her son’s birthday, of the “tell-all” Panorama broadcast. The programme was transmitted on the Queen’s own wedding anniversary. Next, she was fooled into a fake phone call with the Canadian prime minister by the prankster Pierre Brassard, whose earlier triumphs in presuming on the Pope and Brigitte Bardot shrivelled into insignificance beside this. And she was 70 on 21st April, for heaven’s sake! How much more can she be expected to take?
Now there is more. A new book, Queen Elizabeth II, by Sarah Bradford, brands Prince Philip as consistently adulterous, betraying the marriage almost from the church door. Philip’s “flirtations” are said to have begun with showgirl Pat Kirkwood, and include “a princess, a duchess, two countesses and other ladies of the society horsey set.” The Queen’s new image of deceived wife adds to the sense of a life unlived, a powerless cipher on the edge of all that counts. When a bird plummeted from the sky at her last shooting party and landed smack on her head, it seemed just another in the procession of dead ducks aimed at a helpless grandmother.
This is how she plays it; but in reality, the Queen has more power than people realise. Ever since the restoration, when Charles II returned from exile with his one big idea never to have to “go on his travels” again, the British royal family has followed his acute political instinct to play down the power they retain.
Even on a symbolic level, this power is awesome. More people in the UK dream of the Queen than they dream about anyone outside their immediate family. Buckingham palace has an entire post office to deal with the millions of letters she gets every year. (“What happens if the Queen wants to go to the toilet in the middle of a long ceremony?” Answer: “The problem never arises”; “My husband is under a death sentence for a crime he has not committed”: “The Queen regrets that she cannot interfere in the…