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The Queen’s death has brought an outpouring of grief and articles about different aspects of her life and reign. The many different ways she left an impact will surely be discussed for years to come.
As her funeral approaches, the Queen’s death continues to dominate the news and bring up so many different emotions and thoughts about British history and identity, about family, about the class system, about women leaders, about bereavement and much more.
I wrote the other day that she is probably the most famous working mum in the world. That prompted much debate in our house because clearly she was not your average working mum or mum generally: a lot of the time when her children were small she would have been on tour or at dinners or on visits and she clearly had huge resources to look after her children. But we do not know how she personally felt about all of that despite the enormous expectations of her role and her upbringing. Much of what we think about the Queen is about our own projections onto her, given that, for such a public figure, she was a fairly private individual. Balmoral is perhaps the best symbol of that need to get away from all the clamour.
Despite the way the royal family is treated by some elements of the media like an ongoing national soap opera [and perhaps that is in part why many have felt her death so personally], it is difficult for many to divorce the Queen as a person from all that the British monarchy has stood for, including colonialism and everything that has come in its wake. Although she did not have the direct political power that comes with being a prime minister or president, she had tremendous impact around the world, both symbolic and real soft power. And she was the Queen for many decades. No other political leader, except possibly a dictator, could be in power, with such a front seat at world events, for so long.
But aside from that, she was also emblematic of other issues, from the UK’s class system to changing attitudes to women leaders. She was perhaps the most famous woman leader of the last century. Just by being in the room and female, she had an impact. We’ve been told, for instance, that she drove a Saudi prince around her estate to show that women can drive…Being a woman in a world absolutely dominated by men, she was a reminder that women can lead, and often exceptionally well.
That provided inspiration for other women in the political world and beyond, although her role was rather unique. It’s not likely any of us are going to become queens, after all. Yet traditional stories of royalty can entrench views of women that are not exactly empowering. Fairytales involving princesses often focus more on beauty or kindness and not so much on intelligence – that trait tends to be the province of the wicked queens or fairies. The Queen, however, was no meek fashion icon. She knew her stuff when it came to politics, as countless politicians have attested. Her years of experience could provide wise counsel.
The sheer amount of foreign dignatories and religious leaders – for it should not be forgotten that she was also a religious leader – who will come to London this weekend are testimony to the Queen’s power and global impact. Like Elizabeth 1st and Victoria before her, her impact on British history and the different and sometimes conflicting thoughts we projected onto her and the institution of the royal family projected onto us, will endure and be discussed for many years to come.