For more than fifty years, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor -- who became Elizabeth II, Queen of England on February 6, 1952 -- has been loved and loathed, revered and feared, applauded and criticized by her people. Still she endures as a captivating figure in the world's most durable symbol of political authority: the British monarchy.
In Monarch, a meticulously detailed portrait of Elizabeth II as both a human being and an institution, bestselling author Robert Lacey brings the queen to life as never before: as baby "Lilibet" learning to wave to a crowd in the Royal Mews; as a child "ardently praying for a brother" so as to avoid her fate; as a young woman falling in love with and marrying her cousin Philip; and as the mother-in-law of the most complicated royal of all, Princess Diana.
Updated with new material to reflect the 2002 Golden Jubilee and the passing of the Queen Mum -- and featuring dozens of photographs, a family tree of the Hanoverian-Windsor-Mountbatten families, and a map that charts the location of royal castles -- Monarch is an engaging, critical, and celebratory account of Elizabeth's half-century reign that no reader of popular history should be without.
As a child, Princess Elizabeth longed "to live in the country with lots of horses and dogs." That dream came to a crashing end when her uncle, King Edward VII, followed his heart instead of his head, giving up the throne for an American divorcee. The princess's fate was sealed: not only was she destined to become Queen of England, but as Lacey shows in this skillfully constructed biography, nearly every upheaval of her otherwise quiet and dutiful 50-year reign would be the direct consequence of impetuous relatives putting personal needs above royal responsibility. It's all here: the romantic debacles of Di, Fergie, Margaret, Ann, Charles and Andrew, as well as Prince Philip's unfailing ability to insert his foot in his mouth ("How nice to be in a country that is not ruled by its people," he said to Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner in 1969). Through it all, there have been two constants: the Queen is pragmatic and restrained, and the media is all over every mucky story. Lacey, veteran royal historian and biographer (The Queen Mother's Century, etc.), writes with the cooperation of the Palace, and his portrait is sympathetic, but he also offers an incisive analysis of the development of royal media coverage (which started with Queen Victoria and the invention of the camera) and the relationship between the two powerful entities, setting this apart from and far above the average by-the-numbers royal bio.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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May 04, 2003
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Excerpt from Monarch by Robert Lacey
"As your Queen, and as a grandmother"
It was on a cool September Thursday at Balmoral that Queen Elizabeth II realised she would have to change course. She had read the newspapers over breakfast that morning, digesting their angry sermons with the long-practised pensiveness which caused her eyes to narrow. Her jaw would firm slightly as her thought processes started, shifting her chin forward a fraction -- a signal to her staff to think one more hard thought before they opened their mouths. Then, soon after nine o'clock, the phone calls from London started.
Diana had died the previous Sunday -- the last day of August 1997 -- and it had been pressure and decisions ever since. Helping the two boys had been their grandmother's first priority, applying her own therapy in times of trouble -- lots of exercise and fresh air.
"We must get them out and away from the television," said the queen as she clicked across the mournful images of the princess being run non-stop on every channel. "Let's get them both up in the hills."
The fact that they were all together as a family, away from everything, in the rugged beauty and peace of Scotland, had seemed such a blessing at first. Peter Phillips, Princess Anne's bluff and burly rugby-playing son, had gone out with William and Harry on the moors each day, jollying them along with stalking and the odd fishing expedition -- plus lots of mucking around on the brothers' noisy all-terrain motorbikes. The two young princes both loved the outdoors. In that respect they were very much Charles's sons.
The weather had been balmy, with just a hint of autumn crispness, and the whole family had driven out most evenings in the Land Rovers to eat. Ever practical, ever-tinkering, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is the proud deviser of a bulky, wheeled contraption that is the centre of these cherished rituals -- a picnic trailer. With the grilling rack and pots and pans stowed neat and ship-shape enough for the naval officer he had been, and padded drawers for carefully segregated types of fortifying alcohol, the wagon is towed to the shooting lodge selected for the family barbecue. No staff are present and the royal paterfamilias becomes chef.
In that first week of September, the duke's barbecue wagon had come into its own as never before. Cooking and carving and cleaning up afterwards, the shared chores and rituals of the self-help meal had kept the whole family busy and had helped create the feeling there was something everyone could do. It was practical therapy.
At fifteen, William had seemed to take it bravely, on the outside at least. But he was insisting that he would not walk behind the coffin at the funeral. Not quite thirteen, Harry had been more obviously upset. Was everyone quite sure Mummy was dead? he was heard to enquire. Could it not be checked to make sure there had not been a mistake?
Gently helping the brothers to cope was, like everything royal, more than just a private, family matter. If the two young princes did walk through the streets in London on Saturday, their composure would be the pivot on which the whole occasion turned.
Working out the details of the funeral had been the other big job since Sunday -- the style of the service, the length of the route, as well as the role that William and Harry would play. There had been family arguments in the small hours as the bad news came through. The Spencers -- Diana's mother, brother, and two sisters -- had wanted a private funeral, a small family affair, and to start with the queen herself had agreed. But by Sunday evening it was clear it would have to be a full-scale ceremony in Westminster Abbey, and since Monday the fax machine had been processing hymn sheets and processional time-tabling non-stop. Princess Margaret disapproved, but the queen mother had got quite excited about the prospect of listening to Elton John.
Then came all the fuss about the flag.
Downing Street was the first to sense that something was awry. Sitting in his media command room at No. 10, Alastair Campbell, the prime minister's press spokesman, caught a cable television news bulletin that worried him. It was Wednesday morning, and the long lines of mourners waiting in the Mall to sign the condolence books for the princess were spending as many as five hours looking through the trees towards Buckingham Palace.
People were not just signing their names when they got to the head of the queue. Most wanted to pen some special tribute of their own, and after half a day on their feet everyone wanted to sit down.
"In retrospect," says an official of the Lord Chamberlain's Office, "it was clearly a mistake to have supplied chairs."
Some people were spending as much as half an hour over the page composing their essays. So the lines waiting outside in the Mall grew longer, and as people shuffled slowly forward, they had been struck by the absence of any flag flying at half-mast over the queen's principal residence.
It was a technical matter. The queen's presence is signalled wherever she may be -- in palace, car, boat, or plane -- by the Royal Standard, a luscious and ancient confection of heraldic lions and symbolic harpstrings that follows her everywhere, battle-standard-style, and is never lowered, even when the sovereign dies. "The King is Dead, Long Live the King."
But the tradition had developed at Buckingham Palace -- though not at any other royal residence -- that, in the absence of the Royal Standard, no other flag should fly. So while flags all round the country -- including those over Windsor Castle and over the royal country residence of Sandringham in East Anglia -- were now flying at half-mast, Buckingham Palace itself was conspicuously bare of any sign of mourning for Diana.
"I've just been watching Sky News," said Campbell in a phone call to Robert Fellowes, the queen's private secretary, who was also Diana's brother-in-law, married to her elder sister, Jane. "Now, it's just a straw in the wind, but I think they're going to make some mischief over this thing of the flag."
Rupert Murdoch's Sky News had been running dramatic vox pop interviews from the Mall in which mourners complained about the bare flagpole over the palace. It made for compulsive, angry television, and Campbell guessed it was only a matter of time before the other bulletins followed suit.
"I hear what you're saying," replied Fellowes. "But it's a curious business, the flag at Buckingham Palace. There are certain things, you know, that I can deliver straight away. But I'm not sure it's going to be as easy as it looks, even if it's right, to please the public on this one."
Fellowes rang Balmoral to pass on Downing Street's concerns to his deputy Sir Robin Janvrin, who was running the private secretary's office there, and also to the queen. But the private secretary did not argue Campbell's case very strongly.
"The alarm bells," as one participant put it, "did not jangle."
Sir Robert Fellowes, today Baron Fellowes of Shotesham in the county of Norfolk, was a royal retainer who was the son of a royal retainer. His father, the bluff Sir Billy Fellowes, had run the royal estate at Sandringham and had been a shooting companion of the queen's father, King George VI. In his time as private secretary, Fellowes had overseen some important changes in the monarchy, and there was a mildly subversive twinkle behind his horn-rimmed spectacles.
"We don't have protocol here," he liked to say when talking of palace etiquette " -- just bloody good manners."
But Fellowes had breathed tradition all his life. It was a key element in his job as private secretary, and protocol had always provided a sure fall-back in times of difficulty.
Elizabeth II felt the same only more so. For the queen, tradition and protocol represented something greater than oneself -- deep values approaching the sacred. It could be compared to how non-royal people feel at their children's Christmas carol concert or when the bugle sounds on Remembrance Day -- the tingle of nobler things. It is easy to smile condescendingly at the scarlet-tunicked and bearskin-clad Guards parading formally outside Buckingham Palace until, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on New York, these very British soldiers stand to attention while their band plays "The Star Spangled Banner."
Tradition is one of the cornerstones of the royal mystery. The most troublesome time in the otherwise tranquil childhood of the young Princess Elizabeth had been when she was just ten, when her sparky and original Uncle David had ascended to the throne as Edward VIII. Shrugging his shoulders at precedent, he had spent a hectic year insouciantly overturning tradition in his quest to make the monarchy modern, and it had ended in tears. The abdication crisis of 1936 was the darkest moment in her family's recent history.
If Prince Charles, and not his ex-wife, had died in a car crash the previous Sunday, the queen would not now be flying the Union Jack at half-mast over Buckingham Palace. She had not done it for her beloved father, George VI -- and it would not happen for the queen mother, who, despite all her personal popularity, had always understood how the institution of monarchy ultimately transcended the individual.
A personally modest spirit, the queen would certainly not expect such a gesture for herself. So why should tradition be overturned for a young woman who, Uncle David-like, had put herself before the family and had come to be the focus of such bitter and divisive trouble?
Elizabeth II had been one of the first in the family to fall out of love with Diana.
"The Queen is a very good judge of character," says one of her staff. "She was very quick in 'sussing' the less fortunate sides of the princess's personality."
The queen had tried to be fair to her daughter-in-law, taking her side on occasions in the bitter separation battle with Charles. But Diana's open sniping at what she had publicly derided as the stuffy palace establishment made her the last person for whom the queen -- or still less her strong-minded husband -- would command such a change. Only days previously Diana had been parading the Mediterranean with her Egyptian playboy lover, the couple draped over each other half naked, to the horror of the royal family and the agonised embarrassment of her sons.
Fellowes got the answer he expected. There is long-standing mistrust in Buckingham Palace against making quick concessions to the concerns of the moment, especially when voiced by the tabloid media.
"It's like feeding Christians to the lions," says a former press secretary.
So the royal reaction to the TV straws in the wind was exactly the opposite of Alastair Campbell's. Unhappiness over the flag was something that the enduring monarchy should rise above in a world of trendy gestures. No flag except the Royal Standard had ever flown over Buckingham Palace.
"It just needs to be explained," insisted the royal private secretary.
Campbell did not push the point. Never one of nature's monarchists, he felt in alien territory. In his days as political editor and columnist for the Daily Mirror he had been famous for his scathing attacks on the misbehaviour of the young royals. As he had walked through the crowds that Wednesday morning to confer with Fellowes and the other members of the Lord Chamberlain's funeral committee at the palace, he felt he could sniff mutiny in the air.
"There was almost that football crowd fear, you know, when you're coming out of the stadium and your team has lost, and you're not quite sure what you'll find round the next corner."
But this lager and baseball cap analogy clearly did not fit the arcane world of deep precedence. It was like the negotiations over Northern Ireland with which Tony Blair was just beginning to grapple, with all its sticking points of flags and badges and emotion-charged symbols.
"There were times in that week," says one of No. 10's more radi-
cal insiders, "when you could not believe what was coming down the line from Balmoral. You wondered if they were living in the same century."
Campbell went back to Downing Street to confer with Blair, then gave Fellowes a ring at the palace.
"How would it be," he asked, "if Tony went out publicly into the street, outside Downing Street, and said, 'Look, these are ordinary people going through circumstances that none of us can imagine,' you know, a 'They are human beings' strategy?"
At the end of that Wednesday, the prime minister did just that.
"All our energies," he said in front of No. 10, "are now directed to trying to make this as tremendous a commemoration of Princess Diana as possible...I know those are very strongly the feelings of the royal family as well."
Blair's New Labour Party had come to power a few months earlier in the general election of 1 May 1997, winning a massive majority that owed not a little to Blair's consummate mastery of PR technique. The prime minister's appeal was timed to catch the evening news bulletins, then command the next morning's front pages. But only the left-leaning Guardian followed Blair's lead. The tabloids went for the jugular.
"Show us you care," demanded the Express over the photo of a flinty-faced queen.
"Your people are suffering," proclaimed the Mirror -- "Speak to us, Ma'am."
With the generally more sedate broadsheets only moderately more restrained, Elizabeth II was confronted by an unprecedented chorus of newsprint criticism over her Balmoral breakfast that Thursday morning. Rupert Murdoch's Sun put it most powerfully.
"Where is the Queen when the country needs her?" demanded an open letter on the paper's front page. "She is 550 miles from London, the focal point of the nation's grief. Her castle at Balmoral is about as far away as it is possible to get from the sea of flowers building up outside the royal palaces....Every hour the Palace remains empty adds to the public anger at what they perceive to be a snub to the People's Princess. Let Charles and William and Harry weep together in the lonely Scottish Highlands. We can understand that. But the Queen's place is with the people. She should fly back to London immediately and stand on the Palace balcony."
There was some convenient relief in the energy with which Britain's newspapers turned on Elizabeth II that Thursday morning, 4 September 1997. Three days earlier, those same newspapers had been the objects of bitter blame. Photographers who ventured too close to mourners laying flowers outside the palaces had been shouted at and menaced -- the butt of public fury at the role of the paparazzi in hounding the princess into the Alma Tunnel in Paris. The announcement by the Paris police that Henri Paul, the driver on the fateful night, had had more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood had let the editors off the hook, and they wasted little time diverting public anger away from their own role in the tragedy.