The Diamond Jubilee

The day that such a blessing gave

No common festival should be.
What it justly seem’d to crave,
Grant, o grant, and let it have
The honour of a Jubilee.


There will be plenty of laudatory and obsequious commentary this weekend. The Media like a glutton never knows when there’s enough of a good thing.

I live in dread of the Olympics. Meanwhile we celebrate only the second Diamond Jubilee in the History of the English, Scots, Irish and later British monarchies united in their single United Kingdom.

That said although I’m not a monarchist and least of all an admirer of hereditary monarchy which seems to me only to elevate the caprice of genetic accident into a man-made misfortune of Epic proportions. Whilst religion at least plays to our mystical notions of a God beyond us and a world after our world ends, monarchy has surely to be the golden calf  of politics and political systems – a graven image that shows a terrible lack of imagination.

But in Team UK these are the views of a minority. And I will not sour the festivities around a well deserved celebration of the achievements of a woman who has given her life to fulfil the aspirations of others.

The queen has been an  extraordinary figure in our public life and has been queen for more than my entire lifetime.

The British monarchy since the jubilees of Queen Victoria has played to perceptions of being a familial instutution rather than a political one.  Victoria’s  Royal Family was meant to be a national exemplar. It was to unite a socially divided nation by example and by service. The House of Windsor has often struggled with the weight of this public burden.  And perhaps it’s ironic that it is the queen’s closest family who have repeatedly caused her most trouble through the last sixty years.

But judgement of others’ personal failures is something not to be lightly undertaken when one bears the heavier burden of one’s past missteps. And if we should not blame them for being only human we should surely applaud the queen for making no complaint of their frailties.

Although the monarchy of Elizabeth II was meant essentially to be in this continuum of the ideal of Family Monarchy, personally I think the queen has been an elemental Head of State.

Given the careful positioning of the British monarchy in the apse of family it is curious to me that where the queen shines most brightly is very much on the public stage. And the world will not see her like again in this respect for such as her come rarely if royally.

She has a great gift for understanding the importance of symbols – and over her reign time after time she has used the symbolic power of the monarch as Head of State to great effect.  Hers was the first post Imperial monarchy. She saw the Union Jack run down over many of the old colonies and re-embraced the new nations under the flag of Commonwealth. She has met all the American Presidents. She has travelled the world and met with those who were shaping a world in which the United Kingdom was no longer a great power. And most curiously their curiosity to meet her made her more important to the world than politically the UK was.

Flag waving for the Jubilee

She was the first British Sovereign to visit the Vatican. Aware of the hurts of history I think the queen has been a progressive force –  understanding how the symbolic gesture from the monarch has a power to allow old wounds to better heal. Her monarchy maybe allows her to touch the old evils for the good of all. That’s a blessing indeed in a world where blessings are few and far between.

In her time she has reconciled her subjects as she reconciled herself to a world that was sometimes strangely alien. Never were her personal and public faces more clearly seen or to greater effect than in her recent trip to the Republic of Ireland.

If any monarch has deserved a great Anthem set for her in the manner of Purcell or Handel or a had a stirring march in the manner of Elgar or Walton composed for her it is Queen Elizabeth II. I hope some-one will in time do her that honour. Meanwhile let the poet have the last words:

See Nature, rejoicing, has shown us the way
With innocent revels to welcome the day.
The tuneful grove, and talking rill,
The laughing vale, the replying hill
With charming harmony unite
The happy season to invite.
What the Graces require
And the Muses inspire,
Is at once our delight and our duty to pay
Thus Nature, rejoicing, has shown us the way
With innocent revels to welcome the day.

You may recognise the lines quoted come from Purcell’s Ode ‘Come Ye Sons of Art’ written for the birthday of Queen Mary II. Below is a link to a wonderful rendition of the duet for counter-tenors.
Sound the Trumpet from Purcell\’s Come Ye sons of Art

Whilst searching for this I found David Hanson , the Australian Counter Tenor singing this from Rossini
David Hanson 2003


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