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How Queen Elizabeth II steered monarchy from ‘annus horibilis’

Twenty years after the annus horibilis, Queen Elizabeth II
steers the monarchy to popularity

1992, which marked the Queen’s 40th year on the throne, was dubbed “annus horibilis,” a year of tragedy that the Queen will always look back “with undiluted pleasure.”

The year saw the separation of the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of York, the divorce of Princess Anne from his first husband, and the Queen’s sensational portrayal in Andrew Morton’s biography. These scandals all dipped the monarchy’s popularity. To top it all, Windsor Castle went on fire, which triggered the public demand that royals should pay taxes as well.

Twenty years past, the monarchy has succeeded in weathering the storm. The Queen has successfully steered the royal family to safer, calmer water.

According to Vernon Bogdanor, a constitutional expert at King’s College London, the main change that the Queen oversaw is the transformation from being a “magical monarchy to a public service monarchy.”

1952 Britain was “a very deferential society. Apparently, one third of people thought she had been chosen by God." The monarchy was a "distant and remote institution". Today, "it is a much more utilitarian institution, to be judged by what it contributes to public service and community feeling", said Bogdanor.

Television has something to do in changing how we see the monarchy today. As King George VI puts it, as media respect for the royal family’s privacy dwindled, so it will change the monarchy’s relationship with the people.

Monarchy has to “adapt and evolve” to survive, said Bogdanor. “It can't be ahead of public opinion, but it can't be too far behind. It's a difficult balance to achieve.”

It was obvious that “the jubilee shows how enormously popular she is. It is interesting, even in the 1990s, and her annus horibilis, in terms of opinion polls the support for the monarchy has remained extraordinarily stable. The attacks on it, including those from the Guardian, haven't actually had much influence on public opinion,” said Bogdanor.

The Queen follows the path set by her father and grandfather, overseeing a “welfare monarchy,” filling the vacuum left by losing its political power by social service, with patronage roles. In the 18th century, King George III had nine patronages; today, the Queen has around 800, while the entire Royal Family takes in 3,500.

To reach out to millions of subjects, and to the world as well, Buckingham Palace employs the power of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc) to create an awareness of a monarchy of the people.

The younger generation royals also have their share of helping the Queen restore the monarchy’s popularity. The duke and duchess of Cambridge’s wedding, and their overwhelming popularity is a stamp of approval that the monarchy is still an institution that binds and unites the country.

Robert Lacey, a royal chronicler the royal family, said that the royal family “has discovered it can't uphold the old-fashioned values of family life any better than anyone else. But you can set an example of care, concern, forgiveness, and understanding. And, at that royal wedding, that's what we saw.”

“This jubilee doesn't just celebrate a person, though it rightly celebrates the Queen's personal qualities and achievements. It celebrates an institution and its incredible survival and flowering under her,” he added.


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