Andrew Marr, The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People
Andrew Marr, a lapsed republican, gives a very respectful, not to say hagiographic account of the life and work of the Queen. As the title indicates the book is a celebration of fifty years in her reign, from her birth by Caesarian section on April 26, 1926, to her accession to the throne in 1952 and her continued occupancy of the royal seat through many changes of government until the present. The work penetrates deeply into both domestic discord and Britain's changing place in the world, the Queen's relation with her court, parliament and her encounters with a host of international heads of state. We pass through the war years, austerity, the lively Sixties and the present period of economic downturn, the wise queen adapting with equanimity to every crisis. In a first chapter outlining `What the Queen Does,' Marr concludes with the resounding cliché that after her death `there will be a gaping, Queen-sized hole in the middle of British life.'
If ever there was a book capable of shoring up the dying institution of monarchy this is the book. Marr the fair-minded liberal leans over backwards to support the heroic little woman whose devotion to `family values' has persisted through the ages. Thus he quotes her message to the Mothers Union rally in 1949: `We can have no doubt that divorce and separation are responsible for some of the darkest evils in our society today.' Thus speaks the royal `we' who goes on to attack a materialism and selfishness later to be epitomised in the wild capers of her younger sister. But the spectre of divorce was to haunt the royals in the coming decades, when the queen was obliged, publically at least, to hold her tongue. But the waving and the smiles returned with the new generation; the public forgave and forgot. The gush of sentimentality over royal romances and royal babies it seemed would never die. Once the monarchy began paying taxes the royal image was revamped. The heroic ages of Victoria and Elizabeth I were invoked, for Murdoch knew what the public wanted was a mixture of scandal, sentiment and ceremonial.
The Diamond Queen is an absorbing troll through the archives, throwing up many fascinating royal encounters that show the queen as a tough-minded but discreet antagonist. Her meetings with Tony Benn are especially revealing. The vexed questions of the House of Lords and birthday honours lists lie behind the duel over the queen's head appearing on postage stamps. The chapter entitled `Off with her Head' amusingly records the seemingly polite but bitter struggle between republicanism and monarchy. Marr, as ever, is fully supportive of the Queen, who is such an obvious target for levellers such as Benn, who after taking the oath of loyalty to be admitted to the Privy Council `left the Palace boiling with indignation and feeling that this was an attempt to impose tribal magic and personal loyalty on people whose real duty was only to their electors.' The debate continues. But for how long?