LONDON – Queen Elizabeth II remembered the past and sought to cement the future of the monarchy Sunday as the United Kingdom marked the 70th anniversary of her rule.
In remarks delivered in time for Sunday morning’s front pages, the monarch expressed a “sincere wish’’ that Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, should be known as “Queen Consort” when her son succeeds her as expected. With those words, Elizabeth sought to answer once and for all questions about the status of Camilla, who was initially shunned by fans of the late Princess Diana, Charles’ first wife.
“The queen is such a realist and, you know, she’s got a business to run,’’ historian Robert Lacey said. “Well, they call it ‘The Firm,’ don’t they? And this really brings Camilla into the firm properly now and for the future.”
Britain’s longest-serving monarch, the only sovereign most Britons have ever known, Queen Elizabeth II has been a constant presence as Britain navigated the end of empire, the swinging ’60s, the labor strife of the 1980s, international terrorism, Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In her statement Sunday, the monarch remembered the death of her father, King George VI, which elevated her to the throne, and recalled the seven decades of “extraordinary progress” that her reign has spanned. The queen, now 95, also renewed the pledge she made on her 21st birthday to devote her entire life to the service of the U.K. and the Commonwealth.
But it was her comments about Camilla that made news.
It took years for many in Britain to forgive Charles, whose admitted infidelity and long-time links to Camilla torpedoed his marriage to Diana, known as “the People’s Princess.” The glamorous young mother of Princes William and Harry died in a Paris car crash in 1997, five years after her messy, public split from Charles.
But the public mood has softened since Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.
Now known as the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla, 74, has taken on roles at more than 100 charities, focusing on a wide range of issues including promoting literacy, supporting victims of domestic violence and helping the elderly.
With a down-to-Earth style and sense of humor, she eventually won over many Britons. Her warmth softened Charles’ stuffy image and made him appear more relaxed, if not happier, as he visited houses of worship, unveiled plaques and waited for his chance to reign.
Charles, 73, has long made it clear that he wants Camilla to be known as queen when he ultimately succeeds his mother on the throne. In his own message congratulating his mother's long years of service, Charles thanked her for her support.
“We are deeply conscious of the honour represented by my mother’s wish,’’ he said. “As we have sought together to serve and support Her Majesty and the people of our communities, my darling wife has been my own steadfast support throughout.’’
The queen’s comments brought back memories of one of the lowest moments of her reign. The royal family was criticized for its initial silence in the aftermath of Diana’s death, with one newspaper proclaiming “Your People Are Suffering. Speak to Us Ma’am.”
In backing Charles and Camilla, Elizabeth remembered the support she received from her husband, Prince Philip, who died last year after decades at her side, as well as the role her mother played as the wife of a king.
“I am fortunate to have had the steadfast and loving support of my family. I was blessed that, in Prince Philip, I had a partner willing to carry out the role of consort and unselfishly make the sacrifices that go with it,″ she wrote. “It is a role I saw my own mother perform during my father’s reign.”
“And when, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes King, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support that you have given me,” she added.
For now, the queen remains on the job. On Sunday, Buckingham Palace released a photo of the monarch sitting in front of her official red dispatch box with government papers spread out before her.
The monarch spent the day at Sandringham, the country estate in eastern England where her father died on Feb. 6, 1952.
“It is a sad day and one that reminds her of the close relationship she had with him,” Lacey, the historical consultant to the Netflix series “The Crown,’’ told The Associated Press. “He liked to consider himself the Squire of Sandringham, not King of Britain. He’d go out and walk the fields, shoot the game. That’s what she remembers.’’
While Sunday’s anniversary was low-key, public celebrations of the platinum jubilee are scheduled for June, when the weather is usually sunnier. The festivities will include a military parade, neighborhood parties and a competition to create a new dessert — a mini extravaganza over a four-day weekend June 2-5.
The national reminiscing got underway Sunday, with newspapers and TV reports full of black-and-white images of a young Elizabeth, the glittering new face of the House of Windsor, which was still shaking off the scandal of King Edward VIII’s decision to abdicate so he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
Behind her was World War II and the years of rationing that followed. In front of her were the glimmers of a brighter future.
“One of the reasons why Elizabeth II is greeted with such enthusiasm in 1952 on her accession is because her reign symbolizes new hope and opportunity for renaissance, a new beginning,” said historian Ed Owens, author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public 1932-1953.'' “She embodies a completely new style of monarchy, something that is much more fairytale than what had come before.”
And this weekend, the sovereign made clear it’s not over.
On Saturday, she made an appearance at a tea party in her honor, the largest public gathering since her health scare last year. Guests reported her wit to be as sharp as ever, though she carried a cane and seemed a bit thinner than usual. Still, she stabbed a massive knife into an anniversary cake, much to the delight of onlookers.
She also promised to keep working.
“It gives me pleasure,” she wrote, “to renew to you the pledge I gave in 1947: that my life will always be devoted to your service.’’
This story corrects a quote by historian Robert Lacey to add the dropped word ‘not’ in the 19th paragraph.
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