Inspired by Robert Lacey’s Royal: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Commentary by M.L. Littlefield
The possibility of losing one’s monarch at the hands of a lunatic induces panic. So when a royal figure survives an attack, especially with sangfroid, there’s relief all around. There’s a surge of public sympathy and support for the royal family and people express amazement at how cool their monarch can be.
Then, there’s a bit too much of a good thing. The media and the public get bored with cool, steely resolve after a while and get cranky. Queen Elizabeth II has experienced both the praise and the pouts of the people because of her grace under fire. As it turns out, it’s an experience that’s all in the family.
The Queen’s bravery in the face of chaos, as well as her calm demeanor in the face of, well, pretty much everything, can be attributed to her illustrious ancestor Queen Victoria. The great Queen had her share of close calls, and with it came the public frenzy of relief and affection.
While out for a drive in their carriage, the diminutive Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, were attacked by a youth firing a gun. Neither Victoria nor Albert was injured, but they were certainly taken aback. The would-be assassin quickly removed himself from the scene, leaving the couple to wonder if the shocking event had even really happened, so quickly did it occur.
The next day, Albert and Victoria made a point to go out in their carriage along the same route to see if the lad would attempt to shoot at them once again. The royal couple was determined to catch a glimpse of their assailant. Nearing the same juncture as from the previous day, their investigation was rewarded. Out of the scenery burst the young man, brandishing a gun and firing like mad.
They were blanks.
The marauder was caught in the act this time by a policeman. Both Queen and Consort were satisfied to learn his identity – twenty-two year old John Francis – and have him taken away.
Public emotion ran high over the incident, with tributes pouring in from every corner thanking God for sparing Her Majesty. The public was also agog over the couple’s bravery, though some said their actions were foolhardy. It had been too close a call.
The newspapers were full of ebullient praise for their sovereign and mass expressions of sentiment for the Royal Family fully bloomed. The country had long been lacking in sentiment: Victoria’s debauched forebears – all four German Georges as well as the Queen’s immediate predecessor, William IV – disgusted the British populace.
Victoria was the exact opposite: she was a pretty face attached to a duty-bound heart. She had a handsome husband who was devoted to her and their children, who were all adorable. A sweet family with such youthful vitality made the nation feel proud and hopeful. No one wanted to lose that.
Victoria responded to all of the outpouring of affection with similar expression. Addressing the loyal subjects and organizations who wished her well after the carriage incident, she stated, “My first desire is to live in the hearts of my people.”
With the advent of photography in the Victorian era, the Queen certainly could, at least, live on the hearths of her people in photos as if one of the family.
A certain intimacy was established between crown and country during this time, but with it came a certain intrusion and the public expectation that the royals should be “on” at all times. They had a captivating royal family at last, and they wanted to see them in action.
Prince Albert’s death would put a strain on the Queen’s new media-friendly monarchy. When Victoria went into seclusion after his demise, the public seemed almost offended at the loss of royal ceremonies, public duties, and celebrations.
She was still largely held in high esteem, but Victoria did do a certain amount of damage to the monarchy in the public sphere by declaring all ceremony and royal fanfare off-limits. No one could have any fun or be seen outside of a black wardrobe, as it might show disrespect to Albert’s memory. It made sense to Queen Victoria, but the public was not entirely happy with the constant morbidity. It was a tad too much.
Victoria’s descendant, Queen Elizabeth II, would also experience that sting of public backlash and media criticism when her emotions were restrained or privacy needed to come first.
Elizabeth has never gone into absolute seclusion for the better part of her life, nor has she called off royal ceremonies for an indeterminate amount of time. The Queen has, however, kept her emotions in check and needed a little quiet time after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. This was met with anger.
Elizabeth’s ability to look danger in the eye is legendary. The infamous shots fired at Her Majesty during the 1981 Trooping the Colour ceremony had everyone in disarray. The Queen, meanwhile, coolly soldiered on after calming her horse. After the ceremony she returned home via the very same route to Buckingham Palace. It was a “You won’t scare me!” gesture, just shy of a white-gloved thumb to her nose.
Even when a stranger broke into her bedroom in the early morning, Elizabeth kept her head. Michael Fagan slinked inside the palace and startled the Queen by sitting on her bed, talking about how disillusioned he felt.
Public adoration of the Queen skyrocketed. The media duly reported on how wonderful she was and praised her for her timely use of the vital organs during both of those dangerous events.
Come fifteen years later, the same feted Sovereign was criticized for being too cool and remote over Diana’s demise; instead of rushing into London wringing her hands and crying her eyes out, Her Majesty stayed secluded in Scotland’s Balmoral Castle with her grandsons, trying to cope with the tragedy. For this, she was roundly castigated:
WHERE IS OUR QUEEN? WHERE IS HER FLAG? screamed the newspaper headlines.
When trouble strikes, cool heads will save the day; but in this age of emotion, sometimes that isn’t enough.
(c) 2009 MandysRoyalty.org