As wedding fever mounts in anticipation of Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton, and The King’s Speech looks set to follow The Queen in garnering Academy Awards, the popularity of the British monarchy is enjoying a bump in Britain as well as around the world (where it has always found fascination, especially in the United States). But this has not always been the case; British public opinion on the monarchy ebbs and flows. As recently as 2002, polls showed 12% of Britons in favor of its abolition and another 30% in favor of retention, but with a radical overhaul. That’s 42% who wanted it abolished or drastically reformed. Even the November 2010 announcement of the Royal Wedding, which the British tabloids covered lavishly, failed to boost their sagging sales. The bank holiday that has been called for April 29th, 2011 may help make the British people feel a little more well-disposed to the extravagant event, but at a time when they are facing huge public sector cuts and austerity measures, one of the top wedding-related stories in the British press has been its projected cost to taxpayers and the call for the House of Windsor itself to foot the bill.
Today’s Daily Mail announces that, as the culmination of a month of protests., “anarchists” are plotting to disrupt the Royal Wedding, but even if most would wish the high-flying young couple the best, nearly two-thirds of the populace remains unenthusiastic about the big day, despite its having been declared a national holiday. Nearly thirty years ago, on July 29th, 1981, public support and TV viewership of Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding was ensured not only by a bank holiday but also by lowering the price of beer in the pubs. This time, although the pubs will be allowed to stay open until 1 am two days running, there’s been no mention of a soma holiday.
My mother has frequently recalled June 2nd, 1953, a day nearly thirty years before Charles and Di’s wedding (and a month before her own): the coronation of Elizabeth II, the current Queen of England, when London was absolutely jam-packed, with whole streets blocked off and traffic at a standstill. Mum was in the thick of it, struggling through the crowds, not for a glimpse of the young queen in all her regalia, but for a glimpse of her dear friend Dot and of Peta, her newborn baby daughter. In her telling, Mum had no interest in the pomp and ceremony, only exasperation at the disruption it caused, which made it nearly impossible for her to cross town to visit mother and baby.
This was in the aftermath of the Second World War, an ordeal that had demanded terrible sacrifices from the British people. My mother’s generation had had their schooling interrupted and lost irrecoverably a large chunk of their childhood. Nearly eight years after the end of the War, London was still bombed-out and food rationing ongoing. Mum and her friends, now twenty-something, were young bohemians, interested in everything—education, culture, politics, each other—and determined to take their lives back and live them to the fullest. A cut-rate pint of beer certainly wouldn’t have tempted them to waste their hard-earned money in the pub or waste their precious time watching television—even then, when it was still a novelty. They didn’t have much time for royalty and found their role models elsewhere.
Elizabeth is my middle name, but my mother always made sure to let me know that I was not the namesake of the Queen or the Queen Mother but of my maternal grandmother, who passed away not long after the Coronation, just months before I was born. Dear Dot passed away a month ago, and is remembered and missed by her family and friends. My mother, my grandmothers, and all the women who have helped raise me: these are my uncrowned queens, to whom I owe my life, my values, and my fealty. No amount of royal hoopla will make me feel differently.