This year Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the 61st year of her accession to the British throne, making her one of the longest reigning monarchs in British history and the longest serving since the death of Queen Victoria, her great, great grandmother in 1901. In the early 19th century, with fear of revolution and counter-revolution, there was also the knowledge that the monarchical system was well entrenched throughout most of the world, as was evident in the funeral cortège of King Edward VII. But the First World War was to change all that. Monarchies and empires were to fall like ninepins, to be replaced by the ghastly 20th Century dictatorships of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. If Verdun and the Somme were the price of victory, Auschwitz and Dachau were the price of defeat. The Royal Family saved us from all that.
In the 21st century, although constitutional monarchies continue to exist in Europe and Asia, there has been a steady if gentle decline in their significance and they seem to have less and less relevance to young people. Nowadays, demands of the monarchy are not measured in the mystery and magic of history and heritage, but in best value and media hype over family problems. Gone are the days of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Few are there left to stand with Cuchulainn against the mighty Maeve and fight the Morrigan. Few weep for Deirdre and the Sons of Usna. Few follow Finn and the Fianna or hear the poems of the great Oisin. These heroes are nothing if they have not the romance of royalty. The very idea of a republican form of government would have been repugnant to their Old Irish system of law.
Princess Elizabeth, the elder daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York (later GeorgeVI and Queen Elizabeth), was born at 2.40am on 21st April 1926 at 17 Bruton Street, the London home of her mother’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore. The Princess was brought up at the family home at 145 Piccadilly and Royal Lodge, Windsor Great Park. It was at the latter that she had her own small house, called in the ancient British tongue Y Bwthyn Bach (The Little Cottage) which was presented to her by the people of Wales in 1932 and installed at Windsor in December that year.
The family moved into Buckingham Palace on 15th February 1937 and Princess Elizabeth attended the coronation of her parents as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey on 12th May. She enjoyed a happy childhood with loving parents who gave her every opportunity to mix and make friends with other children of her own age. In 1939 she met her third cousin Prince Philip of Greece and by 1944, when she was just eighteen, it was clear that she was in love with him. Following the War, her engagement was announced on 10th July 1947 and her wedding was celebrated at Westminster Abbey on 20th November that year.
On the death of her father her coronation took place on 2nd June 1953 at Westminster Abbey, signifying the hopes of a new Elizabethan age. Against the wishes of her cabinet she insisted that her coronation be televised so that as many as possible should be able to observe the ceremony and from the time of her accession she has worked assiduously at her many constitutional duties.The Queen has been very fortunate during her reign to have been spared the constitutional crisis that so marked the reign of her grandfather King George V.
Speaking on the occasion of her Silver Jubilee on 4th May 1977 she said of nationalist aspirations “I number Kings and Queens of England and of Scotland and Princes of Wales among my ancestors and so I can readily understand these aspirations. But I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Perhaps this Jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings on the inhabitants of all parts of the United Kingdom.”
The Queen has done much to insure that the monarchy has adapted to social change, while remaining a strong force for continuity and stability. She has sought to modernise the monarchy and render it more informal, while at the same time preserving its dignity and its roots in tradition, based as it is on the ancient Brytenwalda, ruler of all Britain and its islands including Ireland and accepted in early, medieval and modern times by the scholar priests of the Vatican.So it is not inevitable that the institution must be dumbed down or made to disappear altogether. There remains much scope for our sovereign to play a significant role in filling the gap left by a modern political system which responds generally to the needs and wishes of a majority of voters while remaining insensitive to the needs of others, particularly ethnic minorities and disadvantaged groups.
There is an acknowledged role for a monarch who can encourage, advise and council with legitimate authority to counteract the excesses of a majoritarian government. Inevitably, the precise role of The Queen in advising her ministers will not be known for some time. Yet consider The Queen in 1976 when she encouraged James Callaghan, as Foreign Secretary, to take an initiative to solve the Rhodesian Problem, or 10 years later when she gave a subtle rebuke to Margaret Thatcher who continued to oppose sanctions against South Africa over apartheid, or the Prince’s Trust which has done so much to help the deprived and alienated youth of our country in a way that the political process never could.
The year 2013 still sees a monarchy held in high esteem throughout the world, imbued with the established wisdom of an ancient civilisation; a monarchy which is the embodiment of the culture and heritage of Great Britain (Albion) and Little Britain (Ireland); a monarchy whose Ulster Scots origins lie deeply in the heartlands of Ireland’s most ancient kingdoms, the hill of Tara, the Ulster realms of Dalriada and Dal Fiatach, and the Cruthin Kingdom of Dalaradia, as well as those of England, Scotland and Wales; an enduring symbol of the shared inheritance and common identity of all the peoples of these British islands, the ancient Isles of the Pretani.
The ancient British ritual centre of Tara is of immense significance. The pre-Celtic Cruthin King of Tara, Congal Clane (Cháech or One-Eye), overking of Ulster and Scotland was one of the Queen’s ancestors. Known to us through the Seventh Century Old Irish Law-Tract on Bee-Keeping Bechbretha, which stated Congal was King of Tara until a bee-sting in his eye put him from his kingship, he was killed at the watershed Battle of Moira in 637AD. So when the Queen visited the Republic of Ireland in May 2011 she was coming home and, as Chairman of the Somme Association, I was honoured to be introduced to her there.
Winnie Duff has written that the Queen’s grandson Prince William’s ancestors have very strong Ulster connections, and he has one of the most illustrious family trees in History, with much of the Ulster and English aristocracy included in the Spencer family tree, the Scottish in Bowes Lyons, and the whole continent’s in the Mountbattens. Not only is he descended from Stuarts and Tudors, but O’Neill and McAlpine, even Sarsfield and Schomberg. Although for generations they tended to marry European Royals, most of the British input to the Royal Genes is via the Queen Mother and Princess Diana, whose mother was from a Cork family, her grandmother from County Tyrone.