Remembering the highs and lows in Queen’s 70-year reign

EXACTLY 40 years separated the high and low points in the life of our present Sovereign.

Her accession heralded an optimistic, post-war age of so-called New Elizabethans, but by the 1990s, it had dissolved into despair and recession.

Yet as Britain prepares to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, a unique event in the life of the nation, it may prove hard to separate the peaks from the troughs – for as one Royal commentator has pointed out, her fortune has been reflected in that of her subjects.

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It was on February 6, 1952, that the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth, on a visit to Kenya, received the news from Sandringham that her father, King George VI, had died.

Upon her return home, two days later, she was proclaimed Queen Elizabeth II, but it was not until the summer the following year that she was crowned as such. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had persuaded her that a passage of time was needed for her acclimatisation.

Her destiny was never in doubt, however, and nor was the continuance of the House of Windsor, said the author and respected political expert Professor Brendan Evans, of Huddersfield University.

“In 1952, people would have been surprised at just how much controversy would follow the Royal Family in the years to come,” he said. “Post-war austerity was starting to wane, and Churchill’s new government had brought back a mood of patriotism. It was an age of great optimism, both for monarchy and country, and there was particular sympathy for the late King and his young daughter.”

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It was in stark contrast to the mood of 1992, the year the Queen was to immortalise as her “annus horribilis”.

Not only had she seen three of her children suffer marriage breakdowns, but a devastating fire at Windsor Castle led to questions about her finances, and later to the opening of Buckingham Palace to the public.

“It was an example of how what’s happening in the country can rub off onto the Royal Family,” Prof Evans said. “There was a recession, there were poll tax riots and a controversy about whether Britain should get involved in a more integrated Europe.

“And one shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the failure of the marriage of Charles and Diana, and the expectation by the family that everybody would disregard it, even though it had been sold very strongly, as a solidifying and modernising event. Complacency never goes down with the British public.”

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The 1990s also saw a resurgence of abolitionist voices, which had been largely silent since the Coronation, save for the lone campaigner Lord Altrincham – the writer John Grigg – who dared to suggest in the 1950s that the new Queen was aloof and out of touch.

“In 1992 the Queen was as dutiful and continuous as ever, but the mood was changing. Things were beginning to go wrong,” Prof Evans said.

“A generational divide was beginning to open up and it has intensified since.

“People under 45 are much more sceptical or ambivalent about the monarchy, while those older are more likely to be supportive of it.”

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Yet after 70 years as Sovereign, the Queen remains a unifying figure, not a divisive one, he added.

“While 1952 in retrospect seems over optimistic, the Royal family remains a force for national unity, patriotism and a symbol of Britain that endures even through political embarrassments. They manage to rise above all that, and I think that mood will always be there, really.”

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