Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Book Review: 'The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II' by Andrew Marr

This vivid, well-written, interesting, informative yet ultimately sympathetic portrait of Queen Elizabeth breaks new ground by focusing on the substance of monarchical rule in the 21st Century, rather than just on royal gossip within monarchical circles.

For 60 years now Queen Elizabeth has presided over what remains of the greatly stripped-down version of the British empire. Here we discover that in private the queen is studious, quick-witted, even funny, and has a phenomenal memory. She sees her role as having been the result of a religious calling, one that has an important symbolic component as head of state of the UK. However, her most important duty is that of providing continuity for the empire by taking the long view of British interests. This duty is given expression as she serves as the Counselor of both first and last resort for British Prime Ministers, as well as for other key prime movers of the kingdom.

As the author makes clear the old ancient meaning of kingship has not just changed, but has been flipped on its head: The Crown is no longer the government. The queen has great authority but no power. She is a ruler who does not rule, but serves her subjects. The Crown is not the government because there is a small but essential difference between the Queen's authority and the day-to-day authority of the ministers. This book does an excellent job of showing us how the Queen has become deft at exploiting this difference to the good of the kingdom.

Before I read this book, I had a fairly negative view of her, similar to that portrayed by recent movies, Kitty Kelly's book "The Royals," and her belated rise to "soothe the ruffled feathers" in the aftermath of Diana's accidental death. In contrast to those negative portraits, this book brings her best qualities alive, front and center. And shows not only that she is an indefatigable servant of British interests, but also instead of being the "Ice Queen," she is a quiet, methodical, businesslike monarch, who takes her role seriously and has been roundly successful at it.

If there was a phrase for a royal technocrat, then Elizabeth would be that phrase to a tee. ["How about Techno-Monarchocrat?"] Four stars

Editor's note: This review was written by Dr. Herbert L. Calhoun and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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