Excerpt: Monarch: The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II had taken her time about it. But when it really mattered, the queen had done her job. Setting her personal reservations aside, she had managed to express genuine emotion. Taking command and using modern media to assert her ancient and mysterious authority, she had also acknowledged, through her willingness to change her plans and to make her speech, that she listened to her subjects — and that they were, in one sense, her ultimate boss.

This book is published to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II — the fiftieth anniversary of her accession to the British throne in February 1952. It seeks to tell her story, while also trying to explain the nature of her monarchy, a stirring and irrational symphony of emotion between the national figurehead and her people, which enchants its many believers and mystifies those who are tone-deaf to its music.

This private and straightforward woman is celebrating fifty years in one of the world's most public and paradoxical jobs. The British crown long ago lost the political powers it once commanded, but in its place Elizabeth II commands a potent role in the emotional life of her country — and of the wider world. Thanks to the embrace of the mass media, the personalities of the House of Windsor occupy prominent armchairs in that corner of our consciousness inhabited by presidents and film stars, TV hosts and all the variegated heroes, fraudsters, and villains of the celebrity culture. We "know" them all. The family's marriages, births, divorces, and, in the dramatic case of Diana, death, stimulated some of the late twentieth century's most intense global experiences of communal joy and sadness.

This process developed its momentum more than a century and a half ago in the reign of Queen Victoria, whose fascinating venerability Elizabeth II is now approaching. From the sylph-like slenderness of her youth, Elizabeth II moved into comfortably rounded middle age, and at seventy-five the royal silhouette is heading for the stocky authority of the first Jubilee queen. With her own Golden Jubilee of 2002, the queen's parallels with Victoria become ever more intriguing. "Lilibet" was born in Queen Victoria's shadow, and the grand and gaudy business of royal celebrity at which she has worked so dutifully all her life first took shape around her formidable great-great-grandmother.

— From Monarch : The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II, Copyright May 2002 by Robert Lacey, Free Press used by permission.

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