Next weekend Great Britain will celebrate sixty years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, her Diamond Jubilee. It’s the perfect time to read Robert Lacey’s The Queen: A Life in Brief, the biography of the eighty-six-year-old monarch.
Lacey has been covering the Queen for over thirty years. She’s the subject of two of his previous books, Majesty and Monarch. Those two books are the basis for this one, a shorter version of the life of the world’s most visible Queen.
And, it certainly wasn’t an easy life. She wasn’t born to be Queen, but knew when her uncle, David, gave up the throne and her father became King George VI that she would one day be Queen of England. She was only ten at the time. She met Prince Philip of Greece when she was twelve. He was five years older, and he would become the love of her life. She knew she wanted to marry him at seventeen, but waited until she was twenty-one to insist she was ready to marry Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, who had given up his Greek citizenship in order to marry Elizabeth. Even her wedding was not without controversy since the country was still suffering financially after the war. But surveys showed people wanted to celebrate a royal wedding, and they celebrated again a year later when a son and heir was born in 1948. Only four years later, at twenty-six, Elizabeth became Queen while on a tour of Kenya.
Lacey’s book covers the many changes in the monarchy over the last sixty years, many of them brought about due to the misbehavior of other royals, Elizabeth’s sister, Margaret, first, and then her children, particularly Prince Charles, who went so far as to authorize a biography in which he complained about his parents. And, the media coverage, and the storms that arose after Princess Diana’s death, led to major changes in the family and how they conducted their business and their lives.
The Queen is the story of a woman whose “dutiful, cautious qualities made her sterling queen material,” the perfect person to understand the need to change with the times and accommodate the wishes of the country. There’s a reason the Windsors remain comfortably ensconced on their thrones while so many other rulers have lost thrones. Lacey, in a book that combines politics, gossip, and biography, credits a small woman who understands the role of a Queen in relationship to her country. The Queen: A Life in Brief, is the perfect biography for those of us who are curious, but don’t care to know every detail a biographer or the media would normally reveal. It’s just the right touch before the Diamond Jubilee.