Speaking last night from Windsor Castle in a special address to the nation, Queen Elizabeth made a historic speech in the midst of the tumultuous covid-19 pandemic. Merely hours after the speech was delivered, the news that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital over his persistent symptoms only reinforced to the nation the severity of the public health crisis.
We have seen countless speeches made to British people – from health secretary Matt Hancock to online celebrities urging people to stay at home via social media – the tidal wave of information seems overwhelming, if not rather monotonous. But why are the words of the Queen different? After all, for many Britons her public role constitutes simply infrequent displays of wasteful pageantry, but across the country last night, 24 million people gathered in their living rooms to watch her personal address and listen to her words of encouragement.
Offering her thanks to the dedicated NHS workers who are selflessly putting their own lives at risk, the uplifting and positive speech made by the sovereign was a relief after weeks of the media being weighed down by an endless stream of new confirmed cases, deaths and the harsh protective measures.
The speech was only the fifth time in her 68-year reign that she has addressed the nation in such extraordinary circumstances; the others including the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in September 1997. During her speech concerning the public health crisis, she recalled recording her wartime broadcast as a child in 1940, with the aid of her sister Princess Margaret, where the central theme was to promote unity and reassurance.
But the question remains, why are the Queen’s words special? And why, given her limited role in government affairs, are they given such precedence?
The simple answer is that, as sovereign, her political impartiality gives her the unique ability to unite, to patch up the divides across parties and to strive to promote harmony in times of crisis – arguably the exact treatment that Britain needs. The Queen manages to quietly cut through the red tape with her paradoxical ability to act comfortingly and personally, leaving behind the petty squabbles between leading political figures and their parties.
Similarly, having the Queen address the nation seems a welcome reminder of the actual role of the monarchy – her talk of unity and fighting for a common cause is a gentle reminder that the purpose of the monarchy is not simply for their often imaginary scandals to be splashed across tabloid newspapers.
The Queen provides all the certainty and steadfastness that, I feel has been lost by the younger generation of royals and the ‘Megxit’ issue, and her public addresses to her people reflect the core value of her role. To act in conjunction with the government that is elected in her name, the Queen seeks to unite, and to provide a rare impartiality which is so important in the current climate.
Invoking her recollections of the “painful sense of separation” felt by child evacuees in the Second World War, the Queen’s speech was a reminder of Britain’s past, and the nation’s ability to stand resolute through times of difficulty. She urged her people to remember the values of community and friendship during these unprecedented times – British values which saw the nation through two World Wars, and certainly will see the country through the coronavirus pandemic.
Image credit: Buckingham Palace via AP