It hasn’t always been happy and glorious, but Queen Elizabeth II has long reigned over us with grace, dignity and singular shrewdness.
She’s set to become Britain’s longest serving monarch on Wednesday, exceeding a record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. At about 12.30 p.m. EST, Elizabeth will have held the throne for more than 63 years and 218 days — an extraordinarily long period as head of state.
And she has done a great deal more than just mark time.
Like Victoria, Elizabeth has served as an enduring symbol of constitutional stability and continuity, guiding the monarchy through an era of remarkable change and turbulence. But the current queen’s task has been the more difficult.
Victoria reigned through the Industrial Revolution and at the peak of British power, over an empire on which, famously, “the sun never set.” In contrast, Elizabeth has served in the twilight of that empire and into a Digital Revolution that continues transforming the world in ways impossible to foresee in 1952, the year of her accession.
What’s been remarkable — and, indeed, the key to Elizabeth’s success — is this queen’s ability to adapt to changing times and to connect with her subjects.
Where Victoria was seldom out and about, and was for a decade a virtual recluse, Elizabeth is the most travelled monarch in history. She has — so far — been to 128 countries, in 270 official visits, with Canada her most frequent destination (27 tours).
Elizabeth has managed to shepherd the monarchy through crises sparked by the harrowing death of Diana, the “people’s princess,” and the various and embarrassing antics of dysfunctional younger royals. She has used television to remarkable effect in order to do so. And while the queen, herself, doesn’t much tweet, the palace makes extensive use of social media.
As a result, Elizabeth isn’t just the longest serving monarch in British history — she’s also among the most popular. No current royal is more respected. As long as she reigns the Crown rests on a firm foundation. That’s a legacy worth celebrating.