These days, discussion of whether the British monarchy is obsolete or harmful isn’t exactly surprising. In fact, the purpose of the monarchy has been a common question for decades—TIME addressed that matter in a cover story in 1992, the year Queen Elizabeth II dubbed an “annus horribilis”—and was even so when the Queen, who died Thursday, Sep. 8 at age 96, came to the throne after her father’s death in 1952.
(The Queen has been slashing her public duties for the past several years as a result of her declining health. But she only met Liz Truss who is her new Prime Minister.
On the TIME cover, June 29, 1959. The Queen
TIME noted that Queen Elizabeth II had answered the question quite easily. The magazine celebrated her ascension by noting that the respect of the crown binds the different Commonwealth countries together.
Soon after, when she was named TIME’s Woman of the Year, that reasoning was expanded upon. In that year, the military was the dominant force on the planet. They were the ones who divided the Earth by ideological and political borders. As an example of unity, Queen Elizabeth was one of them.
TIME pointed out that this was because she was the queen. Many royals of many nations have failed to unite their people. Her throne was “long since shorn of its last vestige of political power.” Her power was not the work of tradition alone. Her significance depended not simply upon her job, but also on who she was, ”a fresh young blossom on roots that had weathered many a season of wintry doubt”:
She maintained her personal charm and professionalism throughout her reign to ensure that the monarchy was still something which had a reason to exist. For example, amid “signs of creeping apathy toward the crown,” per TIME, she undertook an attempt to seem more accessible. It worked, even though it didn’t translate into informality.
TIME listed her as one of its most influential individuals in 2007 and it was enough for people to forget about any talk about the end of the monarchy.
This should not have come as a surprise. After all, when she had been only a girl, as Princess Lilibet, she began the years of grooming that would make her a woman worthy of the throne—and aware of what that duty would require.
“You are not a fairy-tale princess,” TIME reported in 1944 her mother reminding her, “but a real one.”
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