Royal Roundup: The Queen’s Speech

The Queen, with Prince Philip at her side, addresses both houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Images)

It’s perhaps not a particularly surprising piece of news that the Queen, in a pageant-laden speech to both houses of Parliament, pledged to “rededicate” herself to serving her country and her people. After all, public service is one of the broad themes of the Diamond Jubilee, and the Queen’s outlook is one that her subjects have come to expect from their long-ruling monarch.

No, the Queen’s special Diamond Jubilee speech wasn’t a news-making event in as much as it was an occasion – as so many others during the Jubilee will be – to mark the longevity of her reign, characterized by stability amidst rapid change in every aspect of contemporary life.

The Queen herself noted that during her 60-year tenure, she’s dealt with 12 prime ministers and signed some 3,500 bills into law.

The world was a very different place, wrote The Guardian’s Simon Hoggart, when Elizabeth, “a very pretty but nervous young woman” unexpectedly came to the throne in 1952. It was, Hoggart writes, “a time when there was still rationing, almost every British city was studded with bomb sites, beer cost a shilling a pint, few people had television … [and] when every film ended with the national anthem, and she [the Queen] was even made to watch the cup final.”

The Queen spoke of this fast pace of change, and drily suggested that her lengthy rule – second only to Queen Victoria’s – was in itself an ingredient of her success.

“In an era when the regular, worthy rhythm of life is less eye-catching than doing something extraordinary,” she said, “I am reassured that I am merely the second sovereign to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee.”

The Queen stressed the virtues of continuity.

“We are reminded here of our past, of the continuity of our national story and the virtues of resilience, ingenuity and tolerance which created it,” she told the gathering of dignitaries, as plumed guards in full regalia stood behind her. “I have been privileged to witness some of that history and, with the support of my family, rededicate myself to the service of our great country and its people now and in the years to come.”

Most observers thought the Queen’s approach was pitch perfect, combining seriousness with a little playful humor.

“She tried a few gags,” said BBC NewsPeter Hunt – for example, she got a laugh when she used the word “pleasurable” to describe working with 12 prime ministers. But Hunt adds: “This was a confident Queen who didn’t court controversy.”

In other royal-related news about the Queen’s speech:

• The courting of controversy appears to have been left to John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons who, in introductory remarks, praised Her Majesty as a “kaleidoscope Queen of a kaleidoscope country in a kaleidoscope Commonwealth.” The reason the comment was controversial is that Bercow is president of the Kaleidescope Trust, a gay rights organization, and social conservatives were livid, accusing Bercow of using the Diamond Jubilee Parliament appearance for a political agenda.

The Telegraph column called the speaker’s introduction a “drunken uncle routine.” The Daily Mail said that Prime Minister David Cameron “directed a look of cold anger towards Bercow throughout the speech” and that many Tory MPs are “incandescent” and “fizzing with anger.”

• There was no controversy at all over the stained-glass window given to the Queen by both houses of Parliament as a Diamond Jubilee gift. The window, designed by British artist John Reyntiens, depicts the Queen’s coat of arms, flanked by a lion and a unicorn. It is made up of more than 1,500 individual pieces of glass. The gift was paid for by personal contributions of members of both houses and was presented to the Queen before she gave her address.

The stained glass window given to the Queen. (Dan Kitwood/AP Images)

In her speech, she thanked her hosts for the gift, saying that she was “very touched by the magnificent gift before me, generously subscribed by many of you. Should this beautiful window cause just a little extra colour to shine down upon this ancient place, I should gladly settle for that.” (via BBC News)

• If you would like to see the all of the Diamond Jubilee address ceremony, along with some very interesting background as well, you can find it on C-SPAN.