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Jean des Cars: Elizabeth II, a queen with chiseled diplomatic influence

Dignified, serious, extremely courteous. Queen Elizabeth II has made her diplomatic mark over the past seven decades. Interview with Jean des Cars, writer, specialist in the British monarchy, author of “Élisabeth II: la reine” published by Perrin.

Interview conducted by Delphine Allaire – Vatican City

“May God protect the Queen”. All eyes are on London and the British monarchy during these four days of festivities, from June 2 to 5, for a historic Platinum Jubilee. At 96, Elizabeth II celebrates her 70 years of reign this Thursday, June 2. The Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland thus beats the record of her great-great-grandmother, Victoria, who reigned 63 years, from 1837 to 1901.

The doyenne of today’s crowned heads was thus a privileged witness to the great upheavals of the world in the 20th century. She rubbed shoulders with 15 British Prime Ministers, 7 Popes as head of the Anglican Church, and had the opportunity to circle the earth the equivalent of 42 times, according to calculations by the Daily Telegraph.

The daughter of George VI also remains attached to the vestiges of the British Empire, which are manifested today by the Commonwealth, of which she has visited the States 150 times.

The writer Jean des Cars, specialist in European nobility and the British monarchytells us about the traces left by this Windsor on the international scene over the past seven decades.

Interview with the writer Jean des Cars

When on June 2, 1953, Elizabeth II acceded to the throne, Winston Churchill still occupied 10 Downing Street. The queen knew her 14 successors, one imagines that the quality and nature of the relations were not the same with each of them.

She was lucky to start with Churchill. He was waiting for her at the foot of his plane when she returned from Kenya. He remembered a young princess who was 13 in 1939, who became the crown princess. She is also the only head of state in office to date, who has known the Second World War. When she became queen in 1952 on the death of her father, Stalin was still in Moscow. With Churchill, she gets on wonderfully, she will make a notorious exception for him to the principle of reserve of the Sovereign on his Prime Minister. In 1965, on the death of the Old Lion, for which she demanded and obtained a state funeral, she would say a single word: “He was entertaining”.

With Margaret Thatcher, relations were more delicate. Thatcher was wrong, she thought she was the state, she was only the government. On the other hand, the Queen got along very well with Labor Prime Ministers, the question was not a political position, she was very serious, worked and is still working on the files prepared by the government. Under constitutional practice dating back to Queen Victoria, she asks for an explanation if she doesn’t understand or disagrees. The British sovereign can warn about something that seems to him to be inappropriate, erroneous or in bad taste. The contents of the files circulate in the Royal Boxes, these red leather boxes with the monogram of the sovereign. For several months, Prince Charles has also been receiving them.

The Queen is at the head of the Commonwealth how did she distinguish herself in this charge?

The Commonwealth of today and that of 1950 no longer have the same face; decolonization, political movements have been there. Today, it represents only about fifteen countries. In the past, there were around 40, with former dominions such as Australia and Canada, where the Queen is the head of state. Attachment to the Commonwealth, to this community of interests that goes through language and history, is very old. She meant it very young, at 21, in a speech in Cape Town, South Africa: “Whether my life is short or long, I will always serve the Nation and the Commonwealth“. The Queen liked to keep her word. In the 1960s, despite opposition from the Labor government, she wanted to go to Ghana, the former Gold Coast, which had become a Marxist state. For Elizabeth, had to keep her promise to go there, sweeping the political question. The government was stunned, this part of Africa being under the influence of Moscow.

More recently, this is one of the mistakes made by Meghan two years ago when the Queen sent her on a mission to visit Commonwealth states. Meghan hinted that she was not interested, that it was just a rattle. This struck the queen and her entourage enormously.

Pope Benedict XVI and Queen Elizabeth II in England, September 2010.

Pope Benedict XVI and Queen Elizabeth II in England, September 2010.

The UK is traditionally said to be Atlanticist. What about the queen?

She has seen so many American presidents go by, but it can be noted that after the attacks of September 11, 2001, she had her Guard band play a few notes of the American national anthem mixed with the God Save the Queen. The queen makes no choice, she is very European, she showed it when inaugurating the Channel Tunnel with President Mitterrand, who was fascinated by her. She suffered at the time of Brexit, but she did not say so. The next day, however, she arrived with a hat bearing the colors of the European Union. Many things are not said, but come under the symbol. She doesn’t do politics openly, she has no right to, it happens discreetly.

How did the rapprochement between the Church of England and the Church of Rome come about, particularly under John Paul II?

The queen has great respect for the sacred and the religious. She requested that her coronation be televised, but that the sacred portion not be seen as she received the anointing. A large canopy hid this religious part of the ceremony. As head of the Anglican Church, she fully respected customs and rites. She never attended the civil weddings of people from the royal family, it is very revealing. The relationship otherwise is quite subtle, for example with the Church of Scotland, where Catholicism is more present. That’s why she couldn’t wear the jewels of Scotland, she had them in front of her. She is the queen of images and subliminal messages. Regarding the Vatican, she moved the wedding date of Charles and Camilla to respect the mourning of the Catholic Church at the death of John Paul II. She had requested a service in Saint Paul’s Cathedral in memory of the Polish Holy Father.


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