It seems to have become fashionable to compare the reign of England’s first Elizabeth as the dawning of a Golden Age for England, while the reign of our current Elizabeth, II is supposed to have overseen a decline and the dissolution of the British Empire.
To this I say, “Bollocks!”
I have traveled to all seven continents and I can tell you that there is only one language I have universally heard spoken in every corner of the planet. That language is English. When checking into a hotel in Budapest, the Chinese gentleman in front of me was speaking English with the Hungarian receptionist. At international medical meetings throughout the world, the proceedings are held in English. At airports all over the planet, pilots speak to the tower in English. Was English this universally spoken during the reign of Elizabeth I?
I am not an apologist for the colonial system, and certainly the process in the past has been at times brutal and unkind. However, most European powers shed their colonies amid bloodshed and war. I can’t help but hark back to the fact that India obtained its independence in 1947 through peaceful protest.
The British Empire is—in a conventional sense—gone. In a healthy family, the children grow up and eventually leave home and this is precisely what has happened. The United States of America was a child of the British Empire that rebelled and left home early, but there is no mistaking its roots when we see that the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, and Maryland were all named for British monarchs. India rebelled a bit later, but its justice system, civil service, and indeed the language that allows the country to function (with fifty different spoken dialects!) is in English. Currently it has the world’s second largest population, with over a billion inhabitants, and will soon outstrip China to become the largest country in the world by population. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand left the empire in more measured and less rebellious manners, but nevertheless function as strong, democratic nations with English as official languages (and French as well in Canada to add some joie de vivre). Nigeria, Ghana, a multitude of countries overcome a communication barrier posed by multiple dialects by using English as a national means of communication. With virtually the oldest European democracy (with a hat tip to Iceland’s somewhat older Thingvellir) England is a model for the world’s democratic governments.
Thanks to England and its “children” those of us who would still be living are not saluting a jackbooted fascist dictator but are participating for the most part in thriving democracies modeled on the English parliament for the most part.
English language theatre, arts, and literature flourish around the world. It is true that Shakespeare graced the first Elizabethan age, yet there are far more English language luminaries extant now than in that era.
The British navy continues to be a power to be reckoned with and a stabilizing influence on the world scene.
Our Queen, Elizabeth II, has seen and accepted the governments of fourteen prime ministers! As Head of State she has been there for her country and Commonwealth and indeed she and her family have “saved the bacon” on more than a few occasions for England.
As England’s longest ruling monarch, Elizabeth II has not seen the decline of the British Empire, but rather the fruition of a somewhat turbulent but ultimately well-meaning nation’s efforts over more than a millennium. England and its monarch can sit back like proud parents and grandparents and proudly say, “Look what we have wrought.”
Your Majesty, I say “thank you” for all that you and England have done for the world. The Second Elizabethan Era is magnificent and I think we can all iterate this sentiment: a magnificent “job well done.”
A letter from Buckingham Palace—George Burden—all rights reserved
Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom—Wikipedia Creative Commons