Queen Elizabeth's Leadership and the Future of the Monarchy

Historians in the News
tags: British history, Queen Elizabeth II

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With the reign of the longest-serving British monarch, Elizabeth II, now at an end, we wanted to get a sense of what royal leadership actually means in a rapidly changing world and what it could mean for the queen's son Charles now that he has ascended the throne at the age of 73. And for that matter, we wondered how you can actually measure success or failure when it comes to the late monarch. For that, we called Arianne Chernock, professor of history at Boston University and an authority on British and European history. And she has a particular interest in gender and politics, and she's with us now. Professor Chernock, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

ARIANNE CHERNOCK: Thank you, Michel. It's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: So one of the reasons we wanted to have this conversation is that leadership has become, you know, a buzzword. You know, we talk about what makes a good leader. There are countless podcasts and books and TED talks about it. Here's this woman who ruled for seven decades. Did we learn something about leadership from her tenure?

CHERNOCK: We have learned so much. So on the one hand, I think this is a story about female empowerment. Here we had Elizabeth at age 25 assuming the throne of this very powerful nation - a young wife and mother. And she really did prove to everyone to be this ideal constitutional sovereign. As Boris Johnson remembered her the other day, she was Elizabeth the Great, this queen who never complained, never explained. And along the way, she really proved to be the kind of - the model, the epitome of what the British expected of a sovereign. So that's the positive story. Then there's this misogynistic story I could also tell about her leadership. So much of what made Elizabeth an ideal constitutional monarch relies on these kinds of traits or qualities that are very stereotypically feminine - the sense of being apolitical or almost even passive, reticent to intervene. All of those feminine qualities served her well as monarch.

And I've spent a lot of time over the past few days looking at the kinds of reactions to the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, when her middle-aged son Edward became the king. And there was a similar kind of sadness that we're seeing now, a mournfulness about the fact that the crown would be passing from a queen to a king. But it was not because they thought Victoria was such an amazing female leader. They thought she had been very pliable, very passive and much more willing than perhaps her son to adopt this purely ceremonial role.

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