George VI and Elizabeth II

During my interviews this past week with the Kingston Whig Standard, CBC news, the Globe and Mail, Sun News Network and the CTV news channel, I emphasized Elizabeth II’s personal influence over the British monarchy through her commitment to her role as Head of the Commonwealth, her strict observance of political impartiality, and her decision to make the Royal Collection of art accessible to a wide public audience. Sixty years after the death of George VI, the influence of Elizabeth II’s father over her approach to her position should also be remembered.

The close relationship between George VI and Elizabeth II was unprecedented in the history of reigning Queens of England. Queen Victoria’s father Edward, Duke of Kent (who lent his name to Prince Edward Island, Canada) died in 1820 when she was nine months old. Victoria idealized the father she had never known, describing herself as a “soldier’s daughter.” Queen Mary II and Queen Anne, who were devout Protestants experienced religious differences with their Roman Catholic father James II, and supported his overthrow in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Mary I and Elizabeth I were both declared illegitimate by their father Henry VIII, who was determined to be succeeded by a male heir.

In contrast to her predecessors, the future Elizabeth II spent a great deal of time with her father, sharing his sense of duty toward his royal office and commitment to a life of public service. In his last years, George VI had expanded his schedule of world travel to reflect his new role as Head of the Commonwealth, visiting South Africa with his wife and daughters in 1947. When ill health prevented George VI from embarking on subsequent travels, Princess Elizabeth represented him on a 1951 Canadian tour. Her planned tour of Australia and New Zealand via Kenya in 1952, representing George VI, was cut short by news of his death. The new Queen Elizabeth II returned to England sixty years ago, beginning a reign that would combine her father’s example of duty and public service with her own innovative approach to the practice of constitutional monarchy.

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