Millions of Britons and citizens of the other 15 states of the Commonwealth Realm are celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee this week, marking 60 years of her continuous reign. Throughout history, few monarchs have reached that milestone. In the United Kingdom, the only other monarch to do it was Queen Victoria in 1897.
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebration was a grand affair befitting the Head of State who, at the time, ruled an Empire encompassing about one-fifth of the world’s population and almost one-quarter of the world’s landmass.
Of course, much has changed since 1897. Although still a major power in the world, the United Kingdom no longer rules over an Empire. Nevertheless, this year’s Diamond Jubilee promises to be quite a spectacle.
Parades, concerts, festivals, and street parties are planned throughout the year and across all of the UK. An extra public holiday has been declared to mark four straight days of national celebrations. It’s estimated that the public will spend as much as $1.3 billion to mark the celebrations. Coupled with the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, this will be a year that, in the words of Prime Minister David Cameron, “Britain sees the world and the world sees Britain.”
Queen Elizabeth II is an extraordinary person. Until her uncle Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson, and passed the crown to her father George VI, there was never any expectation that Princess Elizabeth of York (as she was then known) would one day become Queen.
Before coming to the throne on February 6, 1952, the young Princess Elizabeth served as a driver and mechanic in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Force during World War II. Even at age 86 the Queen has barely slowed down. She continues to travel the globe promoting noble and just causes in the name of the United Kingdom. And she remains one of the United Kingdom’s most respected and recognized faces.
At home, she is just as popular. A recent poll carried out in the United Kingdom shows that 69 percent of respondents believe that Britain would be would be worse off without the monarchy. Small wonder, then, that Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations are a sight to behold.
So why should Americans care? Other than Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II, the only other British monarch who has come close to reaching the 60-year mark was King George III— the controversial monarch on the throne during the American Revolutionary War. George III missed the milestone by a mere 296 days.
Thankfully, the British monarch today is not even remotely similar to the monarch of the late 18th century, and U.S. and UK relations have come a long way since the days of George III.
Today, Britain is America’s number one ally in the world. This relationship has been built on blood from distant battlefields, sacrifice, a common language and a set of shared values.
The importance of this Special Relationship was best described by Queen Elizabeth during her speech at the US State Banquet last year: “I firmly believe that the strength of our links and many shared interests will continue to ensure that when the United States and the United Kingdom stand together, our people and other people of goodwill around the world will be more secure and can become more prosperous.”
During her reign, Queen Elizabeth’s United Kingdom has been a strong partner and a staunch ally of the United States. From the Cold War to the fight in Afghanistan after 9/11, the US and Britain have indeed, as the Queen said, stood together for freedom around the world. While United States has no monarchy, that should not prevent us from paying a deserved tribute to the Queen’s devotion to duty, service, and her nation, or understanding the extraordinary affection our British friends have for their Queen, especially on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.
Luke Coffey is The Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Fellow, specializing in transatlantic security issues.