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  • Jahnavi Kirkire

The Monarchy: A Study in Women


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The British monarchy has survived wars, scandals, and the reigns of dastardly Kings. Its queens, on the other hand, have presided over events that threatened to tear the country apart.


Queen Mary I was the first monarch in British history to come to the throne as a female with a direct blood claim rather than a marital claim. She was not supposed to rule, but as the first Queen regnant, Mary I established the powers of the monarch, regardless of gender identity. The power that monarchs wielded was not codified in only male genes, but for females as well, allowing Mary not only to be a figurehead of the Crown but to actively take stances in ruling her nation, just as male monarchs had done before her.

Queen Elizabeth I began her reign in 1558, after the death of her sister Mary, the first Queen Regnant. As a proud Protestant and fierce woman, Elizabeth I became the mother of her nation and the commander of the government. At the time of her reign, control of Parliament rested solely with the monarch and their advisors, meaning that she made every decision that kept Britain afloat throughout strife and difficulty. Queen Elizabeth I made it a point to establish the monarch as the most important and most powerful person in the land, seeing as her efforts to cement her power in both the political and religious sectors revolved around domination and a deep understanding of what was best for her country. She is the ruler who got the British crown to begin the journey towards empire with the defeat of the Spanish armada in 1588, but the monarchial role of control over the nation changed significantly after her reign. During her reign, Parliament insisted on many things for her to do - the primary example being marriage, but she refused and remains the only female monarch of England to rule unmarried. Her control over the government allowed her the freedom to refuse them, and through her reign, it was not an abuse of power, rather, it was a validated one.


However, in 1688, the British monarchy was changed forever. With the Glorious Revolution, the power of the monarchy transferred to Parliament, making the long line of British monarchs more ceremonial than controlling. The ruling system of constitutional monarchy replaced traditional monarchy, but monarchs still retained most of their social power and sway over their subjects and the nation at large. Whoever took up the helm of the British monarchy had an interest in Parliament, but after the shift of power, the monarch lost much of the control it had over the nation and the government.


By the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign - another queen who was not intended to take the throne - the role of the monarch became purely ceremonial. Elizabeth I and Victoria brought the British empire to life, but Elizabeth II presided over its demise and successor, the British Commonwealth. Elizabeth II’s role as monarch has become one for commercialization and the people above all else. The monarch no longer has a say in how the government and country are run, rather, they act as the parent of the nation and fodder for the media.


The monarch is required to be the perfect example of an ideal English person and sets the expectation for the population as a whole for global perception. This duty of the monarch was partially begun by Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen," and has remained the same through Elizabeth II's reign.


The role of the female monarch during Elizabeth II’s reign remained largely the same, purely because her non-existent political power would not change based on gender. The shift in power from the monarchy to Parliament set in stone how frivolous the monarchy would become in the future, but Elizabeth II’s role was slightly different. She was to be modern, approachable, and yet, still a link to the tradition of the British monarchy and empire. As the final link to

British history, she was the key to unifying the nation.


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