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The mother who reigned as queen

Queen Elizabeth began her reign as a mother, and never let the world forget it

Princess Elizabeth stands with her husband, Prince Philip, and their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, in London in 1951. Associated Press/Photo by Eddie Worth, file

The mother who reigned as queen
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God rest the queen. England and the Western world were blessed with the 70-year reign and leadership of Queen Elizabeth II. Why the queen was good for our world was partly because she was a mother.

More of our leaders and public figures these days are childless. If they do have children, the number tends to be sparse and they tend to be invisible. On the childless front, of course, the reasons are varied—some reasons are heartbreaking, like infertility. But overall, our leaders look a lot like the rest of us. They reflect our world of few and ever fewer children. But because they are leaders, they are also by definition among the elites, setting the trend. So our leaders portend our future—and that future is increasingly childless and un-fruitful.

Many (most?) of us find that having children is the major reason for the good changes in ourselves—what bids us primarily to die to self and grow. Some among us may not need this nudge. But for so many of us, being a parent is what the good Lord uses to teach us the way of virtue, the way of the Cross. Insofar as those in public leadership are much like us in terms of formation, it would be no surprise if the moral experience of parenthood made its way into the kinds of policies, governance, and outlook that our leaders possess (or lack). So we heard the queen, with wisdom and consolation befitting that of a good mother, say on 9/11 that “grief is the price we pay for love.” Just a few years before that, she sat and tended to the sorrowing hearts of countless many after the difficult news of Diana’s death—“as a grandmother.”

One might point out that the queen had an affirmative duty to have offspring because the monarchy required it. The throne is hereditary after all. One might also point out that it was en vogue to have more children in her time, so that she was not necessarily bucking the trend. Both true, although with her four children, the queen still had more children than her contemporaries. One might even say that being a parent is neither sufficient nor necessary to be a good leader: being a parent is no guarantee of public virtue (see Jean-Jacques Rousseau). Nor is it a requirement of historic leadership (see Pope John Paul II). All true, of course.

There is something pedagogical in the lives of our leaders and public figures, like Queen Elizabeth. We all learn by watching them.

Still, there is something pedagogical in the lives of our leaders and public figures, like Queen Elizabeth. We all learn by watching them. It matters what we tell little girls (and ourselves) about what their lives could look like, should look like. Contra the culture in which we live with its frenzied workism, it is emphatically not that we are asking—nay, demanding—ever anxiously, that every little girl grow up to be a career woman or a public figure. But it is important for little girls to see that, should they become such people, there have been good and wise women as exemplars who precede them, who were themselves good wives and mothers, happily married and faithfully living their vocations as both wife and mother.

In a world of today’s free-falling fertility rate, it has been very good to see Queen Elizabeth as a mother—and of a good number of children at that—and then to see her family multiply with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even better, in a world hostile to marriage, it has been to see her motherhood in the context of her happy and lovely marriage to Prince Phillip, long into life, until death did them part. Pictures of the queen, monarch in majesty, juxtaposed with pictures of the very same woman, with a newborn baby—then another, and another, and yet another—are powerful. Pictures of the royal family together as the years passed and as the children, then the children’s children, grow up, are powerful.

This is not to deny that the British royal family has had their share of problems and scandals. (One would be remiss to fail to note here how admirably the queen handled them, prudence and class, all.) But those pictures are good for us to see—and are sorely needed. The world needs to see families together. It is a good thing for us to cheer for marriage and family. So, let us celebrate marriage. Let us celebrate family. It is, as the British would say, meet and right so to do.

So here are heartfelt thanks to good and faithful Queen Elizabeth, monarch and mother. She was extraordinary, a jewel and a treasure. May there be many more like her. Requiscat in pace, Elizabeth Regina.

Adeline A. Allen

Adeline A. Allen is an associate professor of law at Trinity Law School.

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