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Could Elizabeth II go down in history as Elizabeth the Great?

There is no doubt that Elizabeth II’s reign will go down in history as one of the most successful and popular in British history. Through Her Majesty’s dedication to this country and to the Commonwealth, she has worked to help redefine what Monarchy is and how, even in the 21st century, it is right for the UK.

Elizabeth II has, by modern constitutional standards, been a bastion of correct practice for Monarchs.

Elizabeth II has, by modern constitutional standards, been a bastion of correct practice for Monarchs.

This set us wondering – will Her Majesty go down in history as more than just Elizabeth II, could she be… Elizabeth the Great.

An elaborate title, yes – but what’s the precedent for using the title ‘the Great’. In this article, we’re going to explore how the title ‘the Great’ is used by historians and whether it could possibly be applicable to our own dear Queen as historians one day look back on such a full and fantastic reign.

To start, only one English or British King has ever been afforded the style of ‘the Great’ by historians and that was Alfred the Great – he reigned from 871 to 899 and his epithet was awarded for defending his kingdom against the Viking attempt at conquest – by the time of his death, he was the dominant ruler of England (at a time when England was under the system of Heptarchy, with seven major Kingdoms).

Other Monarchs have earned titles through history also based on what they achieved during their reign – King William I is known as William the Conqueror, because as his title suggests – he conquered England and brought it under one Kingdom, something his predecessors had done with the exception of abolishing the Heptarchy in favour of a Monarchy. His other epithet of ‘William the Bastard’ is probably one he would have wished to avoid.

The only Monarch English-British history to have been afforded the title of the Great - Alfred the Great.

The only Monarch English-British history to have been afforded the title of the Great – Alfred the Great.

Richard I, commonly known as Richard the Lionheart, is another example of titles earned in connection with battles and being a soldier.

It’s worth pointing out of course that there is no official mechanism for giving a King or Queen a title after death, it is something that is established in the fullness of time, posthumously. The question is, is it right for historians to afford a title like ‘the Great’ to a Monarch in this day and age when Monarchs no longer fight in the field?

Well… yes. As Monarchy has moved on, so should our criteria for judging a Monarch’s reign. In the middle ages, Kings earned respect from being great military leaders and fearless soldiers, since this is no longer a requirement of Monarchy, we should look at what our current Queen does and from that, establish what makes a great 21st century Monarch.

Understanding, impartiality, tolerance, respect for tradition, remaining relevant and most importantly standing firm at the head of the United Kingdom through good times and through bad – offering consistency and never leaving people disappointed. These are all qualities a Constitutional 21st century Monarch should have, and these are all qualities that our own Queen has unfalteringly shown throughout her 61-year reign.

Tell us what you think about the ‘Elizabeth the Great’ debate in the comments box below.

photo credits: Nick in exsilio and Defence Images via photopin cc

  • Irene

    First of all, congratulations for this amazing site, always informative, interesting but above all, respectful. I found this article very interesting and after reading it, I truly believe Her Majesty could use this title, Elizabeth the Great. You said it perfectly in your last paragraph, Queen Elizabeth II has shown these qualities.

  • Bill Foley

    Very good article!! Sometimes titles such as the great come from common usage, as in, it is so widely recognized that a leader was “Great” that it becomes common description within the culture. So maybe people should just start callinh her Elizabeth the Great!

  • Rob Wolvin

    I have often thought that Elizabeth II should be known as Empress and that history will rightly see Her as ‘The Great’.

  • CP

    No. and I dont think she would want that title either. she has done her job with all the skills and talents you describe but she doesnot merit “Great”. in the old way of describing a monarch, I would prefer Elizabeth the Constant or something similar.

    IMO her father comes closer to greatness. Overcoming his natural reluctance to be King, he was a good king who showed great leadership during the war.

  • Bella

    Alfred may have been the only English king to be called ‘the Great’ but he was not the only king of England. Canute the Great, although Danish-born, was the king of England from 1016-1035.

    But, back to the topic, I would love to see Elizabeth referred to as ‘the Great’!

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