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British Royals

Queen Elizabeth II’s life and reign was truly historic: an official biography needs volumes to tell it all

As the first anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth II passes, the focus changes. A year was traditionally the formal period of court mourning. Once it was done, the grieving clothes were put away and things altered. It is no longer just a matter of missing the Monarch who is gone. The shift turns to a different form of remembrance. And that has brought, almost immediately, discussion about the official biography of Her Late Majesty that will be written.

Much debate has been had over the past days about what that might look like with a consensus forming that it will run to more than one volume. It’s been reported that the Palace might well favour such an approach as it means that the later years of the 20th century, dominated by Diana, Princess of Wales, could well be written and published after the end of the reign of King Charles.

However, personal sensitivities aside, it seems eminently sensible to look at this as a multi volume exercise, no matter what. In fact, it’s impossible to see how such an historic reign could be anything other than a set of books.

Quite how anyone is expected to get seventy years of rule into one tome is beyond imagination. We often call the second Elizabethan age a time of great social change. It really was. But any period that encompasses almost three quarters of a century will be. The notion that these seven decades can be wrapped up neatly in a single edition is far fetched once you stop and think about it for longer than a second.

For a start, how on earth is anyone meant to carry that brick of a book around with them? Even doing the most cursory service to each part of this epic reign would result in hundreds of pages. And a brief, blink and you miss it mention of some of the most important times in recent British history isn’t what’s on order here. This is an official biography of the second longest reign in recorded history which saw the UK change in hundreds of different ways. That’s before we get to the personal elements. Unless one volume came with a wheelbarrow to transport it in, it’s a physical impossibility.

But it would also do a huge disservice to Queen Elizabeth II. It is still hard, a year on, to really understand just what a seismic figure in British history Her Late Majesty was. She changed the very concept of female rule and altered society’s notions of equality just by being her. It was this Elizabethan age that saw women finally gain the keys to Number Ten Downing Street and to positions of power that had long been denied to them just, well, because. And that is only the beginning.

Queen Elizabeth II’s dedication to duty, both public and behind palace doors as she worked her way daily and devotedly through her red boxes, is legendary as are her calm speeches and ability to know just what to say at just the right moment. This is a Monarch who oversaw the end of an old empire which, by the time she died, had become an even more contentious issue that she was still negotiating.

She had fifteen Prime Ministers, saw thirteen people come and go as President of the United States of America and watched the UK enter the European Union and leave it again. She carried out hundreds of overseas trips, including vital State Visits, and hosted world leaders on diplomatic trips to the UK. Her reign saw times of huge protest in the UK, votes in Australia about whether the Monarchy should be abolished there and economic changes that altered the lives of tens of millions.

Even in her last years, the shock of the pandemic hit everyone in her many realms. And what many remember from that time is Queen Elizabeth II. Her calm words at a time of huge uncertainty became a mantra around the world. This was a life that impacted globally. This was a Head of State who led for longer than anyone else. There is no way that story, which influenced so many, can be encompassed in just one tome.

All those private papers, diaries and letters that will be laid before the person tasked with this epic job deserve to breathe, to tell the tale of a woman who was never expected to succeed and who succeeded beyond all expectation.

King Charles III witnessed all of this firsthand. No one alive is a better witness to this groundbreaking reign than His Majesty. Ensuring that her historic life and legacy are done justice will be paramount to him and, dare we say it, more of a consideration than any discomfort he may or may not feel about the telling of other times in his life.

Epic books are written about past monarchs whose lives are only known to us through fragments scattered through the centuries that have passed since. The idea that the longest reign in British history and the best documented can be told in a few hundred pages is madness. Bring on the multi volumes and let’s hear the story of Queen Elizabeth II in all its glory.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.