The Queen’s first speech

by Peter Watts

You’re young, inexperienced, female, and taking over an empire when the only women in the boardroom are usually taking shorthand.

No pressure, but here comes your first major speech.

In her Coronation Speech, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II displayed royal power combined with technical mastery in how to portray it. When we zoom into one just one small section of the speech, we see the mechanics used to establish that power.

Assertive in a time of change

Society after World War 2 was changing. Old certainties were gone. At just 26 years old, the new Queen needed a speech that would stamp her authority without appearing to be stamping her foot. Any hint in the speech of stiffness or autocracy could have spelt disaster for her reign.

To achieve her goal, the Queen used an amplification technique that would gently yet assertively stake her claim to royal respect.

Amplifying the right to rule:

From Wife, to Mother, to Grandmother, to history, & on to God

The amplification chosen by the Queen came in three phrases:

“Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust. In this resolve I have my husband to support me.
He shares all my ideals and all my affection for you.”

Establishing herself and her husband as new parents to the nation, the Queen describes how they are full of “ideals” and “affection” for their subjects. She is co-opting the terminology of a parent. Looking at the young Queen and her husband who were indeed young parents at the time, it was a metaphor instantly understandable to all.

The Queen then moved to the middle section of the amplification. It is short, but crucial. In it, the Queen tackled head-on the challenge presented by her youthful accession to the throne, neutralising it by emphasising her descent from two supreme examples of feminine Royal power:

“Although my experience is so short and my task so new,
I have in my parents and grandparents an example which I can follow with certainty.”

Whilst her father and grandfather had both been much loved, the immediate association is not of the two Kings, but of the two formidable Queens,Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, who had ruled alongside them.

Today many of us remember Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother as an elderly lady with a penchant for sky blue frocks and matching hats, but the 1950’s knew her as the Queen who refused to abandon London during the war-time bombing of the Blitz. They knew her as the woman who welcomed the bombing of her Buckingham Palace with the words “I’m glad we’ve been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East-End (of London) in the face”. They knew her as the woman so able to mobilise the nation’s passion that Hitler described her as “the most dangerous woman in Europe”.

Queen Mary, meanwhile, had been the Queen’s grandmother. A formidably imperial dowager Queen and Empress, she held the empire together through the chaos of the abdication crisis, when her eldest son gave up the throne for Wallace Simpson.

Dying just weeks before the Coronation, her death-bed command was that the crowning of her granddaughter was not be delayed under any circumstances. Queen Mary was in the hearts of the nation as Elizabeth took the throne.

In mourning for King George VI. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Queen Mary, and the uncrowned Queen Elizabeth II

In that one short line, “I have in my parents and grandparents an example which I can follow with certainty.” the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II marshalled powerful matriarchal guns behind her throne.

The final phrase of the amplification brought her claim to the boil:

“There is also this. I have behind me not only the splendid traditions and the annals of more than a thousand years,
but the living strength and majesty of the Commonwealth and Empire; of societies old and new;
of lands and races different in histories and origins but all,
by God’s will united in spirit and aim.”

These short phrases pile on top of each other to a crescendo combining history, the Empire, and the peoples of the world, before all being topped-off by union with God Himself.

The Queen’s claim to majesty had now been securely laid before the Empire. Starting with the human statement of a wife and mother, the Queen transformed step-by-step into a hereditary monarch as ordained by God.

A classic amplification.

Understated and modest. Crafted and confident.

Fit for a Queen.

%d bloggers like this: