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Queen Elizabeth II's record reign: Is popularity of monarchy as enduring?

Britain celebrated its monarch's Sapphire Jubilee on Monday, marking the 65th anniversary of the Queen's ascension to the throne. The Queen herself, however, didn't mark the day with a public event.

This photo by English photographer David Bailey of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, taken for the GREAT campaign in 2014, and is now reissued Monday Feb. 6, 2017, by Buckingham Palace to celebrate her Sapphire Anniversary, marking the 65th anniversary of the monarch's accession to the throne. In the photo, the Queen is wearing a suite of sapphire jewellery originally given to her by her father King George VI as a wedding gift in 1947.
David Bailey/ AP | Caption

Queen Elizabeth II has smashed another record, becoming the first British monarch to sit on the throne for 65 years.

In celebration of this “Sapphire Jubilee,” gun salutes exploded Monday on the sceptered isle, and a photo portrait of the Queen adorned in sapphire jewelry – a wedding gift from her late father – was reissued.

The Queen is "truly an inspiration to us all," Prime Minister Theresa May said, calling it "a testament to her selfless devotion to the nation" that the monarch did not want public celebrations of the anniversary. 

The Queen, who became Britain’s longest-serving in 2015 after she surpassed Queen Victoria, was to pass the day in private at her Sandringham estate to the north of London. Such is her tradition, for the day of her accession was also the day her father, King George VI, passed away.

Meanwhile, however, many analysts continue to wonder about her institution's longevity, which years ago lost most of its real political power.

Yet its popularity has been remarkably constant over recent decades, with Ipsos MORI polls finding about 70 percent, or more, of British respondents consistently being in favor of retaining the institution since the early 1990s. A YouGov poll taken in 2015, at the time Elizabeth II became the country’s longest-serving monarch, also found overwhelming support across a broad cross-section of society.

There are those, however, who wonder whether it is Elizabeth II herself who is sustaining the royal family’s appeal. Indeed, a 2015 YouGov/Sunday Times poll found her to be the most popular British monarch, garnering 27 percent of the votes, with her closest rival, Elizabeth I, receiving 13 percent.

At the time, a Monitor editorial mused, “[W]ould the monarchy still be held in general high regard today – and even exist – if Elizabeth II hadn’t exhibited her own remarkable qualities, including a selfless sense of duty?”

Some commentators take it further, suggesting that once another member of the royal household takes to the throne, there may be less unquestioning acceptance of the monarchy’s role.

"I would say by 2030 there will be definite louder clamours for the eradication of the monarchy," Anna Whitelock, a reader in early modern history at Royal Holloway, University of London, told the Press Association. While she was by no means predicting the downfall of the royal family, Dr. Whitelock did say that its role would "be questioned and challenged in a way that it hasn't been before."

Others counter that even if one disregards the opinion polls (which Whitelock argues will change as younger generations, less wedded to the royal family, come of age) there is the net economic benefit the monarchy brings to Britain each year: a haul of $1.7 billion, which includes the boost to tourism and surplus generated by the Crown Estate, according to Brand Finance, a valuation agency.

 This report includes material from the Associated Press.