[FOUNTAIN]Kings and queens and envyTradition goes a long way. In 1926, when Elizabeth II was born, there was only a slight chance that she would ever rule the great British Empire. Following the traditional rules, the elder brother of her father, the future Edward VIII, was destined to sit on the throne while her own father, Prince Albert, was out of contention. Nevertheless, 10 years later Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry a divorced American woman, Wallis Simpson, creating the most romantic story of the century ?or scandal.
As a result of that abdication, Elizabeth's father Albert took the throne as George VI. On February 6, 1952, he died peacefully in his sleep, and Elizabeth, his first child, became Queen Elizabeth II. Britain is currently preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary, the golden jubilee, of her reign.
There are four British monarchs who celebrated their golden jubilee. The longest-ruling sovereign was Queen Victoria, who ruled from 1837 to 1901. It was in her time that Britain enjoyed the phrase "The sun never sets on the British Empire" and Pax Britannica was at its height.
Even after her death, the queen continues to watch over Britain and the royal family; a bronze statue is prominently placed in front of Buckingham Palace.
There is a good chance that Queen Elizabeth II will break the record as the longest ruler of the island nation. The queen's mother is still alive at 101, so it seems that the queen has a head start on longevity. She is 75; if she lives to be 89, she will surpass Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning British monarch.
It is well understood that the British royal family has more of a symbolic presence than a political one. As the British says, "Reign but not rule." As the head of state, British kings and queens are entitled to give their royal assent, a symbolic gesture, to laws passed by the Parliament. Every Tuesday evening, they receive a briefing from the prime minister: If they like the things presented, they encourage; if not, they issue a warning, but their decision is always given under the "advice" of the prime minister.
This is why some say that the constitutional monarchy is a mere puppet show politically and show biz for tourism economically. That might be true, but what one cannot dispute is that the British royal family is the most famous and gallant in the world, and hence a tradition and product that is the subject of envy in other countries.
The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Byung-sang