After the Coronation Elizabeth and Philip moved to Buckingham Palace in central London. Like many of her predecessors, however, she dislikes the Palace as a residence and considers Windsor Castle, west of London, to be her home. She also spends time at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
Queen Elizabeth is the most widely travelled head of state in history. In 1953-54 she and Philip made a six-month round-the-world tour, becoming the first reigning monarch to circumnavigate the globe, and also the first to visit Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. In October 1957 she made a state visit to the United States, and in 1959 she made a tour of Canada. In 1961 she toured India and Pakistan for the first time. She has made state visits to most European countries and to many outside Europe. She regularly attends Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings.
At the time of Elizabeth's accession there was much talk of a "new Elizabethan age". Elizabeth's role, however, has been to preside over the steady decline of Britain as a world military and economic power, the dissolution of the British Empire and the gradual development of its successor, the Commonwealth. She has worked hard to maintain links with former British possessions, and in some cases, such as South Africa, she has played an important role in retaining or restoring good relations.
Elizabeth is a conservative in matters of religion, moral standards and family matters. She has a strong sense of religious duty and takes seriously her Coronation Oath. This is one reason why it is considered highly unlikely that she will ever abdicate. Like her mother, she never forgave Edward VIII for, as she saw it, abandoning his duty, and forcing her father to become King, which she believed shortened his life by many years. She used the authority of her position to prevent her sister, Princess Margaret, marrying a divorced man, Peter Townsend. For years she refused to acknowledge her son Prince Charles's relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles.
Elizabeth's political views are supposed to be less clear-cut (she has never said or done anything in public to reveal what they might be). She preserves cordial relations with politicians of all parties. It is believed that her favourite Prime Ministers have been Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson. Her least favourite was undoubtedly Margaret Thatcher, whom she is said to "cordially dislike". She was thought to have very good relations with her current Prime Minister, Tony Blair, during the first years of his term in office, however, there has been mounting evidence in recent months that her relationship with Blair has hardened. She reportedly feels that he does not keep her informed well enough on affairs of state.
The only public issue on which the Queen makes her views known are those affecting the unity of the United Kingdom. She has spoken in favour of the continued union of England and Scotland, angering some Scottish nationalists. Her statement of praise for the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement raised some complaints among some Unionists in the Democratic Unionist Party who opposed the Agreement.
Despite a series of controversies about the rest of the royal family, particularly the marital difficulties of her children throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Queen Elizabeth remains a remarkably uncontroversial figure and is generally well-respected by the British people. However, her public persona remains formal, though more relaxed than it once was. Her refusal to display emotion in public prevents the growth of deeper feelings for her among the public.
Queen Elizabeth has never become unpopular, certainly not as unpopular as Queen Victoria was during a long period of her reign. However, in 1997 she and other members of the Royal Family were perceived as cold and unfeeling when they were seen not to participate in the public outpouring of grief at the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. This brought sharp criticism from the normally royalist tabloid press.
It is widely believed that Elizabeth held negative feelings towards Diana and thought that she had done immense damage to the monarchy. However, the sight of the entire Royal Family bowing to Diana's coffin as it passed Buckingham Palace, together with a rare live television broadcast by the Queen, addressed the public grief. The Queen's change of attitude is believed to have resulted from strong advice from the Queen Mother and Tony Blair.
The Queen remains a highly respected head of state. In 2002 she celebrated her Golden Jubilee, marking the 50th year of her accession to the throne. The year saw an extensive tour of the United Kingdom, state visits to several Commonwealth Realms, and numerous parades and official concerts. In June thousands gathered outside Buckingham Palace for the "Party at the Palace", a massive concert featuring various famous musicians from across the British Isles. A national service of thanksgiving was held the following day at St. Paul's Cathedral, to which the Queen and Prince Philip travelled in the centuries-old Gold State Coach. This was followed by massive carnivals and processions, finishing with a fly-past by Concorde and the Red Arrows. The Royal Family watched all this from the balcony of Buckingham Palace, before a crowd of one million people.
Sadly the Jubilee year coincided with the deaths, within a few months, of the Queen's mother and sister. Elizabeth's relations with her children, while still somewhat distant, have become much warmer since these deaths. She is particularly close to her daughter-in-law the Countess of Wessex. The Queen and Prince of Wales still see little of each other, however. She is known to disapprove of Charles's long-standing relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, but has made gestures of recognition of the relationship in recent years. On the other hand, she is very close to her grandchildren, noticeably Prince William and Zara Phillips.
In 2003 the Queen, who is often described as robustly healthy, underwent three operations. In January she had torn cartilage removed from her right knee as a result of a fall over Christmas. In December 2003 she underwent a similar operation to her left knee, at the same time having several lesions removed from her face. This prompted rumours that she might have skin cancer, quickly scotched by the Palace. However, these surgeries have brought concerns that she is now overworked.
As the Queen approaches her 80th birthday, she has made it clear that she has no intention of abdicating. Those who know her best have stated that she intends to reign as Queen until the day she dies. She has, however, begun to hand over some public duties to her children. She is also reducing the amount of international travel she normally undertakes (she has usually undertaken two state visits each year, her first in 2004 being her state visit to France, and her second to Germany in November, and up to two Commonwealth visits a year). Like her mother, she intends to keep working until she is physically unable.
Elizabeth's public image has noticeably softened in recent years, particularly since the death of the Queen Mother. Although she remains reserved in public, she has been seen laughing and smiling much more than in years past, and to the shock of many she has been seen to shed tears during emotional occasions such as the memorial service at Westminster Abbey for those killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
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