In a 1957 essay, the English novelist and playwright J. B. Priestley lamented Britain’s decline into an offshore province of the new American empire. Perhaps surprisingly for such a man-of-the people author, he wrote: “That is why we are so happy and excited when we can send abroad a good-looking young woman in a pretty new dress to represent us, playing the only card we feel can take a trick—the Queen.”
The years have moved on, and the Queen’s dressmaker has made very little attempt to keep up with fashion, but the point still holds. No longer a great exporting nation, the British adore sending their sovereign overseas as a symbol of national unity and grandeur. When Her Majesty arrives on a state visit to America this week, she comes not just to set the seal on cooperation between Desert Rats and United States marines in the Persian Gulf and to signal the enduring nature of the “special relationship” between the two English-speaking peoples, but to reassure the “subjects” that she leaves behind. In Washington and in the bloodstock country around Lexington, Ky., she and her husband and retinue will demonstrate the sturdy, enduring qualities of duty and lineage.
The visit will also be a holiday from the cares and trials that increasingly beset her court in London, where each week brings rumors of marital stress, of tension over the succession, even of abdication. The essential strength of the House of Windsor reposes in its image as a family: the pattern of order in socie...