Saturday, September 7, 2013

Happy Birthday, Queen Elizabeth!

Today is the birthday of Queen Elizabeth I, born in 1533.  You might shrug your shoulders and say, "So?  What does that have to do with me?"  I could make the argument that no other ruler in history has more affected our modern lives.

I know, I know, you've got your own list, and you could make a strong case for many others.  I could make a similar case that many of those rulers born after 1600 wouldn't have been possible without Elizabeth I.  We could spend a pleasant evening debating who's the best ruler in history and comparing their accomplishments to QEI--maybe several evenings.  Even if we couldn't agree on #1 status, I bet she'd make most people's top 10 list.

I'm profoundly affected by the fact that she was one of the earliest female leaders to rule by herself.  I know that she had advisers, but they weren't the kind that controlled her every move.  What leader doesn't look for advice from great minds?  I'd say that's the mark of a good ruler.

Once we had the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, it became much harder to say that women couldn't rule, solely because of their biology.  We're still not at the point where women are automatically accepted.  But we're much closer, and it was Elizabeth who set us down that road.

Those of us who live in North America and aren't Native Americans owe Queen Elizabeth a tremendous debt.  As a woman who spent much of her teenage years in and around Virginia, it's hard to escape acknowledging her impact.  She's the one who funded the earliest explorations.  It's the English who came and stayed, as opposed to the Spanish who came and plundered.  We might give future British rulers, like Charles I, more credit for the settling of the North America, but Elizabeth I started the process.

But I'm most impacted by Elizabeth's support of the arts. Would we have had a William Shakespeare and all those other great Elizabethan writers without her, without the culture she created that supported the arts?  I would say no.  She's a great argument for how great politicians can lead to great art. 

I understand the dangers:  Shakespeare was fortunate because he was creating the kind of art that the queen liked and could support.  I understand that all kinds of censoring can come from that.  But if we look at the history of literature, we see that often periods of great innovation come most often during times when government support of the arts is strongest. 

It's good for artists to get support.  It's good for outsider artists to have something to rebel against.  Those times of government support of the arts feel so different from the time we live in now, where there's so little support of any kind for the arts.

So happy birthday, Queen Elizabeth!  I shall drink tea in your honor today.  Of course, we've hit a hot streak of weather down here in South Florida, so it will be iced tea.  But I shall drink it, and I shall offer a prayer of gratitude for all that you accomplished.

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