While some Virginians relish memories of a royal visit, Virginia’s connection to the late Queen Elizabeth II, who died Thursday, goes back even farther than her 1957, 1976, or 2007 visits to Virginia, according to Barbara Perry of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
“Here we sit in Charlottesville, Virginia, named for the wife of King George III, from whom we revolted and in the hometown of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, breaking us away from the empire of England, which had colonized Virginia.”
Perry, who studied British politics and history at Oxford University, points out that even our state name is a royal family matter.
“The Commonwealth of Virginia is named for the previous Queen Elizabeth, who was called ‘the virgin queen’ because she never married,” says Perry. “We are steeped in British history.”
As the Miller Center’s director of Presidential Studies, Perry says she has found the queen to have made remarkably few missteps in her record-breaking 70-year reign.
Those missteps, Perry says, were her failure to immediately grieve with the public after the 1997 death of her estranged daughter in law, Lady Diana, and similar slowness after over 100 Welsh schoolchildren were killed when an unstable coal heap demolished their school in 1966.
“We look to our president to comfort us,” says Perry. “In Britain, they look to the monarch.”
And while Winston Churchill typically gets credit for leading the allies over the Nazis in World War II and then developing the alliance that grew into NATO, Perry says Elizabeth, who served the War in a quasi-combat role, deserves some credit.
“That ceremonial role cannot be gainsaid,” says Perry, noting that Hitler came frighteningly close to victory. “So there’s an alternative history that could have taken place.”
One arena that may interest many in Charlottesville, particularly with University of Virginia scholars studying such topics, is the new king’s interest in fighting climate change and promoting greatness in architecture and urbanism. Will being king rob Charles of his bully pulpit?
“I think he’ll gain a bigger pulpit and a bigger stage, but there is one drawback: He might have to be a tad more careful,” says Perry. “He may have to add in a soupçon of diplomacy now that he wears the crown.”
Perry says noted that the queen worked with 15 prime ministers and every American president from Truman to Biden, with the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson.
She said the queen’s reign reminds her of a quotation from 19th century British essayist Walter Bagehot who wrote “you must not let in daylight upon magic.”
“She never did interviews. She didn’t go on Oprah. She didn’t write a memoir,” Perry said.
And there’s another thing.
“In her own personal life, there was never a taint of scandal, and how many leaders can you say that about?”
As for her own connection to the queen, Perry was a college student with a summer of 1976 internship with a Senator in D.C. when her friends decided to take a road trip to Charlottesville for the American Bicentennial. Big mistake.
“We drove all the way to Charlottesville, and everything was shut down for the queen’s visit,” says Perry. “You couldn’t get near Monticello and all I saw of the university was the Range.”
Despite her own misstep, Perry draws one lesson in particular from the monarch’s 1976 visit to Charlottesville.
“Isn’t it amazing that our enemy on that day — July 4, 1776 — came back 200 years later to celebrate with us?” asks Perry. “We developed into friends and allies.”