Britain’s longest-reigning monarch died on Thursday at the age of 96. Learn about her seven-decade reign, as well as what is next for the British monarchy. Lesson plan from The New York Times
Featured Video: “The Legacy of Elizabeth II: The Media Queen” by Nailah Morgan, Will Lloyd, Alan Cowell and Robin Stein
Queen Elizabeth II, the world’s longest-serving monarch, died on Thursday at the age of 96.
In her obituary, The New York Times wrote that her “reign of almost seven decades survived tectonic shifts in Britain’s post-imperial society, inspired broad affection for her among her subjects and weathered successive challenges posed by the romantic choices, missteps and imbroglios of her descendants.”
In this lesson, you will examine Queen Elizabeth’s life and legacy through multimedia. First we invite you to view photos and watch an eight-minute video detailing her 70-year reign. Then you can go further by reading articles and Opinion essays that explore what happens next for the monarchy, the queen’s portrayal in pop culture, the history of the British Empire and more.
What do you know about Queen Elizabeth? When you think of her, what images come to mind? What major events in history did her seven-decade reign over Britain include? Take a few moments to reflect.
Then, spend some time viewing this selection of photos from her remarkable life. Choose one to write about. You might use these questions to guide your thinking:
In your own words, what is going on in this image?
What made you choose this photo? Why did it stand out to you? What does it make you think and feel?
What do you think this photo says about Elizabeth and her reign? About the monarchy and its role in British society? About the portrayal of the queen in the media over the years?
What questions do you have about this image, about Elizabeth’s life or about the monarchy in general?
Finally, why do you think the queen, and the royal family in general, is so fascinating to so many? What is the power of royalty, in both substance and symbol? Are you interested in the British monarchy? Why or why not?
Share your reactions and questions with a partner.
Made me smile pic.twitter.com/Se4ugUcrzG
— Vic Goddard (@vicgoddard) September 8, 2022
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Watch the video at the top of this post (and which can also be found in the related obituary), perhaps taking notes with an activity sheet like the one we use for our Film Club documentaries. Then answer the following questions:
1. What stood out for you in this video? What images or lines particularly resonated? Why?
2. What did you learn that you didn’t know before? Did anything surprise you? What questions do you still have?
3. The video opens with footage from four different eras in Queen Elizabeth’s life, and in each she is addressing the nation. What does she say? How do those four quotes introduce her, her role and the focus of this short film?
4. “Her reign blended the ancient and the modern,” the narrator tells us. How? What aspects of the monarchy have been in place for centuries, and what aspects of the modern world did Queen Elizabeth have to negotiate for the first time?
5. This piece focuses on Queen Elizabeth as the “media queen.” Throughout, it gives examples of how “the royals understood the power of imagery” and how the queen “sought to control the royal narrative.” What are some examples? How successful was Queen Elizabeth? How important do you think controlling the royal narrative was, given her role as monarch?
6. At what point, according to the film, did Queen Elizabeth “almost lose public sympathy irrevocably”? Why? What did she do to “help the monarchy begin to restore its image” afterward?
7. How have the “junior members” of the monarchy made it difficult for the royal family to both keep its mystique and reinforce the impression that it is “a family at the service of the nation itself”? How much have you been aware of and interested in the stories — for example, those about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? What impression have they given you of the queen and the royal family?
8. The video ends by describing the monarchy as “central to Britain’s sense of itself.” How? (You might return to this question after you learn more about the queen’s extraordinary life or read some of the pieces in the “Going Further” options below.)