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Received lives


I admit to a weakness for pomp and pageantry. I am, after all, a child of Empire, and swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II every Monday morning for years on end. So I watched the recent Trooping of the Colour, part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, and thoroughly enjoyed it, admiring the military precision and all the discipline required, the glitter, the splendour, the dashing aristocrats of the equine world, the sheer vividness of the unrolling scene. And all in honour of the Queen’s birthday.

It seems ludicrous to compare a supremely privileged life with the one led by an illiterate Peloponnesian peasant, but I compare the Queen and my late mother-in-law quite often. Yiayia (I always called her that) was unsure about her birthday. She told me she had been born in May, but I once had to help her find her ID card, and this important document had her birthday listed in November. There were never any celebrations for her, as most Greeks put more emphasis on their name-days. But Yiayia, having been named after a pagan goddess, could not even mark a Christian anniversary. It did not seem to bother her at all, for this was simply the way things were in her world.

Her Majesty and Yiayia were obviously both female, and both wives, then widows, and mothers of a goodly number of children: Yiayia had six and had lost others. And both did what was expected of them. At a time when individuality was being increasingly emphasised, both the Queen and Yiayia chose to play the roles life had imposed upon them. But I’ve often thought that, really, they had no choice.

I think it was Patrick White who wrote that any manner of life is lived in the cage. Prince Harry, in London briefly, would surely agree, as in the notorious interview with Oprah Winfrey he said that in his English life he had been trapped, without necessarily realising the fact. He went on to say that his father and brother were trapped, too: the old clash between freedom and choice, as against duty and obligation. Hollywood was fond of this theme in the past: think Roman Holiday and The Prisoner of Zenda. In these films, both deemed to be culturally important, princesses have a taste of freedom, but ultimately choose the path of duty, shown to be a powerful force. I’m not sure how strong the call of duty is these days, however.

So much depends on one’s background. The Queen’s destiny changed when she was eleven, at which point in her life her uncle Edward VIII abdicated the throne in favour of his brother, King George VI. Elizabeth, the latter’s elder daughter, thus became heiress presumptive to the British throne. Yiayia’s future, however, was fixed from the moment she was born. Education was not a priority; instead she was trained by her mother in all the skills she would need when she had a family of her own. Her marriage, to a distant cousin who was an Orthodox priest, was arranged by her father, also a priest. So she acquired another role, one of which she was very proud: Papathia, priest’s wife.


'Yiayia, however, had her faith and her certainties, and so I think the Queen has had hers throughout a very long life. Living in their separate cages, neither has shown a sign of rattling any bars.'


My background of course was completely different. It is highly likely that I would have had a received, prescribed life had my ancestors stayed in the British Isles. But poverty (in most cases) drove them to Australia, in search of copper and then gold. Once there, in a land of reversed seasons, wide spaces and long distances, they had to reinvent themselves, and I’ve no doubt it was hard work in all sorts of ways.

This tendency was maintained, predictably, through the succeeding generations. Women became more educated, embarked on careers, and managed to combine professional work with family life. Most importantly, they began to believe they could make choices and maintain some control over their lives: pioneering women had often been thrown on their own resources, after all, with no family network to support them.

Much is made of the level of repression experienced by Western women in the 1950s, but people who concerned themselves with this matter would have done well to visit Greek villages (among other places) at that time and later. Women were always chaperoned, and the minutiae of their lives, which always had to be observed, had to be seen to be believed. My relationship with Yiayia was thus edgy, although it settled down over time: she could not believe that I did not know all these little rules, while I no longer had the freedom I had been used to, learning rather painfully that a traditional village is not a comfortable place for someone with a pioneering background.

Yiayia, however, had her faith and her certainties, and so I think the Queen has had hers throughout a very long life. Living in their separate cages, neither has shown a sign of rattling any bars.

While I, and the Trooping of the Colour? There are those who think that ceremony uplifts and consoles, at least a little. It appears I am one of them.




Gillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Pageant. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Queen Elizabeth II, Platinum Jubilee, Trooping of the Colour



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Existing comments

What a human way of reading the pomp and circumstance related HM Elizabeth II's milestone 70 years reign - so far! To draw the parallels between HM and a mother-in-law. Neither of whom had the freedom nor the choices available to the writer, GB. Both bound by duty and obligations and service. But after all the parades and concerts (glimpsed, I must say, on brief TV news broadcasts) the thing I take away from it all was the tea party with Paddington Bear - and Ben Whishaw's voice - the sandwich in the hat and HM's out of her handbag - just imagine how/if through all those years HM had truly been carrying a sandwich in those hundreds of handbags! (Would they have had the smell of my leather satchel bag used in primary school to carry my "little lunch" and then my lunch sandwiches? A banana or an orange, too?) But beyond the whimsy - HM grinning at the unlikelihood of it all! And me - at that moment - thinking of a friend - Barbara Ker Wilson (1929-2020) - at whose celebration of life I was just recently in attendance - the book editor who plucked Michael Bond's first PB manuscript from the unsolicited manuscripts pile - and set the character on his pathway to celebrating HM's 70th anniversary. PB standing on a side table in The Queen's Club in Elizabeth Street in Sydney where Barbara's memorial was being celebrated!

Jim KABLE | 08 June 2022  

It is interesting, when the younger members of the Royal family visited the West Indies, the rather minor show of Prince William in full military dress uniform riding in a Landrover in Jamaica went up like the proverbial lead balloon. In Barbados Prince Charles was almost incidental to their Declaration of a Republic. Everyone was talking about Slavery and Reparations, as I believe they have the right to. In Australia we often do not see the full story of the British Empire. The First British Empire, which enriched so many still extant aristocratic families in the UK, was built on the toil of black slaves in the West Indies. Many dashing Guards Officers are the descendants of these aristocratic families. The plunder of India is seen in much royal regalia. Indians and the Irish seem to have gotten over their subjugation and plunder. Australian History is now a contested space. The future of the monarchy is one of those subjects which perpetually crop up in the UK. Certainly in Canada, which Charles and Camilla are currently visiting, a majority do not want a monarch. The Platinum Jubilee was a great show, but it might well be an Imperial swansong.

Edward Fido | 08 June 2022  

It’s not “ludicrous” to compare the Queen’s life with that of your late mother-in-law. They both “chose to play the roles life had imposed upon them.” But whether it be raising a family or being a head of state, we shall all be judged on how well we used our five, two or one talents.

It is right to question “how strong the call of duty is these days.” At age 21, the then princess vowed to devote her whole life to her country. Harry and Meghan seem to want the privilege of royalty without the hassles of duty.

Nor are lives of duty necessarily ones lived in “cages.” Ideologies and habits create cages of their own. In “Roman Holiday”, a frustrated Audrey Hepburn broke out—for a day—but then chose to return to her duty as a princess. In “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” she was a “wild thing” running away from herself until confronted by her lover’s rebuke: “You’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself.”

In the end, we all have our own special cross to bear.

Ross Howard | 09 June 2022  
Show Responses

'own special cross to bear'

The received life of Jesus of Nazareth, fully God, forced for three decades, by the necessity to prove what love is, to live as fully human among humans, ie., to live in what would have felt to the Godly nerves like being perpetually immersed in a pit latrine, would have felt even more of a cage than that felt by a British aristocrat sent out from a cool and pleasant land to put up with five or so years as governor of a sweltering colony of natives.

It's just as well Scripture only tells us that Christ ascended, not how, fully human, he felt as he left his morally sweltering colony behind. I don't know if they have showers in heaven but, being fully human forever, he must have felt like one when he got there.

roy chen yee | 09 June 2022  

In retrospect, I think the whole Paddington Bear incident, which was totally ludicrous, says it all for me. We are back to Little England from the Empire. The sun is indeed setting, if it did not years ago. I am afraid there will be no "Wider still and wider" encore. Behind all the ceremonial, it is very sad. The facade is still there, but it's just a facade.

Edward Fido | 09 June 2022  

Another way of looking at the Trooping of the Colours, and all the associated pageantry, and even the Monarchy itself, is as the cage in which the vast majority of Anglo-English have willingly locked themselves? Viewed that way, it is no longer just a quaint expression of harmless identification.

Ginger Eggs | 09 June 2022  

An interesting view of two women with a limited choice of how their lives could be lived. I can only hope that HM actually enjoyed the ceremonies, despite her fragile health. For me, as for many others, Paddington Bear stole the show.

Juliet | 09 June 2022  

What an interesting comparison and I think that acceptance of the roles is what stands out for me in a world where we are told anything is possible.
The celebration parade and concert for the jubilee highlighted the incredible changes in society over the 70 years of the Queen’s reign. What was obvious was that the enjoyment of the event was wide ranging and brought together many disparate elements in society. That seems to me to be worth celebrating.

Maggie | 09 June 2022  

The Queen for all her wealth and social position has little political power. Yiayia though poor probably had an important social position in the village, if little direct power. It seems to me that as the Priest's wife Yiayia may have had on a tiny scale, some duties similar to QEII. That of an advisor, supporter and role model for others, especially in tough times. Just a speculation.

Stephen | 11 June 2022  

Thank you Gillian for once again taking me back to my childhood years. My Yiayia was a person of great power and strength. Most of my Yiayias powers were used however to reinforce Patriarchy and Female compliance. Many of my entrenched beliefs stem from my early life interactions with her. I even remember discussing my future “arranged” marriage with her, and yes, she did approve of the future bride

Stathis T | 14 June 2022  

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