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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 December 2007, 09:35 GMT
Victoria and Elizabeth compared
Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth ll
Two long-lived queens - but who will have the most lasting legacy?

Her Majesty the Queen has become Britain's oldest monarch.

On Thursday she became older than her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria - who died aged 81 years, seven months and 29 days.

But who has had the memorable reign? And which queen lived through the period of most change?

Historian and former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum Sir Roy Strong and modern royal expert and author Penny Junor give their verdicts:

WHO WILL BE REMEMBERED AS THE MORE POPULAR QUEEN?

Penny Junor

Definitely Elizabeth. The respect she has earned both home and abroad has been unparalleled.

Don't forget, Queen Victoria went into mourning for months after her husband Albert died and virtually disappeared from public view.

She went underground and that wasn't popular. In fact, when she did go out, people stoned her carriage. Eventually her ministers had to virtually force her back into public life.

Queen Elizabeth, on the other hand, has always understood that the sovereign must be vulnerable - then her people will want to protect her.

So first, she was a pretty and glamorous bride, then she was a young mother and then she was a vulnerable Queen.

Penny Junor
Queen Elizabeth's legacy will be tolerance: a tolerance for differences and multiculturalism
Penny Junor

And although she hasn't been the most exciting monarch, she has remained popular because she has been a rock for the nation.

The rest of the world has changed rapidly - but she remains at the centre of it like a solid reference point.

Sir Roy Strong

The present Queen, unlike Queen Victoria, has never suffered from the loss of the affection of her people.

Victoria went into a bad period after the death of Prince Albert when she virtually became a recluse, so much so that attacks began to be written along the lines of "What does she do with it?" - "it" being the taxpayers' money paying for the monarchy.

The present Queen's response to moments when royal popularity was flagging was to respond to the criticisms with a change of policy.

Admittedly this always came later than it should: such as over the royal finances or the opening of Buckingham Palace - but it did always come. Nothing has been allowed to drift to wholesale public alienation.

The nearest she came to it was over the death of Diana Princess of Wales to which, in the end, she responded, travelling south and giving a memorable broadcast.

WHO HAS LIVED THROUGH THE PERIOD OF MOST CHANGE?

Penny Junor

The greatest change has been to people's attitudes. The reign of Queen Victoria was an age of deference, when people largely knew their place and people still respected institutions.

Now, all of that is gone: we live in a utilitarian age where everything is questioned and every institution needs to justify itself.

Importantly, the media has changed. The press barons used to be royalists and saw their role as protecting the queen.

Now everything is a lot more transparent and the media is now more intrusive than it ever was before. Some of the people who control papers - like Rupert Murdoch - are in fact republicans and see the monarchy as fair game.

Alongside that has been the huge technological change during the reign of Elizabeth.

In the 1950s people were just beginning to travel by aeroplane. The Queen's first visits abroad were aboard a ship.

Now we have mass air travel and most people own a computer - something most people hadn't even heard of 50 years ago.

Sir Roy Strong
Elizabeth II is the living epitome of the ideals of public life abandoned in what is an era of public and private decadence devoid of moral structure
Sir Roy Strong

Sir Roy Strong

Both monarchs lived through centuries of astounding change, but without doubt Queen Victoria's reign saw far greater ones than those which occurred under her great-great granddaughter.

There has been nothing, for example, to match the mass migration to the cities and towns from the countryside or the industrialisation which characterised the 19th century.

We only have to think also of the arrival of the railways, the telephone or the motor car at the close of her reign.

Most of the 20th century was concerned with working through these new technologies.

In a curious way this may be seen in retrospect as parallel to what has happened under Elizabeth II, the IT revolution coming at the close of her reign setting the stage for what is to happen in the 21st century.

WHO HAD THE MOST INFLUENCE ON PUBLIC LIFE?

Penny Junor

I would say Queen Victoria had more actual political power - but that's not to say that Queen Elizabeth has been a mere figurehead.

The prime minister consults with her every week. I remember Sir John Major told me she was incredibly important to him - she was the one person he could discuss affairs of state with knowing that she was completely objective.

That's very important when you are surrounded on all side with people who have agendas of their own.

Bear in mind, Tony Blair wasn't even born when Queen Elizabeth took the throne - she has this incredible wealth of experience to draw upon.

In terms of royal fashions - that has largely gone away. People don't look to royalty as they did 100 years ago on matters of taste or fashion.

Sir Roy Strong

Queen Victoria was a far greater influence on public life, setting an example of private probity for the monarchy and the royal family which became a model for the burgeoning middle classes of her age.

It was a tradition largely adhered to by her successors including Elizabeth II, only to be eroded by her children.

Elizabeth II, far from being the exemplar of the aspirations of her age, in fact embodies all the attributes which have been gradually discarded or eroded during her reign, ones which include duty, patriotism, faith and respect.

Within her period Elizabeth II is the living epitome of the ideals of public life abandoned in what is an era of public and private decadence devoid of moral structure.

WHO WILL LEAVE THE MOST LASTING LEGACY?

Penny Junor

Queen Elizabeth's age will be seen as the liberal age, when all old rules were thrown out. In Victoria's time homosexuality and suicide were crimes, divorce was very much frowned on. All this was changing when Elizabeth became queen.

There have been huge social changes during her reign, and we now live in a much freer society. You can't say she herself hasn't been affected by the changes - all her children, apart from Edward - have been divorced.

And even Edward lived with Sophie in the Palace before they got married - that would have been absolutely unheard of not long ago.

She also presided over one of the most significant changes to Britain - the loss of our empire, and the transition to the Commonwealth which has attempted to create peace and understanding across the world.

Through all this she has been non-judgemental and a standard-bearer for integration.

I would say her legacy will be that of tolerance: a tolerance for differences and multiculturalism.

Sir Roy Strong

Queen Elizabeth's legacy - it will surely be that of continuity. Both Queens lived through turbulent times, but in the last 50 years we have seen huge social changes in Britain - yet the Queen has kept the monarchy going, despite everything.

It is quite extraordinary to me that she has kept the same round of events going, year after year - the state opening of parliament and social events like Ascot and Henley.

Essentially she has been following the pattern laid down by her father and grandfather, almost without change.

In doing so she has endowed the nation with a sense of stability through a period of tempestuous change.

We have taken it all for granted - and I think we will not realise how extraordinary she has been until she is gone.


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