We awoke on Friday morning to the news that Queen Elizabeth the second had died. I can’t say we were surprised. The last time we saw her on TV, just a day or two ago, she looked, for the first time, frail, despite the usual generous smile. And I think we were both surprised at our own sense of sorrow and loss. We knew it was going to happen and that it would be soon. We didn’t know her, we never met her, and yet the tears welled. It’s hard to know quite why. Part of it is that for practically all of our lives she has been Queen, a constant in a world of change. It’s the end of an era. I know we weren’t the only ones.
People around the world will – not mourn her passing – ninety-six is a good innings – but reflect on her life of service. Because it was. I’ve thought many times over the last few years that it’s a shame that Elizabeth could not do what the Dutch Royal family has done several times now – Queen Beatrix abdicated in 2013 and her son, Willem-Alexander, is King of the Netherlands. It was all very peaceful, people approved, and Beatrix could enjoy her retirement out of the spotlight.
But Elizabeth only became Queen because her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated in favour of Elizabeth’s father, George VI, in 1936. It was a tumultuous time, with fascism and Nazism rising in Europe. Edward’s insistence that he would marry Wallis Simpson as soon as her second divorce was ratified threw Britain into crisis. Elizabeth watched all this unfold and I can imagine her deciding that nothing like that would happen while she was Queen.
Which it did not. Her marriage to Philip was the longest of any royal couple, ending only with his death. I remember the picture of Elizabeth, wearing her black covid mask, sitting alone in the chapel at Windsor during his funeral.
Press services around the world have been reflecting on her life, showing old footage of her as a child, a girl, a young mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live constantly in the public glare. She endured it all with dignity as her older sons’ scandalous behaviour was outed in the media. She was the rock that kept the institution of monarchy together. People might be appalled at Charles’ infidelity but they thought his mum was okay. The affection only faltered when Diana died in that tragic accident. It was a nadir but the Queen regained the people’s affection.
There’s some speculation about what happens now? Monarchies, after all, are an anachronism. And yet the British Crown gives the country a solid foundation, something that anchors the present to the past – for good or ill. The prospect of an Australian Republic is greater now. Yet we still have the issue of how an Australian President would be elected. The distant queen (now king) as nominal head of state has always been comfortable. We’ll see what happens next.
Sure, Elizabeth II was Queen of the Commonwealth. But I like to remember her like this, a woman with a sense of fun.
“The queen never told her family she was doing it. That was one of the stipulations, that she agreed to be part of it,” production stage manager Sam Hunter told BBC.
and like this
Then there’s the marvellous story about the time Crown Prince Adbullah of Saudi Arabia visited her at Balmoral. The Queen offered a tour of the estate and the prince agreed. A couple of landrovers duly arrived at the front door and Abdullah sat in the passenger seat of the first, his interpreter behind him. The Queen herself took the wheel. Women were not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia so the Prince was surprised. Elizabeth had been a driver in WW2 and she whipped around the Balmoral estate, whizzing down narrow Scottish lanes, talking all the time. Abdullah was terrified, asking her through his interpreter to slow down. It’s true. [source] And that’s one way of making a point.
Here’s another one.
I know quite a few people don’t much like Charles and Camilla. I’m not one of them. I wish King Charles III all the very best for his reign in what are turbulent and dangerous times.
Rest in Peace, Elizabeth R.