The passing of Britain’s longest-serving monarch was not unexpected as signs of her frailty emerged during the celebrations for her platinum jubilee marking her seventieth year as Britain’s Head of State. Nevertheless it is a shattering occurrence. . Inevitably, many who never met her will feel a sense of loss. She was a rock of dependability and continuity in a tumultuous and tragic world. The tragedy that is an inevitable part of life’s journey for most of us affected her in different ways from the murder in 1979 of Lord Mountbatten, a mentor to the royal family to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. She bore these sorrows with stoicism which she displayed even in April of last year when strictly-applied Covid regulations forced her to mourn all alone at the funeral of her beloved consort Philip. The last thing she would have wanted would have been for the rules to be waived for her convenience. She had been well brought up by loving parents who were unexpectedly thrust into the centre of national life in 1936 with the abdication of King Edward VIII and the elevation to the throne of her father George, the Duke of York as the new King. When war broke out in 1939 the young Elizabeth, her sister Margaret and her parents remained in the centre of London at the royal residence of Buckingham Palace even after it was bombed by the Luftwaffe. In 1943, at the age of 18, she insisted on joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women’s branch of the British Army. Her father King George VI made sure that she was not given any special rank and she became a driver of landrovers, ferrying supplies. Even into her 90s she would drive one of these vehicles a round the estate on her beloved home in the Scottish Highlands.
Elizabeth was the last serving head of state to have served in the Second World War. Invariably, she made light of her remarkable accomplishments as a monarch who reigned for seventy years. When she ascended the throne in 1952 upon the sudden death of her father, she would no doubt have been daunted by the responsibilities bearing down upon her shoulders. As he surveyed the plans for Elizabeth II’s Coronation in 1953, her first prime minister, Winston Churchill, looked at the official photograph of the Queen on his desk. “Lovely, inspiring,” he said to his doctor, “All the film people in the world, if they had scoured the globe, could not have found anyone so suited to the part.”
The new 26-year-old monarch showed a quiet resolution in carrying them out which soon extended to presiding over the Commonwealth of former imperial possessions that emerged as Britain swiftly wound up its empire. Her role as Queen of the Commonwealth was of real importance to her. She managed to establish a rapportwith a contrasting array of leaders from what is now an association of 56 states. Her kindliness, charm and absence of grandeur managed to disarm more than one maverick leader.
The Commonwealth’s significance is debated but for a long period it has been a symbol of Britain’s ‘soft power’. By the way that she bore herself Elizabeth herself personified that intangible, lightly-exercised but potent display of authority. She was a calm symbol of continuity and reassurance during periods of strife at home. Britain may have quit its empire more smoothly than other European powers but there were waves of unrest at home, ranging from fierce industrial strife in the 1970s and 1980s, to the undeclared civil war in Northern Ireland which raged for two decades killing thousands. Britain became a hotbed of social experimentation in the 1960s and perhaps has never ceased to be in the forefront of the quest for novelty. It produced an effervescence of cultural vitality perhaps most keenly felt in the outpouring of great popular music from the 1960s to the 1980s The changes in other branches of life were less harmonious. It meant that the Queen’s role as a unifier and symbol of age-old values of service, duty, and restraint acquired a special importance. They are completely anathema to today’s American-imported Woke revolution supposedly meant to overcome a by now largely mythic oppression of various minorities, replacing this supposed dark night of the present with a rule by scoundrels and sociopaths types who supposedly taking the world into a shining new era of progressive freedom.
The lessons of past history suggest that this incoherent revolt against a settled order is likely only to leave much worse injustice and oppression in its wake. The social upheaval gleefully promoted by much of the media in Britain and endorsed by corporate business and academia for wholly opportunistic reasons, has disrupted families in the once solid British middle-class. The generational turmoil has not left the Queen’s family of 4 children and 8 grandchildren immune. There should be no surprise about that. Monarchies throughout history have generated internal disagreements which sometimes have resulted in epochal changes, not always to the good.
It is impossible to believe that the Queen;’s family will not now close ranks to mourn her passing4 in the way that she taught them to do by her quiet example. She was a figure who embodied tolerance and pragmatism who it was impossible for even the most militant trade-unionist, Scottish separatist or counter-cultural icon to easily mock or spurn. She attended to her royal duties for eight extraordinary decades, putting in a workload which would (and did) astonish presidents, economic moguls and Hollywood actors. Successive generations of her subjects recognised how fortunate they were that a good person reigned over them. It is extraordinary and remarkable in all that time, she is not known to have lost her temper or been rude or unfeeling in public. Though in failing health, she insisted on giving the fifteenth Prime Minister to serve under her, Liz Truss, the seals of office, just days before her death. She had a moral vision and political outlook that would have aligned with the human qualities that she displayed in a life so well lived. But she was never partisan in her allegiances and relations with all her Prime Ministers were correct and sometimes affectionate. She kept close attention to practical matters of state. Government leaders in their regular audiences with her found her to be alert and well-informed and they knew not to condescend to her.
If she was alarmed by some of the changes that she witnessed in Britain – such as the decline of the industrial working-class from which many of her staunchest supporters sprang or the creation of an untidy and poorly managed multi-cultural society – she kept her feelings firmly to herself. She was a supporter of multi-racialism and a dedicated defender of an unbroken island nation able to avoid territorial strife and pointless sectarianism. Tens -of millions of people will be inconsolable due to the departure of someone who provided a -framework for their own lives and those of two previous generations. The passing of Queen Elizabeth II will be seen as a watershed as significant as the passing of Queen Victoria in 1901. Remarkably, as other institutions have faced repudiation or decay, the monarchy remains highly-regarded and indeed cherished by millions. Not least this is due to the stellar example of service and dedication to duty. Just one of countless examples will suffice: she was patron to more than 500 charities and what we know of her suggests they all gt her attention.
Long the heir to the throne and now King Charles III, her eldest son has also remarkable achievements in the charity field to his credit. Service to others is a virtue that has gone out of fashion in this age of hyper-individualism and sensitivity to personal feelings. Queen Elizabeth provided a powerful antidote to the foolishness and folly of our age and whatever happens now she will have earned an ineradicable place in the affections of the British people and many millions across the world.