Here in the United Kingdom we have just come to the end of a two week period of national mourning for our late Sovereign Queen Elizabeth II who served the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth for 70 remarkable years, the longest reign of any Monarch this country has ever had and one of the longest monarchies that has ever existed in modern times.
For Republicans, the whole notion of Monarchy harks back to an historical anachronism that can’t be countenanced in a democratic society – yet for the United Kingdom the institution rubs along very well with the ebb and flow of democratic political life, providing a surprising degree of stability to our country and a “fall back” position should elected politicians fail to serve the people of our country and our old institutions need to step in to take over – petitioning the Monarch and asking them for help is still available to every Subject and the Monarchy has been known to use their “soft power” to effect change “behind the scenes”.
Monarchy to us is the glue that sticks the country together and where politicians fail to heal rifts or unite the country the Queen and the whole institution of the Royal Family are there to reach out to the people and provide an object of national harmony which touches every part of our lives, from the money we use, our armed forces, our body of law, our great Institutes/academies and societies and with over 500 Royal Patronages the Queen herself held every part of our lives is sprinkled with some aspect of Royal involvement. Even our Scout/Guide/Brownie/Cub Promise was to “Serve the Queen” and in this promise we see a mirror reflecting the love and duty of the Monarch to her people and from her people to the Monarch – a partnership and a commitment whereby the Monarch commits to serve her people and the people commit to supporting her in her role.
It was very evident from the outpouring of emotion at the Queen’s death how loved and admired Queen Elizabeth was, yet she wielded her Stately power silently, carefully and thoughtfully and out of the gaze of public life. To the world she was seen as neutral in political matters, but behind closed doors and with her prime ministers she was able to guide; warn; advise and change the minds of politicians across her realm; without having to use force or coercion. She used nothing more than the respect she carried for who and what she was and the fact she was the latest embodiment of a Royal line going back over a thousand years and that history and that knowledge was a powerful force for national good. She had seen it all before and could always offer sound advice to an over confident politician who thought they had a new (if untried) idea!
The Queen famously said that in her weekly audiences with her Prime Ministers she often found herself acting a bit like a psychologist, where, at these weekly private audiences they would often unburden themselves to the Queen who offered not just tea and sympathy, but sound advice based on the experiences of the 15 Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom she had known and the total of 179 Prime Ministers across the Commonwealth she had met throughout her reign!
After 70 years of being on the throne, there was very little the Queen had never witnessed in world politics and she provided a thread of knowledge and continuity no other country in the world had the benefit of being able to fall back on. There was only one Queen and even to the world at large, when people talked of “the Queen” everyone knew who they were talking about such a mark on society and the world had she made throughout her long reign.
The Queen quoted that Winston Churchill had said to her once “the farther back you look the farther forward you are likely to see” – which probably says a lot about the moribund state of world politics, that the same old issues keep rearing their head and the same old mistakes keep being made and politics had a repetitive cycle to it and sadly Churchill was right.
Queen Elizabeth was greatly admired, from having made at 21 years of age the famous commitment to serve her people for the whole of her life whether it be long or short to the startling end of her reign where two days before her passing she was ushering in a new Prime minister, still working on the documents of State and taking audiences from foreign dignitaries. Queen Elizabeth carried out her national commitment to the end and very few national leaders had the stamina or commitment for that role – reaching 96 years of age and still being as sharp as a razor blade and as revered by her people.
It is a truth that there will never be anyone quite like Queen Elizabeth II, where service above self was so evidently on display. The Queen was at heart a down to earth person, she had nothing to prove. She had earned the respect of the nation through her service in the Second World War; through being a mother of 4 children; visiting 117 Countries whilst Queen and travelling over a million miles during her reign. With her charitable patronages and royal role she spoke at the White House,The United Nations General Assembly and in any number of foreign countries, having known 13 US Presidents and been on friendly terms with everyone.
During her reign the world had modernised greatly. Yet despite this modernisation the Queen still managed to ensure an institution as old as the Monarchy remained relevant into the modern age.
The Queen tried to salve the rancour of the past and the history of the British Empire, where pain and hurt still existed. The modern era did make Empire building look exploitative and cruel; but Empire Building was the behaviour of our emerging “world” …the Greek Empire; Roman Empire; French Empire and British Empire etc were but the tectonic plates of civilisation building – following a repetitive model of creation and destruction, although during her reign Queen Elizabeth was behind releasing countries from the British Empire and embracing them into a voluntary Club of Equals. Through the Commonwealth, a project Queen Elizabeth spearheaded and encouraged to the point four countries (who were never part of the British Empire – Rwanda; Mozambique; Gabon and Togo) asked if they could also join and now there are 54 Countries in the Commonwealth who have willingly elected King Charles II to be their nominal Head.
The Queen opened her palaces and parks and allowed the people in to enjoy the things she enjoyed, it was now possible to visit Buckingham Palace and have ice cream and sandwiches overlooking her private lawns. The people were able to walk through magnificent gardens and palaces something many foreign monarchs would never have allowed. Queen Elizabeth was there to support and encourage her people and the Commonwealth and behaved in an exemplary fashion for the whole of her reign and for that millions of us are eternally grateful.
Service above Self was always the Queen’s motto and she has tried to encourage this amongst the younger members of the royal family with greater and lesser degrees of success. Those who can’t commit selflessly to the role have usually chosen to side step Royal Life, but for the Queen and her son King Charles III whose previous motto as Prince Charles was “Ich Dein” – “I Serve” the Monarchy will be in safe hands as the legacy of our Great and beloved Queen will continue in her son. A remarkable Queen and a remarkable life.
Christine Constable – September 2022, London, United Kingdom