The Queen is dead! Long live the King!
So went the cries around Britain, and for that matter, around the world yesterday with the news that 96 year-old Queen Elizabeth had passed away after an incredible 70 years of being on the throne. At long last, and 73, her son Charles finally becomes king.
When my stepson texted me the news midday yesterday, it didn’t come as a big surprise only because earlier I’d caught a bit of a TV morning news show that talked about how her doctors had issued a statement saying they were “concerned” for her health and that any of the Royals who seemed in good standing (that is to say, those besides Andrew, Harry or Meghan) had canceled all their plans and were rushing to her bedside in the Scottish Balmoral home. Her doctors typically notably never said they were concerned. Even when she was 95 and suffering from Covid, they merely issued some lukewarm news release about Her Majesty being told to rest for a couple of days and ease up on her schedule for the rest of the week. That sort of thing. To hear they were “concerned” was a not-too-subtle code for her days on the Earth were very numbered. But the news took most by huge surprise, even though she was…96. As the stepson’s text said, “I thought she was immortal. Have I been lied to?”
Joking, obviously, but the basic sentiment was shared by many. No wonder, she seemed like a fixture as constant as the Tower Bridge over there. Her mother lived to 102, and she grew up in an era with health care inferior to ours today. For the majority of people there, and elsewhere, she was the only British monarch in their lifetime. Eventually, despite the inevitability of death, one came to assume she would go on and on and outlive us all. It’s probably what I thought, albeit subconsciously.
I felt quite a range of emotions and thoughts about it. As a Canadian, she had been a big, albeit low-key presence in my life there. She was pictured on the back of all our coins. Her face was on the $20 bill. Many postage stamps. When I was a child, her photo, a young queen in royal furs and crown, was framed and on the wall of every public school classroom. Once in a blue moon, she’d come to Canada to visit and she’d be about all one would see on national news for the duration. Whether you like the person or not, it’s hard to imagine a world where that wasn’t going to be the case. I thought about my Dad, an avid coin collector, and how he’d have been excited at the prospect of new commemorative coins that are sure to be issued in good time and seeing a new design on the backs of quarters and loonies. A coin with Prince, err, “KING” Charles will probably look as phoney to Canucks as the brightly colored paper money does to Americans. Alas, my Dad preceded the Queen into the Great Beyond last year so he won’t be rifling through a pocket full of change looking for them. My dad was a constant in life; so too was the Queen. Now they’re both gone. That’s a little saddening for me.
I thought of my Mom as well. Only a couple of years younger than Elizabeth, she too passed away, a few years back. She was British and spent the first couple of decades of her life there. She wasn’t an ardent monarchist, but all in all figured they were a good institution. She was particularly impressed by the Queen because of her behavior in World War II. Rather than shelter away out of sight, young Elizabeth toured London after bombings, talking to people, and volunteered for the Army, driving trucks for them. That kind of solidarity with Her people didn’t go unnoticed and goes a ways toward explaining the loyalty shown towards her, if not all the Royal Family, by so many old-timers from there. Mom was a rarity in that she didn’t like Princess Diana. She wasn’t keen on this new king either, with his obvious carrying on with his mistress (now the new Queen it turns out) Camilla, but she thought Diana was too “common” for the role and demeaned the concept of royalty by being photographed in a bikini or going to rock concerts. I thought Diana did a great job of humanizing the family and helping good causes get noticed.
Back then, I was no fan of the Queen nor royalty. I didn’t like the idea of that kind of privilege being bestowed on someone merely because of their birth and having power without being voted for. I especially didn’t like that we in Canada had a picture of a foreign person on our money instead of an actual Canadian dignitary or hero.
I’m still not a big fan of the concept of royalty, but as I’ve matured, I see it through less hostile eyes. And I must say, I’d become something of an admirer of QEII. I wrote about it two years back, actually, in reference to the show The Crown which I have been a fan of; a semi-fictionalized look back at her life and times. I wrote then that perhaps – just perhaps – it wasn’t the worst idea having some body overseeing the elected government, just in case they got too out of control. And as for Elizabeth, she was “an ordinary woman asked to do extraordinary things.” Indeed, the show made me realize that the role of Queen was in many ways a burden…and one she would have preferred not to shoulder when she was young. She was a fun-loving, country girl – a rich one, make no mistake – who liked being on farms, riding horses, going on grouse hunts, wearing wading boots and so on. She was thrust into a world of official parties, openings, world tours to shake hands and smile. Wear the crown, both literally and figuratively. In one telling and fun clip of her shown on many news reports yesterday, an elderly Elizabeth is asked about the official crown and she says it weighs “about three pounds”, and when asked if that was comfortable, she laughed a little and with no hesitation replied emphatically “No!”. What a daft question, you could almost imagine her thinking. She was a real person it turns out, a mother worrying about her wayward kids and doting on the little grandkids and great-grandchildren, wanting to spend more time with them and her dogs…and less on official business. But she did what was expected of her, and did it well. At times it couldn’t have been easy, like recently when she made the decision to essentially “fire” her own son Andrew and turf him out of the family for his behavior and association with criminal Jeffrey Epstein, but she did it anyway. She had an undeniable sense of dignity about her.
A constant presence no longer present. And a role model of putting duty ahead of herself and her own desires… a lesson very many politicians these days could do well to learn and adopt if they are to continue “serving”. An imperfect woman to be sure, but one who tried and helped steady her land. That will be missed.
The Queen is dead. Long live the King.