This week the late Queen began her long and final journey home to Windsor, where alongside her dear late husband Prince Philip, she will be laid to eternal rest. I think I speak for most of us when I say, I half-expected the Queen to live forever. A constant source of pride and strength, Her Majesty’s was a reign unrivalled in longevity, loyalty and grace. She was quite simply the best of Britain – a calm and composed figurehead but leading with great humility and great humour.
Her reign was so sturdy and splendid, it is often easy to forget that this was never meant to be. Princess Elizabeth was never meant to be Queen. Yet when the unthinkable happened and her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated in favour of love over loyalty to Kingdom, Elizabeth’s life changed instantaneously – transformed from small-time princess to heir apparent to the British throne. In a sense that marked a full circle moment, that out of an event so divisive and damaging, emerged the longest and most successful reign in British history. Perhaps Edward VIII will now be remembered as Britain’s greatest champion, for his gift in abdication, was the long and magnificent rule of his niece – Elizabeth the Great.
The luminary of the 20th century, Her Majesty the Queen has cemented Britain’s constitutional monarchy for generations to come. Her duties as monarch, which she executed with constant carefulness, were above the fray of politics and beyond its prevailing wind that so often results in discord and disunity. She understood that the monarchy was so much greater than any one sovereign. She recognised that as an unelected monarch, though she was born to rule, she had to earn the respect and trust of her people if she were to be successful.
Such respect was earned over seven decades of devoted service to our nation, the many realms of which the Queen was head of state and the commonwealth, which she loved so much.
Her reign has become the gold-standard of constitutional monarchy. It would be near impossible for anyone of us to spend an afternoon without expressing opinion or partiality, but the Queen conformed to that expectation for seventy years. And though the job may have at times been unrelenting and difficult, the Queen never sought to complain but rather showered the nation with gratitude and grace. Through her life, she met everyone who was anyone. Presidents, prime ministers, heads of state, pop stars, celebrities, actors, she met with them all. How lucky we were to have her as our ambassador – the face of Britain to the world.
Even as the burdens of old age took hold, Her Majesty showed an unrelenting commitment to her constitutional duties – the last of which was the investiture of a new prime minister, only days before her death. The image of the late Queen standing in front of the fireplace at Balmoral, hand firmly gripped to her walking stick, depicted a tenacious monarch determined to execute her duties right until the very end. And even in those final days, she blessed us with that trademark smile and tender twinkle in her eye.
Her Majesty was the lamp that guided a desponded nation through the darkest hours of the pandemic. Her pledge that ‘we will meet again’ was the light at the end of a long and dark tunnel, that at times seemed endless. It was the same spirit of eternal optimism that a young Princess Elizabeth used to reassure the anxious children of the war-time generation, in a radio address eight decades earlier.
In the days following the Queen’s death, it has become clear that King Charles III is his mother’s son – a remarkable monarch he will be. Our best tribute to the late Queen is to support her son, the new King, as he confronts the awesome task ahead because a strong and thriving monarchy is essential to Britain’s national identity – it is who we are.
Queen Elizabeth II, in her Victory in Europe 75th Anniversary address, said:
“When I look at our country today and see what we are willing to do to protect and support one another, I say with pride that we are still a nation those brave soldiers, sailors and airmen would recognise and admire.”
We are in part still that nation – brave and determined – because of the life and example of Queen Elizabeth II, a stalwart of decency and duty – the greatest Briton who ever lived.
May she rest in everlasting peace. God Save the King.