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Reflections on the death of The Queen

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For us in Britain, this has been a profoundly moving day. Most Britons have never known life without Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state, and the sudden decline of the monarch, only two days after she appointed our new Prime Minister at Balmoral, has come as a shock. Everyone accepted that, at 96, she was coming to the end of her life. But her mother lived to be 101, and we all assumed that Queen Elizabeth would carry on just as long.

While this news is not standard fare for a photography blog, I feel that it needs to be acknowledged, and I hope those of you who live in other countries outside Britain and the Commonwealth will excuse a few words in recognition of our greatest monarch, our longest-lived monarch and the longest-reigning monarch in over 1,000 years.

There is no doubt that throughout her reign Queen Elizabeth II has worked unfailingly in the best interest of our country and the Commonwealth. Since she acceded to the throne in 1952, she has been the rock for our people throughout many trials and more than a few tribulations. Yet there are some committed republicans who believe we should do away with the outdated concept of royalty and move to a politically based presidential system. I disagree.

Whatever the failings of the current system, however unfair and antiquated it may seem in the 21st Century, Queen Elizabeth has repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of a constitutional, non-political monarchy. She has been someone behind whom most people in Britain and the Commonwealth could unite, and she has never once expressed any partisan views. That is the secret of her success; she has been someone to whom Britons of any mainstream political persuasion could relate personally.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, most people in this country have never known life without Queen Elizabeth as head of state.

I am not one of them, for I clearly remember her father, King George VI; I remember the national anthem as God Save the King, not God Save the Queen as it has been known for the past 70 years. I remember the moment I heard of the death of King George as though it were yesterday.

I was sitting at my desk in junior school on the morning of 6 February 1952. The headmaster opened the door around 11 am and said he had a sad announcement to make: “His Majesty The King died this morning. You may all go home now”. I may have been young, but I recognised this as a defining moment. I ran all the way home, the bearer of momentous tidings when news travelled much more slowly than it does today.

In June the following year, I was seated at a long trestle table in the middle of our street, celebrating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. I watched the ceremony on a 9-in Pye television equipped with a goldfish-bowl magnifying lens to add a little more majesty to the occasion. It was a period of profound change, just a few years after the end of the war.

But the promised new Elizabethan age, sealed in the same year by Sir Edmund Hilary’s conquest of Everest, turned out to be more than just a promise. Elizabeth II is more than likely the greatest monarch in our history, outshining even Queen Victoria as the monarch of an age of great change and progress.

Here in Britain, we have a state funeral to face and the certainty of a coronation service next year. It is heartening that the reins of soft power — because, in reality, the monarch has no real power — pass so smoothly from mother to son. As we have all seen in countless dramas over the years, the formula, “The Queen is dead. Long live The King”, will have been voiced before the announcement of The Queen’s death to the world.

There will be many small changes, too. The currency, the stamps and countless other symbols will be changed. The new royal cypher, CIIIR, will replace EIIR throughout the land, although sensibly only when renewal becomes necessary. Many post boxes still bear the cypher VR after 121 years. Barristers will wake up tomorrow to find they are now KCs and not QCs.

Our new king, Charles III, has had more than his fair share of controversy in his long period in the waiting room — even longer than Victoria’s son, who became Edward VII and who had led a very colourful life. But I feel sure he and The Queen Consort will carry on the traditions of Queen Elizabeth II and provide a focus for a country that, in common with most western nations, is going through a period of great change and uncertainty.

I know that readers will join me in paying a tribute to the memory of our late Queen.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Mike for acknowledging this sad, but historic event. I took an oath of allegiance to QE2 in September 1986.

    Today I feel empty, but, I feel proud to have served. That has been my chosen path, and one that I have enjoyed, accept, and would do again.

    She has been an amazing ambassador, and stoic leader of our nation. A truly inspiring character.

  2. Thank you, Mike, for sharing such personal and yet dignified reflections. Queen Elizabeth was a direct link to the Second World War and the sacrifices made by all too many innocents and, of course, those of my father’s generation fighting a just war. May the Queen now rest in peace and may King Charles’s leadership set an example of kindness and generosity to our pained and fractured world.

  3. Dear Mike,

    I would have been disappointed not read about this landmark event on Macfilos. I am very thankful four your sharing of your views and emotions.

    Although deeply republican myself, I acknowledge the power of an institiution such as a good monarchy to establish something like a common identity. I think especially in Britain that had so much awareness for class over such a long time, the monarchs and especially Queen Elizabeth II were a unifying momentum. So let me express my sympathy on this special day. I have great respect for all who feel grief and loss today (oh dear, this sound like the Bundeskanzler’s condolence telegram).

    And – republican convictions and admiration for the Queen do not necessarily constitute a contradiction. When I had my training as young journalist, our then editor-in-chief, a staunch republican for sure, made us stand for hours on a street in Bonn where we happened to be on the occation of visiting our capital in 1992 (long a ago is the Bonn era, how much longer lasted QE2’s reign). I think we had to move on before the convoy passed by.

    I have more understanding for our boss’ interest in the Queen now than then. Dave Seargeant, in the comment above, spoke of leadership. Good point and as necessary as ever. I hope the British nation(s?) will be led into a good future however big or small the King’s impact on this may be.

    Jörg-Peter

  4. I remember the death of the father of our late queen, very clearly. It was the year I started a step-change in my working career. Not only the words of the national anthem changed. For example, King’s Regulations became Queen’s Regulations. Mountains of books, official papers, flags, currency, postage stamps worldwide, insignia and royal rituals, had to be replaced; and a great deal more.

    Lasting memories for me were two conversations I had with Her Majesty, on different occasions. Her work load was prodigious,. She had a most remarkable memory, and also possessed a keen interest in all matters brought to her attention.

    In the modern world, she adapted well, and charmed millions of people with her warm smile and touching words. Her selfless duty was an example to the world and proved how a constitutional monarchy can work, in times of great danger and change. We are the poorer for her passing. I had hoped she would reach 100 years, but it was not to be. RIP Your Majesty.

  5. Nicely written, Mike. My condolences go to the Queen’s family and all British people. I associate the Queen with my childhood as my late mother used to read British women’s magazines, such as Woman’s Own, which often featured articles about the Queen. In my adult life, I never really thought very much about the Queen as she was just always there on a neighbouring island. That was until 2011, when she made a visit to Ireland and with five short words in Irish at a State Dinner she won the hearts of the Irish people. Her son Charles, now King Charles III, has been a regular visitor to our country and shows an appreciation and understanding of Irish history and culture not often found on his side of the Irish Sea. I have great hopes for his reign bringing our peoples on these islands even closer in ties of friendship and understanding.

    The Queen was a model servant to her people and kept working right up to the end. May her soul rest in peace.

    William

  6. Excellent words of tribute Michael.
    Queen Elizabeth II provided behaviour examples that can instruct us all.
    My earliest memory of her was the royal visit to Australia in 1954. I was only three at the time, but I still remember that it was the first time that I experienced large fireworks…….they terrified me!

  7. Thank you for posting this tribute and reflection. I have only ever known Queen Elizabeth as my monarch so while today was inevitable it still came as a shock and brought back memories of Diana’s death.

    I think as a Brit abroad you feel free to live the dual life and benefits of wherever you end up living, but days like today is when you feel emotionally tethered to “home”.

  8. Royalty has never been something that I have concerned myself with, perhaps because the institution has been like an immoveable rock, always there and always dependable. I remember standing on the kerb in Ludgate Hill with the rest of the contents of “Export House” to watch her pass by on her way to St.Paul’s Cathedral during her Silver Jubilee. I was just out of short trousers (not quite, but it feels like it today), and I stood with my new colleagues and cheered as her entourage passed by.

    Perhaps four prime ministers in six years is the other side of the coin, and the only logical conclusion to make is that we desperately need the stability that the monarchy has imbued on our society, long may it continue.

  9. The GREAT LADY is in the GREATEST PLACE with her GREATEST fans, her husband and WSC. World will miss her!

  10. Even though I have never been a subject of the late Queen, I have known about her since my childhood. I was born in Macau, a former Portuguese colony next to Hong Kong. Since I watched Hong Kong television channels, I heard about the Queen all the time; in fact I was used to listening the British national anthem.

    Queen Elizabeth II is a very special monarch. In today’s corrupt and incompetent governments, she had shown the world what an ideal true leader supposed to be. This is very ironic since back in the old feudal era, monarchs across Europe had absolute power. Over time, individual rights emerged and monarchy transitioned into democratic form of government. Unfortunately politicians nowadays are mostly self serving and party oriented instead of serving the public. It is like the system has evolved in full circle, the monarch truly cares and serves the people instead. I can understand the sense of lost many people in the UK and Commonwealths are feeling right now. My condolences to the British Royal Family, the British people and all the people who love Queen Elizabeth II.

    Yours Sincerely,

    • Thank you, Patrick. I think the majority of people in the UK recognise the value of an non-partisan head of state. While there are misgivings about the illogicality of a monarchical blood line, the only alternative would be some form of election, a presidential system. The current system, with all its flaws, has evolved over a thousand years. I’ve heard some commentators saying that what we have is a royal republic, and that is probably a fair assessment. It is hard to imaging a political president unifying a divided country, and that’s where constitutional monarchy has its merits.

      • I agree with you, Mike. We have a non political Head of State who is elected for a seven year term with a two term maximum. Some of the holders of the office have had a political past, but they have all realised that they must leave that behind when they take up office. Our recent Presidents have all got on very well with their royal counterparts in Britain as they can speak to one another in a non political way. I am sure that will continue with King Charles III. The US model of an executive President works in the US, but would not work here. I have lived and worked in a Middle East country where the Western concept of a democratically elected government would not work at all. The ‘one size (or type) fits all’ concept does not work when it comes to government. I think it was Churchill who said that ‘democracy is a terrible way of doing government, until you consider the alternatives’ or something similar.

        William

        • Yes. I think he also said something to the effect that it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’

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