Death of a Queen

There is only one story today; Queen Elizabeth II – Queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth – died peacefully at Balmoral Castle yesterday afternoon.

She became Queen in early 1952 on the death of her father. She is succeeded by King Charles III. Elizabeth R. was not only the oldest sovereign in the UK’s history but also its longest serving. Most of her people have never known another monarch.

She has departed at a time of great uncertainty in the UK; a new Prime Minister just two days into her new job; a massive cost of living crisis; a post-Brexit identity crisis; a nation emerging from two years of pandemic deaths, lockdowns and sickness. It is the saddest of days for her family, for the nation and for many people across the wider Commonwealth that she did so much to create and nurture.

One of the most articulate tributes came from former PM, Boris Johnson. He was a dire PM but his words spoke for so many.

She was served by 15 prime ministers, from Winston Churchill to Liz Truss. She was served by 12 Canadian Prime Ministers with Justin Trudeau describing her as “one of my favorite people in the world.”

She met 12 American presidents. There was a lovely tribute yesterday from President Obama. She also met five popes, hundreds of national leaders, thousands of celebrities and – it is calculated – more than 2 million more “ordinary” people.

She was easily the most travelled monarch in British, indeed world, history: criss-crossing the globe regularly to visit the Commonwealth and just about every other significant country in the world, into her 90th year.

I never met her; I do remember the celebrations and street parties held for her silver jubilee in 1977. By 1988 I had left the UK and the daily feed of royal news became more distant; except in times of major events; from Royal Weddings to the death of Diana Spencer.

International tributes will talk about her sense of duty, her service and loyalty and of the respect that she had earned globally.

But she was also a mother, grandmother and a great-grandmother. Indeed, her only real mis-steps were in her unwavering support and protection of her own family. Her delayed response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales was a real crisis for the monarchy; her protection, and indulgence, of her second son, Andrew, was misjudged but was the reaction of a mother.

But she managed through those crises and perhaps her greatest achievement was to maintain the popularity of the British monarchy despite decades of seismic political, social and cultural change.

There will be 24/7 television coverage up to and including the funeral in ten days time. There will be pages of news and magazine print.

King Charles III become the new monarch. It is 25 years from Diana’s death and Charles has done a lot of rehabilitation since then.

The Monarchy will carry on – though its international influence has been eroding throughout her reign and will continue to do so.

Charles may not have his mother’s popularity but he inherits her goodwill and will continue very much with her legacy.

Some links to news reports and commentaries:

The Queen’s death will shake this country deeply – she was a steady centre amid constant flux
Why do we mourn people we don’t know?
Queen Elizabeth II: a royal life in pictures
Charles III, Britain’s conflicted new monarch
David Olusuga on the Queen, the Commonwealth and the monarchy’s future