Saturday 24 September 2022

Death of a Queen


A picture of Queen Elizabeth II, seen in Gatwick airport on Monday as I passed through

In spite of the fact that her health had been fading for many years, and her advanced age, to me the death of Queen Elizabeth came as a shock. From my earliest childhood she had been a constant of British life, her face on the money and on the stamps - on the very symbols that as a young child one first latches on to as identifiers of the larger society outside the walls of your house.

No tears were shed, but the sadness and sense of foreboding matched that of the day after the announcing of the result of the EU referendum, and for similar reasons: there was the sense of the passing of something good and essential. The Queen had been a great symbol of British unity, a dutiful figurehead for the country. In a modern world where everyone spends all their time telling the world what their opinions are (including on blogs!) and is hated for it, she kept her views to herself and so was loved. She epitomised loyalty and service.

Unlike after the EU referendum, however, the sensation soon passed as the wheels of the ancient machinery of monarchical succession spun into motion. Certainty asserted itself. King Charles III was proclaimed king, and the old fashioned words of the proclamation - that the Queen had been of "Blessed and Glorious memory... God Save The King!" still held meaning.  Toasts were drunk in the house and things seemed better.

One of course could subject the whole thing to tiresome logic and ask why the head of state should be a man of no particular skill who would not have won an election. For me the fact is simply that the UK is not a tabula rasa on which we will build a new society today, but a country built up steadily over a thousand years, and I do not want to see that history end. Loyalty is not a creature of reason, and for a ceremonial head of state there is no real reason to be bothered if the way in which they are chosen is not strictly democratic.