We’re on holiday and, like so many other people, shocked and slightly shaken by the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Unlike most other people, we remember the last sovereign... just! All news in those days came from the newspapers and the radio in the corner to which our parents would pay special attention when ‘the news’ was on. We remember the newspaper pictures of the old hollow cheeked king. At home and in our primary schools, the adults spoke of the king, the royal family and the new queen in sober hushed tones. Nobody questioned any of the deference as they do now.
In the early 50’s only wealthier people had TVs. Helen’s aunt bought a TV for her grandparents and the whole family crowded round the tiny wooden box with a 9 inch screen in the corner to watch the coronation of the Queen. Mike’s family went to the neighbours’ house. Afterwards there was tea and cake in the bunting-lined streets. In both our families, everybody joined in the celebrations unquestioningly...
On one thing we are very clear: our attitudes to monarchy are different from those of our parents and grandparents and for us, many values are held in tension. Clearly, the monarchy sits at the head of and perpetuates a hugely flawed system of privilege. In this country, the class system continues to disadvantage huge numbers of people. On the other hand, show us a country where some sort of class or caste does not, in some way, influence the way human beings behave towards each other. If we abolish the Mountbatten-Windsor monarchy, would the republican Bush dynasty or the Kennedys have anything better to offer us? Human beings are, by nature, builders of hierarchies. Most of us favour allowing our ‘superiors’ to take the hard decisions rather than creating political systems where there is mutual responsibility...
But back to Elizabeth II who has been a constant in our lives for 70 years. We suspect it will take us, like everyone else, some time to assess how we regard this extraordinary woman and her often-dysfunctional family. But for now, we would like to separate the woman from the system.
Because for all our lives that we can remember she has been there. The faintest hint of eternity.
Because she has been the ‘wallpaper’ of our lives: stamps, coins, banknotes, warrants on food packets.
Because she did not offer opinions in a world where everyone is so quick to do so.
Because she was so clearly committed unwaveringly to the ideal of service in a world dominated by self-interest.
Because she gave her life to something which was bigger than herself and her family.
Because she managed to hold a marriage together in the most complex testing of circumstances.
Because she sought to balance larger interests with family interests, not always successfully…like the rest of us.
Because she clearly met many situations with a wry humour.
Because she had personal enthusiasms, shown when her horse won the Gold Cup at Ascot.
Because she did seem so often genuinely interested in the lives of her subjects.
And perhaps most of all because, she has provided stability in a world where it is currently in short supply, commanding loyalty from people of diverse groups and opinions.
Monarchy is certainly a flawed concept; as a monarch, Elizabeth II was, like all of us, a flawed person. But, we agree with the tribute paid by Helen Mirren, the actor who played her in the film,The Queen. She said, ‘I am proud to be an Elizabethan. We mourn a woman who, with or without the crown, was the epitome of nobility.’