On Thursday, 8 September 2022, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away at the age of 96, surrounded by her family at Balmoral Castle. Upon her death, Charles has immediately ascended to the throne as King.
Queen Elizabeth II provided an enduring constant for both the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Her seventy-year reign – the second Elizabethan era – has been characterised by an abiding, selfless service, honouring the promise she made to her subjects upon her accession to the throne in 1952: “I declare that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”.
Fortunately, Her Majesty the Queen’s life was long and prosperous, devoted to the end. The longest-serving monarch of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II not only presided over an era of extraordinary change and progression, but asserted herself as one of the most adored, respected, and effectual monarchs in British history. Her loyalty, faithfulness, and lasting service will be sorely missed.
Driven by a determination to fulfil her public duties, Queen Elizabeth II continued to carry out her responsibilities as sovereign to the very end of her long life. On Tuesday, she formally asked Liz Truss – her fifteenth prime minister – to form a government in her name at Balmoral. Remarkably, Elizabeth II’s first prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill was born in 1874, over a hundred years before Liz Truss’ birth in 1975.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister described the Queen as the “rock on which modern Britain was built”, who encapsulated the “very spirit of Great Britain”. Such a tribute is extremely fitting. As the nation, and indeed the world, enters a period of mourning, it is only right that Queen Elizabeth II’s life of devoted service is reflected upon, and rightfully celebrated.
For Britain, such a reflection on, and continuation of, the courageous resolve provided by the Queen in her enduring service, will provide efficacious guidance in navigating through the current uncertainty it faces.
In 1952, at the age of just 25, Queen Elizabeth II hastily ascended to the throne, upon the unexpected death of her father, George VI. Despite her young age, the Queen affirmed her undaunted commitment to effectuate her duties as head of state.
As we reflect seventy years later, it is fair to attest that such duties were executed to the best of her abilities. The emotional resolve required to assume the role of sovereign, and to do so with true mettle, is testament to the dutiful character of Queen Elizabeth II.
Her reign oversaw radical changes in politics, both at home and abroad, as well as cultural, technological, and economic transformations in both the United Kingdom and the world. For this, the Queen provided stability and continuity, in an era defined by progressive transformations.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, there was an acceleration in the decolonisation of the former British Empire, particularly across Africa and the Caribbean, which questioned Britain’s role in the international order. Moreover, British political society markedly liberalised during this period, with landmark progressions such as the decriminalisation of divorce, abortion, and homosexuality, as well as the emancipation of women, ushering in the ‘Permissive Society’.
Whilst societal norms and conventions drastically changed, as did the concept of British identity in the collapse of empire, the Queen remained an essential constant.
In 1977, Elizabeth celebrated her Silver Jubilee, met with national enthusiasm. Such celebrations served to reaffirm the popularity of the monarch, as did every subsequent jubilee, with each being met with adulation and guileless fervour.
The 1980s, for the Queen, were both historic and somewhat awkward. In October 1980, Elizabeth II made history by becoming the first British monarch to have an audience with the Pope in the Vatican. Accompanied by her enduring consort Prince Phillip, the Queen’s meeting with Pope John Paul II represented a momentous progression in strengthening relations between the Church of England (of which the Monarch serves as the head) and the Roman Catholic Church.
Nevertheless, the Queen’s complicated relationship with then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher proved awkward on more than one occasion. Britain’s constitutional monarchy requires the sovereign to remain neutral on political issues; however, the radical, oft controversial positions of Thatcherism rendered neutrality exceptionally difficult for Elizabeth.
For the Queen, Thatcher’s refusal to impose economic sanctions on the apartheid regime of South Africa, and her dedication to radically reshape the British political economy, was too “confrontational and socially divisive”.
The 1990s proved an extremely difficult time for the Queen, both personally and for the British monarchy as an institution. In 1992, excessive media scrutiny over the relationship breakups of the Queen’s children – the Duke of York and Sarah Ferguson, Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, and Charles and Diana – ignited what the Queen described as her “annus horribilis”.
The year ended in tragedy, as the Queen’s favoured residence, Windsor Castle, suffered a significant fire, symbolic of the royal house’s troubled circumstances. To compound matters, the question over whether taxpayers would fund the restoration works brought the monarchy as an institution into question.
The Queen responded with an understanding of the nation’s mood, announcing that both herself and the Prince of Wales would begin paying taxes on investments, and would raise the restoration funds themselves. It can be argued that such concessions were necessary to maintain the future of the institution of constitutional monarchy in Britain.
Unfortunately, the tenuous stability of the Monarchy established in the aftermath of 1992 was shattered in August 1997 upon the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car accident in Paris. The Queen encountered unprecedented criticism in her response to the untimely passing of the ‘People’s Princess’.
In the most part, such criticism arose from the Queen’s reluctance to partake in the outpouring of emotional grief and mourning that took hold of the nation. Her response was a hallmark of the generation she belonged to – the embodiment of a ‘stiff upper lip’ – and the informal royal convention that holds it is not the monarchy’s place to pass comment or display emotion publicly. Her live broadcast in September 1997, however, served to appease her critics, as she commended Diana’s devotion to her sons – William and Harry.
In the decades that followed, it is sufficient to say Queen Elizabeth II became the embodiment of both the British spirit and national identity. Both her Diamond and Platinum Jubilees, in 2012 and 2022 respectively, can be defined by the public displays of affection, adoration, and admiration for Britain’s longest-serving sovereign. A steadfast constant in an ever-changing society, the Queen provided a symbol of continuity and stability for many across the United Kingdom.
She, too, became a much-needed source of reassurance in times of national uncertainty. In April 2020, a month into the first national Covid lockdown, the Queen addressed the nation commending the “self-discipline” and “good-humoured resolve” of her fellow Britons to face the challenges the Covid pandemic created.
Now, as the United Kingdom faces more uncertainty amidst spiraling inflation, the cost-of-living crisis, and Russian belligerency on the European continent, the absence of her enduring resolve will be felt profoundly. The nation will be united in a shared sense of loss, and we must continue and preserve this unity in addressing the nation’s challenges. A continuation of the Queen’s legacy – that of dutiful service, ‘good-humoured resolve’, and courageous determination – will be the best course of action to weather the sociopolitical and economic storms we face today.
With both a new prime minister and a new monarch, the United Kingdom must be determined to pave a new way forward, seeking prosperity and fairness, in the dawn of a new British era. It is in our national interest to put aside partisan leanings – be it right versus left, monarchy versus republic – and to rally behind both the new prime minister and king of this nation, to steer this nation in the right direction through such challenging times. God save the United Kingdom. God Save The King.
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