In the spirit of kindness engendered by all the wonderful stories of the late, great Queen Elizabeth, I’m sorry for – rather than angry with – those whose inhumane response to the death of a woman mourned worldwide for her life-long exceptional contribution to international understanding, racial harmony, and neighbourly love, was to rejoice.
Published: 13 September 2022
It’s encouraging how few of them are saying anything publicly, though. In Ireland, even the Shinnerbots have been warned for electoral purposes to avoid vulgar abuse.
Sinn Fein leaders learned their lesson in 2011 when they boycotted the visit of the queen which ended up garnering the support of more than 90% of the population of the Republic.
Now, of course, what they and their fellow travellers are doing is to praise her for being a peacemaker while noting that her death will shortly bring about the demise of the United Kingdom.
It won’t, though. Constitutional monarchies are by far the most successful democracies. And as long as the UK has an effective monarchy, no nation will want to leave it.
And the Windsor dynasty is very, very effective. I’m writing a book about royal consorts at the moment, and have been fascinated by royalty’s capacity over 1,000 years to reinvent itself. No dynasty has done that better than the Windsors.
Consider the brilliant way in which the seamless transition from Queen Elizabeth to King Charles has been managed with a skilful mix of traditional ceremonies and modern methods of communication.
See the massed ranks of mourners in every part of the kingdom emptying the flower shops and publicly seizing every opportunity to signal their love for a woman they think of as a family member.
For despite all the magnificence that comes with the ceremonial parts of the job, the queen was relatable.
I was touched by the report of loyalist activist Stacey Graham on the “outpouring of grief” on the Shankill: “As everyone says, she was like our wee granny. She epitomises everything it is to be British, that sense of community and kindness, her cheeky smile, loyalty and pride.”
I’ve been to Buckingham Palace a few times to watch the crowds and read some of the messages left outside, and found it striking how they cross the generations — from near contemporaries of the Queen to young children so thrilled by her relationship with Paddington Bear that a plea had to be made to desist from adding marmalade sandwiches to their bouquets.
It was George V, who called her Lilibet and she called “Grandpa England“, who first taught Elizabeth to listen to the public. In 1917 he had changed to Windsor the name of the royal house, from the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of his grandfather Prince Albert.
He subsequently watched unreformed monarchies toppling around Europe.
In 1926, at the time of the General Strike, he told Prime Minister Baldwin that, before he took a hard line, he should “try living on their wages”. And it was he made the first royal Christmas broadcast in 1932.
He knew that it was character that mattered. Seeing his elder son for the shallow narcissist he was, he prayed that he would never marry and have children “and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne”.
He got his wish posthumously with the abdication of Edward VIII, and his replacement by modest, unassuming, dutiful, reluctant George VI who insisted on taking the same risks and eating the same rations during the war as his subjects. And he taught his pious daughter to see herself as a humble servant of her people.
By example, she has taught hard-working, intelligent, high-minded Charles to emulate her and stay out of politics.
In her later years, the queen felt freer to show her humour and her capacity for fun. But it’s striking to see how often the same adjectives are used consistently, and how old-fashioned many sound: brave, dignified, discreet, good, humorous, humble, devoted, hard-working, selfless, stoical.
My perception is that she is proving in death, as in life, to be a remarkable uniter of people both nationally and internationally, and a golden link with our past.
In a rootless world, where ideologues rubbish the great of the past for not thinking like them, she has brought millions this week to reflect on the importance of continuity, and take more notice of how Christianity is woven into the country’s fabric.
Although I’m not a believer, I have the greatest reverence for the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Of all the messages I read this was my favourite: “Lord Jesus, we are so sad that the queen died today. As I speak to you right now, you’re likely to be speaking to her at the same time. Please would you make her feel very welcome in heaven. Would you tell her what an incredible job she did and that everyone in the world is crying and missing her. Amen. Annabelle, aged 9. (Bedtime prayer 8 September 2022).”