Queen Elizabeth's Final FarewellSep 21, 2022 12:00AM ● By By Susan Maxwell Skinner
In keeping with royal tradition, more than 140 Royal Navy ratings pulled a Victorian gun carriage bearing the Queen's casket. The flag-draped lid was topped by Crown Jewels, including the Imperial State Crown and orb and scepter. Flowers from the Queen's gardens formed a wreath. Photo courtesy of Zak Hussein.
It was a spectacle few will see again. A Queen – perhaps the greatest monarch in history – borne to rest with pageantry beyond Cecil B. De Mille. Monday’s funeral was a masterpiece only the Queen’s horses and men could achieve; meticulously choreographed by the lady herself.
The massed pipers, gun carriage and swaying naval phalanx was not just pomp. Pragmatic to the last, Elizabeth II knew great pageantry stirs sentiment. What better tonic for royal continuance? What better kick-start for her heir’s succession?
Ten thousand military officers and the tears of a grateful nation accompanied an Empress into legend. Elizabeth was not born to her role, yet this accidental monarch managed sovereignty so peerlessly that her death was – for millions – like the loss of a mother, a grandmother or great grandmother.
The Queen encapsulated the Greatest Generation. Her radio voice comforted Londoners during Hitler’s blitzkrieg. Her wedding dress was purchased with clothing ration coupons. The Navy bride followed her husband’s deployments, and she paraded children at her coronation. As a Commonwealth leader, she walked a steel tightrope through 70 years of diplomacy. During pandemic, she reassured locked-down subjects, “We will meet again.” The nonagenarian bore the yoke of duty until death.
Service came at a price. Her babies lacked a mum’s hands-on guidance and later blundered into mistakes she so deftly avoided. But four Windsor generations’ heartfelt mourning demonstrated the brood’s profound love.
When I was a little girl, I waved to the Queen from a street crowd. In pale flesh, I beheld the icon from New Zealand’s stamps and pound notes. When I met her many years later, I was told to address her as ma’am. Through nerves, I called her “mum.” She looked at me askance, but the irony was surely not lost on the mother of the Commonwealth.
I was then a court correspondent in London. Palace press corps members saw her frequently, but the jokey banter of Charles and Diana’s entourage was absent with the Queen. Some people called her shy; I found her reserved. I recall achingly polite conversations about the weather. Her sapphire gaze was beguiling. But in disapproval, what she called “the look” could silence cannon fire.
Stoicism is not the same as snobbery. As much as her 15 prime ministers, the Monarch knew adaptability was key to survival. In tune with her times, she knighted rock stars, agreed to pay taxes, shelved her minks, mothballed her yacht and shook hands with activists.
She bent only as far as her principles allowed. The Queen gave no interviews; nor did she pander to the press. She believed a monarch should be seen – hence her bright ensembles – but heard as little as possible. In an age of celebrity narcissism, the world’s greatest celebrity eschewed exposure of emotions or private life. Her children divorced; a son was disgraced; a grandson defected. The matriarch seethed or grieved in private. Her husband died; she soon donned lavender ensembles and returned to work. Her policy to neither explain, complain or comment served her well.
The Queen nevertheless knew the age when few questioned colonialism – or Britain’s right to the Koh-in-Nor diamond – were over. Abdicating from dynastic problems on September 8, her final coup was to unite stewing elements of the Commonwealth in mourning.
Elizabeth II’s most crucial legacy is the king she groomed. What Charles missed in motherly cuddles was not stinted in his training. The mentor likely hammered in responsibility to a changing society over tea and scones.
When Elizabeth ascended, her realms were emerging from war years with adoration for Queen and Country. Charles III inherits national crises and a complaining Commonwealth. But as passionately as one Sovereign believed in contouring monarchy for the times, so will her heir.
Elizabeth II was the right Queen for her era. Thanks to her unflinching example, I believe Charles III will be the right King, for his.