Today, in London, the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II is taking place. As a British subject, I’ve been asked by some Ukrainian media to present my comments and reflections.
On this sad occasion I would also like to share some of my thoughts about the role of the British monarchy with the readers of Kyiv Post.
Firstly, as the British would say, monarchy is not everybody’s “cup of tea.” As we know, in many countries monarchy has been done away with, sometimes as a result of bloody revolutions, and kings and queens have even been executed as symbols of tyranny.
Exponents of modern democracy have largely opted for republican forms of government, viewing rule by royal dynasties as a vestige from less enlightened periods.
In the mid-17th century Britain also went through its own political revolution resulting in the beheading of Charles I. Yet the constitutional monarchy that subsequently evolved was brilliantly adapted to serve the needs of a political and social system which dispensed with the need for a written constitution.
As the British democratic parliamentary system developed, the constitutional monarch maintained a neutral, ceremonial role “above politics.” They became the embodiment of unity, both within the ”United Kingdom,” and in the broader imperial sense in the huge British overseas Empire, which in the post-imperial era was transformed into the Commonwealth.
As in that other great British institution – cricket – the monarchy was seen to be based on the rules of fair play. The monarch remained a behind-the-scenes umpire of sorts, and their very presence served as a constant reminder that agreed-on rules and procedures were being observed.
This reassuring factor of continuity encouraged a strong sense of stability and cohesion, especially during times of war and socio-economic tensions at home.
The monarch was also seen as the leader and representative of all of their subjects – rich or poor. So, paradoxically, for the aristocrats and wealthy, the monarchs were the magnetic apogee of the class system. But for the impoverished working class they were benign parental figures symbolizing not only the might and security of Britain but also a complex and unique social organism with its implicit delineation of the order of things.
In other words, the monarchy is a system that has worked for Britain, given its specific history, and traditions. And that’s why, despite periodic hiccups in the form of minor or serious scandals, it has remained cherished by the British and their historical cousins, and admired by others.
Elizabeth II won the admiration of her subjects and the world by maintaining her dignified bearing as a queen during seven decades that brought Britain and the world relentless and profound change, challenges and dangers, and new opportunities and achievements.
She had two impressive English women monarchs before her to inspire her – Elizabeth I and Empress Victoria. But when she ascended the throne, it was a world still strongly dominated by men.
Her first prime minister in 1952 was the legendary Winston Churchill, a staunch defender not only of Britain, but its empire. But the young queen was soon to witness its rapid dissolution.
Elizabeth II’s husband, Philip, was a Greek prince, and it was not easy for him to remain in the background. Tensions also developed with her younger sister Margaret.
Later, with the emergence of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in 1979, the queen was faced with a tough “Iron Lady” who remained in power for 11 years. The opposing personality styles complicated the relationship between these two remarkable women.
More problems were to follow that cast shadows on the royal family. First, the notorious saga concerning Prince Charles, Lady Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles; then the sexual scandal involving Prince Andrew; and, more recently, the falling out of Prince Harry and his wife with his bother Prince William and other members of the Royal family.
But throughout, the queen managed to retain her composure and weather these storms. Moreover, she is known to have had a good sense of humor.
A few days before her death, Elizabeth II accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson and handed over the prime minister’s baton to Liz Truss. Could Churchill even have imagined that after him there would be three women prime ministers – Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May, and Truss?
Or that key ministers, as in Truss’s Cabinet of Ministers, would have African and Indian roots?
So, Elizabeth II will be remembered like Queen Victoria for the long length of her reign, which in her case connected post-World War II Britain with one in which her post-Brexit country has taken the lead in supporting Ukraine at the other end of the European continent against Russian aggression.
But she will be especially remembered for having managed to protect and enhance the value of the monarchy for Britain, despite the vicissitudes, and to have remained a symbol of continuity and unity, as well as a link to Britain’s illustrious past.
The Queen is Dead! Long Live the King!
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