When Queen Elizabeth left Westminster Abbey to the strains of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance after her coronation in 1953, the BBC’s Richard Dimbleby told the British public that “majesty, splendor and beauty are fading from our sight”.
he soul is now gone from this world more than 70 years after ascending the throne, and her body will disappear from our sight when she is buried next to her beloved husband in about a week. There are those who believe – largely because they want it to be true – that the demise of the Queen will hasten the disintegration of the United Kingdom.
In the age of social media and bitter cultural divides, modern Britain is more prone to sudden mood swings and hasty decisions. But the UK was held together not just by emotional ties but by pragmatic self-interest.
Undoubtedly, the Queen was a pillar of stability on which Britain has rested. After that pillar falls, the monarchy, and with it the Union, are more vulnerable. King Charles does not share his mother’s popularity nor all of the qualities that she adored.
Over the years, Charles has often appeared aloof and has been involved in several scandals, touches of which on his mother have never surfaced. The greatest weakness of the monarchy is that it does not allow the best candidate for the role to be chosen; the sole criterion of the ruler is her birth accident.
But the new king’s initial approach was clever. On Friday, he climbed out of his vehicle to shake hands with the crowds outside Buckingham Palace, even accepting a breach of protocol when a well-wisher kissed the royal cheek.
That evening, in an eloquent address to the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, he reassured that he would rule in his mother’s style as an apolitical constitutional monarch, that accepting this would mean changes from himself, a nod to his outspokenness on political issues.
King Charles is expected to visit Northern Ireland on Tuesday, meeting with politicians at the royal residence Hillsborough Castle and attending a service at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.
With no government in Belfast, a border in the Irish Sea they have been unable to eliminate, a growing debate over Irish unity and a first minister-on-hold from Sinn Féin, the Queen’s death comes at a time of uncertainty for trade unionists. She had nailed her sense of Britishness to almost every unionist.
Unionists are not always loyal to Westminster – something that has puzzled EU leaders of late – but they have been staunchly loyal to the Queen.
After ruling for 70 years, she became “the incarnation of tradition,” as historian Tom Holland has said. She has been the poster child for every major national moment in the lives of almost 90 per cent of the British population.
Briefed by 15 prime ministers and meeting 13 US presidents – more than a quarter of all White House leaders – the monarch was adept at preserving many of Britain’s traditions while embracing the need for constant incremental change.
This ability of the monarchy to preserve the essence of the nation for centuries and to incessantly transform that essence is at the heart of Britain’s longevity, and it is why those who predicted its demise have been repeatedly wrong.
Britain was built on gradual compromises, tacitly incorporating hostile factions into the fabric of the nation. At Friday’s memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral, the symbolism of these centuries of cultural blending was ubiquitous, but it was so successful that few would see the symbols as anything but British.
The bagpipes that once led Scots against English armies played a dirge in the cathedral. This lawsuit was flowers of the foresta 17th-century tune commemorating the death – at the hands of English soldiers – of Scotsman James IV at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513.
The congregation sang The lord is my shepherdan arrangement of Psalm 23 sung at the Queen’s wedding in 1947. However, the poetic rendition of the biblical text was written by the Puritan Francis Rous – who supported the beheading of the first King Charles – and approved by a Cromwellian committee.
During the Queen’s reign, this process of evolutionary assimilation accelerated as Britain became ethnically and religiously diverse several decades after the end of the Empire, and the military and economic power of the United Kingdom declined while British influence persisted in more subtle ways.
This era of change has reshaped this island. Despite being targeted by the IRA for an assassination attempt and having lost her husband’s uncle to an IRA bomb, the Queen showed genuine affection for Ireland.
Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny recalled how, at the end of her 2011 state visit here, as he was escorting the Queen to her flight at Cork Airport, she told him: “You know, of all the royal visits I’ve done in 60 years, this is what I really wanted to do.”
Three years later, at the state banquet for President Michael D. Higgins at Windsor Castle, the Queen spoke warmly of how “Britain has been enormously enriched by the migration of Irish men and women to these shores”. She hailed how the Irish have “penetrated every aspect of British life” while acknowledging there was a darker past when the Irish faced discrimination in Britain.
These words were uttered by an optimist at a time of optimism in Anglo-Irish relations. The turmoil of Brexit has arguably eroded so much of what the Queen and others have built.
It would be a mistake to think that things will continue as they are, but it would also be a mistake to think that this will inevitably mean the end of the Union.
The royal pageantry of the coming days will hide uncertainty about the future, but one thing we can be sure of is that no one living today will see it that way. An age of majesty and splendor is passing for Britain.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/death-of-queen-elizabeth-marks-end-of-an-era-but-the-union-is-a-long-way-from-finished-41979346.html Queen Elizabeth’s death marks the end of an era, but the union is far from over