The Last Royal

Christopher Fowler

How can you feel such a strong connection with a stranger?

  (On Queen Elizabeth's death, 8th September 2022) It's traditional for us to gather around Buckingham Palace in times of difficulty and uncertainty as well as celebration. And so it was yesterday, with thousands standing silently waiting for news, then remaining into the night, singing hymns and breaking into the National Anthem. Some were quietly crying. Many people from beyond the Commonwealth will find it hard to understand what I and my fellow Britons just lost. Mere maudlin sentiment does not explain it. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place nine weeks after I was born, so HRH has been a greater constant in my life than anyone in my family. But as I was raised in a home without religion or a particular interest in the monarchy, it's strange that she featured so centrally in our lives. At school and at home we were known as 'The New Elizabethans', representing a fresh start for the nation, our watchword being 'duty to the country and our fellow man.' Queen Elizabeth was held up to us as an example of the sacrifice required by duty. The males in the royal line of succession have always been regarded as dim and weak. It's the women who were strong.  At a time when England was tearing itself apart at the seams, starting with the shame of Suez and ending with 'It's A Royal Knockout!' (which turned out to be only the start of the humiliations for the royal also-rans), HRH seemed the only one prepared to give up everything for her people. Her sister Margaret was a decadent wastrel, Charles and Phillip were pointless, and it looked to us as if the responsibility of being Head of State had fallen on the one person who actively respected it and dignified it. Living so close to Buckingham Palace, we used to see HRH around all the time. Streets were not closed, no fanfares sounded. You'd look up and that Bentley would cruise slowly past. I  took my mum to several royal film premieres where she got to sit within a few feet of HRH; we sort of took it for granted that she'd be nearby, a very odd sensation now I think about it. My mother knew the captain of the Royal yacht Britannia and we got to have a private tour. They had a man in charge of the royal gifts presented to HRH by the various Commonwealth nations, and it was his job to get out the right gifts wherever they were revisiting, so that their hosts could see the esteem in which they were held by the Queen. On the night of the 8th London's cab drivers headed for Pall Mall in an outpouring of respect, with the sentiment expressed again and again that 'she was one of us.' I suppose what they meant was that she was a Londoner, born within a mile of the house in which she lived. I was named Christopher Robert because Christopher Robin went to Buckingham Palace, and I was regularly taken to Royal parades. I wasn't a royalist but I've nearly always lived within walking distance of the palace and one evening, strolling home late on a summer night, I found myself in a darkened Pall Mall and realised from the spectacular bunting everywhere that the next day was some kind of Jubilee or anniversary - that's how little we thought about royal events. They were ever-present. But the Royal Family wasn't 'The Firm' back then - to my family there was only just the Queen. The rest were background colour, and not far enough in the background either. Psychologically HRH had a profound effect on us. No-one in my family had any respect at all for the rest of the hereditary royals but the Queen stood apart, much as she does in the Pietro Annigoni paintings. Duty to the many came before allegiance to the few, a quaintly old-fashioned idea now pushed aside by our snout-in-the trough politicians. Her speeches were inclusive and kind, and usually took a global view from the perspective of the disenfranchised. As a child, I considered her a powerful example of how to live one's life decently. Eventually she was derided for upholding such old-fashioned Victorian notions as 'duty'. As Matthew Parris said in The Times; 'Over her long reign, to have got almost everything right, never to have stumbled, never to have misjudged, never to have fallen below the occasion, is an Everest of an achievement.' One moment stands out for many of us. The young Elizabeth asked global listeners for their help because she could not manage alone, and knew that her job would be for life. I wonder what she felt about the economic, cultural and social abyss of the present age, but she never gave an interview (when you're the Head of State who is there above you to conduct it?) so we simply tried to follow her example. We'd get a shock now if we judged our leaders by what they did instead of what they said. But it feels to me that something just broke and can never be repaired. The press is already hard at work trying to sell us Charlie. But as the New Elizabethan Age comes to an end, for me history stops. The next era is theoretically the Caroline era, which (if history is to be repeated) signals two decades of religious, political, and social discord. None of us will forget HRH being forced to sit alone, masked up, in Westminster Abbey while Spaffer Johnson partied his nights away. I was proud to call myself a New Elizabethan, for its idealistic dedication to cultural improvement. Yes, I suppose we were brainwashed by parents and teachers, but children need something to aspire to. I wonder what the next generation's ideals will be.  


anonymous_stub (not verified) Thu, 01/01/1970 - 01:00

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Anna-Maria Covich (not verified) Sat, 10/09/2022 - 18:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I watched the parliamentary tributes tonight on YouTube. As much as I dislike them both, I found Johnson and May's tributes so accurate and apt. May saying that we all knew it was inevitable, but still didn't expect it to actually happen pretty much sums up the very dazed and surreal feelings of my household all day Friday. The ordinarily bumbling Johnson's description of the roles of the Crown, then relating that back to that one woman and what we required of her, and also the shock of how upset he was at having to use the past tense... it left me asking why he can't be so erudite about anything else.
There's a real sense of disbelief down here in Aotearoa. HRH doesn't feature strongly in our culture, but even so it has really shaken us to lose her. The idea of having a king is especially strange to many of us, because in such a young nation, our queens have played much more prominent roles in our history than their male counterparts.

Bernard (not verified) Sat, 10/09/2022 - 18:01

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Your appreciation of HRH is insightful and is almost certainly widely shared. However, I feel you are being too hard on and too dismissive of other members of the family. A few years older than you, I am almost exactly the same age as the new King. Though he has from time to time edged into weirdness he has generally tried to learn, to do good, to help people, and to benefit the environment. Yes, no one came out well from the Diana episode. Yes, Andrew and some others are 'deplorables'. As children of the 1950s we may have been indoctrinated but as adults from the 1960s on I think we could see clearly and we did not choose republicanism.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Sat, 10/09/2022 - 18:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I suggest the Queen was very much of "the people" not only by virtue of her London birth, but as an unsophisticated young woman faced at least early on with dealing with far more educated and experienced politicians and the continuing vicissitudes of British life as well as her own. That she was able to (usually) navigate these shoals with common sense, common decency and a sense of humour says a great deal about her place in the hearts and minds of her people (the questions about the role of the monarchy in the 21st c. notwithstanding). Requiescas in pace.

Joan (not verified) Sat, 10/09/2022 - 19:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My Grandaughter broke the news to me, as someone came into to her history class with the sad tidings. She said to me that it felt strange for the Queen to be gone, as she had always been there since she was born. I agreed and thought the same thing. It’s not often that three generations share the same bereft feeling, thoughts and sadness. But I guess change always happens and you can’t hold time back. I think Charles will get on just fine, and secure the Monarchy for his Son hopefully.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sat, 10/09/2022 - 20:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My Mother went to Saskatoon to see the King and Queen when they toured Canada just before the War and was moved enough that when Princess Elizabeth came to Vancouver in 1951 in place of her father who was ill at the time she took my brother and I over to Main St. where her highness was opening the new home for the blind because, "It's the only time you'll get to see a real princess." That was true, of course, because Elizabeth became queen the next Feb. Her Highness was wearing a dark blue coat with (of course) princess seaming.
Several friends and my husband have noted that there is a serial moment we all share when the royal party drove from downtown Vancouver to New Westminster by way of Kingsway and we can all say at which point we stood with our class as they went past in the open car that was used for all the royal visits.
In 1984 there was another visit with the Queen driving to New West but they went along Marine drive which had only two lanes and gravel shoulders. My son had just finished high school and stood with me on the proper side to see HER. He seemed to freeze as the car went by about a foot away from us so I asked what had happened. He said that her nose stuck out and he could see her breathing. He explained that it was the first time he had actually seen her as opposed to a photo or tv coverage and he suddenly saw her as a real person.
She was criticised for the way she stayed at Balmoral with the princes when Princess Diana died but someone suggested this morning that she knew what London would be like and was acting as a grandmother to keep the boys from that chaos but still with their family. We make assumptions and demands on people in public life and none so much as the queen who was watched more and more closely as the years went by.
I started grade one in Sept. 1948 so I had a few years of singing God Save the King before we had to change. It still sounds a little odd and a National News reader got it wrong yesterday so I guess it will take a while. We'll be discussing the whole monarchy thing fairly intensely now, I imagine.

William Ticknor (not verified) Sat, 10/09/2022 - 20:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

In 1976 I was offered a ticket to stand on the White House lawn and listen to speeches by Queen Elizabeth and President Ford.Of course I went. I can't recall a single word that either of them said but remember her speech was better in both content and delivery.

bill051 (not verified) Sat, 10/09/2022 - 21:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I wouldn't correct admin but for everybody else the monarch is HM not HRH.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Sun, 11/09/2022 - 05:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think the other Royals brought the family into the modern era as a face for charity from the Prince of Edinburgh awards to Invictus Games. Phillip was her support, the sort of person who would shoot the elephant in the room which helps clear the air, even if sometimes you wish they wouldn't.

Charles, I don't mind. I think he'll echo the greener view of many in the country, no bad thing. Carolean was Charles II era. I guess we could call ourselves Right Charlies or maybe just Chuck the idea. The Winsor era as in the Tudor era? Winsorians.

I must admit it seems odd not having her there and I do feel a sense of sadness, but the Queen is dead, long live the King. Things are more open, although somethings have slid back a little, things are better now than when I was a child and the change in the monarchy is part of this. I know my daughter will go to university if she wants, I was the first of my family to go and that was not expected.

Politics for all it's faults is more open too, and we don't allow them to get away with things no matter how much they try to worm their was out of it, on the whole a good thing. When Kenny Everett made a joke about the wife of the minister of transport passing her test he was sacked, no one would be sacked for making a joke like that now. The BBC tries to be impartial without kowtowing, not always successfully, but this new government worries me, it seems to be gunning for the BBC which is a benchmark and one of the reasons we punch above our weight in the world. In Hong Kong 5 people have been sentenced over a children's book, the echoes from history this stirs are not good.


Jo W (not verified) Sun, 11/09/2022 - 07:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This is a lovely post Chris and that is a truly telling line - “ but it feels to me that something just broke and can never be repaired.” :-(

Roger (not verified) Sun, 11/09/2022 - 11:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think we should have followed the example of North Korea - probably the only sensible thing they've ever done - and retained the Queen as monarch in perpetuity, dead or alive. With a constitutional monarch, surely their physical condition would be irrelevant.

Chris Smith (not verified) Sun, 11/09/2022 - 11:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Your family didn't even admire Princess Anne a little?

Liz+Thompson (not verified) Sun, 11/09/2022 - 12:50

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Roger - your suggestion us the only truly sensible suggestion I have heard. The reason being that I am an anti monarchist, but agree that elected presidents certainly have their drawbacks. I feel sympathy for those who mourn, as I would for anyone mourning a beloved person, but I must admit to total disinterest in the general concentration on her reign and its impact. I was in London at the time of her coronation, and walked down the Mall the day before the event itself. After an ice cream vendor told me regretfully he had run out of cones, a woman sitting by the roadside, camping there with thousands of others, handed me two plain biscuits for the ice cream to be put between. THAT is what I remember - the kindness of strangers to a 5 year old child. And it's what my 74 year old self chooses to remember now.

Christopher Fowler Sun, 11/09/2022 - 15:28

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I remember Princess Anne turning up in her role as patron of the British film academy and talking about football for half an hour.

Roger (not verified) Sun, 11/09/2022 - 17:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Perhaps Princess Anne didn't want to embarrass members of the British film academy by talking about some of the films they'd made.

Peter T (not verified) Sun, 11/09/2022 - 19:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm largely with Liz Thompson, though I have a debt to the royals. Back in 1969, one of the TV companies made a documentary on the monarchy. I regurgitated the contents of it as an essay in a scholarship exam a week or so after seeing it and gained some extra income at university. The pleasure in shocking my headmaster (who considered me less than useless) was worth more than the cash.

Still, she was something of a fixed point in a changing or collapsing world. Yikes, it must be awful being nominal head of something that was significant and having to watch it reduced to junk.

Beware anorak: HRH doesn't that apply to all QE2's close relatives while she was HM?

Hazel Jackson (not verified) Mon, 12/09/2022 - 07:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I should own up to being a republican. I thought the Queen did an admirable job as a virtual, not actual, Head of State. But it is clear from the beviour of Andrew and Harry that members of the Royal Family were raised in a privileged bubble that has given them an exaggerated sense of entitlement, which has not served them well when exposed to "real" life. There are reports Charles is planning a more Scandavisn style monarchy. And William and Kate's new house in Windsor ( where they have said they plan to stay for the present) is devoid of live in servants. I hope the next generation of Royals will be more attached to Reality and the better for it..

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Mon, 12/09/2022 - 11:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The end of an era indeed.
I haven’t been able to refer to Charles as ‘the king’ yet.
Perhaps we will get used to it eventually.

Frances (not verified) Mon, 12/09/2022 - 11:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Years ago, in South America, I was invited to a garden party where Princess Ann, the Princess Royal, was the star turn. Lots of men in suits were herding people into place so that there was a curving path for HRH to walk through. They were also herding her toward people they thought it important for her to meet. Very nearby where I was there was a cluster of VIPs - ambassadors and other exalted beings. Opposite them, on the other side of the royal path, was a cluster of elderly British men and women (or even descendants of), a sea of white hair, many with medals pinned to their chests. Despite the best efforts of the men in suits, who had their arms extended toward the VIPs, she was having none of it. She made her way across to that elderly group and spent a long time speaking to each of them. She knew how much it mattered to them and, so, it mattered to her. I have been a fan ever since.

Jan (not verified) Mon, 12/09/2022 - 11:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I happened to be in Scotland this week - and am just on my way back to London from Edinburgh.

So many people have been turning out to pay respects to the Queen's passing and lining the route between Balmoral and Edinburgh. No doubt there will be thousands attending St Giles cathedral on the Royal Mile and Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster.

This is a big moment, an intake of breath, a time of change. Seems so strange to hear The previous P,rince of Wales referred to as King Charles 3. Best of luck to him this could be tricky reign. A lot of countries in the Commonwealth may become republic's n now. Scotland indeed may gain independence in some form.

Whatever happens Queen Elizabeth will be a hard act to follow.

A Holme (not verified) Mon, 12/09/2022 - 13:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I can take or leave the idea of monarchy. The Queen seemed to do an unenviable job extremely well. 70 years of "...and what do you do?" Stone the crows, give the old girl a well earned medal. I do enjoy though all the ceremony and tradition that we are experiencing with the handover to Charles and the funeral to come. I love the dressing up and the big gold appurtenances, the soldiers walking slowly carrying the flag draped coffin. The pursuivants and Serjeants-at-arms. The heralds with their long trumpets! As a country we do this stuff so well.

Peter T (not verified) Mon, 12/09/2022 - 17:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The big marker of how things have changed was the hearse. Was it really necessary to put our British Queen in a Mercedes?

Helen+Martin (not verified) Mon, 12/09/2022 - 18:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh, Peter, I've been waiting for that comment.

Joel (not verified) Mon, 12/09/2022 - 18:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

the main thing that came to mind, was duty. she did her duty, no matter what. i have a lot of admiration for a leader who put duty to her country first, and never uttered a personal opinion. i have also read statements by people whose parents, grand-parents, etc suffered under british rule. i can understand their complete ambivalence and bitterness toward the country, but not toward the queen. unless i am mistaken, she did not rule in a traditional sense and had no say in the enslavement, and at times brutal treatment of the countries under british rule. i always thought she was amazing in her steadfastness. something i wish the leaders of my country would show.

linda+ayres (not verified) Tue, 13/09/2022 - 07:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you you for putting my own feelings into words. When it comes to the new Monarch this year will be the first time in my life that I will wash up at 3pm on Christmas day.

Glasgow1975 (not verified) Tue, 13/09/2022 - 19:04

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I got home this morning at 5.30am after leaving for Edinburgh the previous night at 7.30pm. I queued for 5 hours overnight to pay my respects to HM at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. I wasn't going to go but my mother convinced me that I would regret it if I didn't go.
As Helen says, us Scots were very annoyed at the furore in London in 1997. We were honoured HM chose to protect her grieving grandsons from the press and media by staying secluded at Balmoral. I am incredibly proud that Operation Unicorn allowed HM to remain in Scotland and be seen by so many of her Scottish subjects, be that as she was conveyed through the countryside in plans she drew up herself, or the Lying at Rest in Edinburgh. We shall never see her like again...

Helen+Martin (not verified) Wed, 14/09/2022 - 06:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

And how many people realised that during the lying in state in St. Giles the crown on the coffin was the Scottish State crown? Just a little reminder that she was BOTH queen of England AND of Scotland. There's a definite feeling that the welding of the two nations was not as complete as might have been thought.
Your Mother was correct; you'd have kicked yourself if you hadn't gone. We watched that lighted hearse travel from Northolt to Buck House through the rain with all traffic stopped and people wall to wall along the route. We saw a photo of the lines waiting to honour King George in 1952 and the commentator said that it would be longer now because there are so many more people but I think it will also be because so many more people have personal connections to the Queen as a person. Anyway, the lying in state will be for 24 hours a day so as many people as possible can go through Westminster Hall

John Griffin (not verified) Wed, 14/09/2022 - 13:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

As one of the few evident republicans writing here, I too have the sense that something has broken, possibly the last vestige of an age (as old as I am) has gone, that was always less than many believed, but had honour, duty and a moral compass now and again (contrast Johnson with Profumo?). More than that, coupled to many other developments in our post-democratic age, we seem to be heading down a shadowy passage towards economic, political and moral disaster. how sad the end of the Elizabethan Age should be foreshadowed by sewage and pollution ravaging our seas and waterways, and a substantial proportion of the population facing hardship over the winter (while government money is handed to big business, as during COVID). Things really, really, do seem broken.

snowy (not verified) Fri, 16/09/2022 - 00:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

As one of the 'couldn't really give a stuff either way'-ians, only two thoughts occur:

As Head of State, which would one have most to fear? A figurehead monarch with no real political power, but access to a very big dressing-up box. Or a President chosen from among the current political creatures, especially when being elected by less than a third of the electorate always seems to give them a complete God-complex.

Activists who believe that kicking off during anybodies' funeral is an absolute 'right', should have a long hard think about how comfortable they feel about the activities of the Westboro Baptist 'Church', [an absolute right, means absolute, even if what is being expressed is abhorrent] .

Wayne Mook (not verified) Fri, 23/09/2022 - 08:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I know what you mean Snowy, but if freedom of speech means allowing this, it's a small price to pay. We did pay for the funeral so someone holding a placard shouldn't be dealt with. This government and the previous ones have seriously undermined the right to protst and I belive are undermining democracy.

The odd image I have of this is the lack of adverts and the message different organistaions used to say there was no adverts, some said why, some just said the programme will restart soon. A lot of commercialism stopped for the day.


Paul C (not verified) Fri, 23/09/2022 - 11:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The transition from Elizabeth II to Charles III was at least smooth and peaceful unlike the transition from Trump to Biden which caused bloodshed. If Putin is toppled the transition is likely to be far worse so perhaps it's worth enduring our ridiculous Ruritanian pageantry after all.

I quite liked the Queen as a person but loathe the bowing and fawning to royalty. Nobody should bow to anyone else in my book.