Like me, perhaps you cannot stop thinking about our late Queen, Elizabeth the Second.
It may be only now that we have lost her that we can see, in retrospect, just how singular she was.
The First Queen Elizabeth was a singular monarch too, but she survived by keeping people at their distance and by referring to herself as a man. In her speech at Tilbury she said she had the body of a weak and feeble woman but the heart and stomach of a king. Here in Warwick, in our great collegiate church we have the tomb of her would-be swain, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was not only rejected by her, she wouldn’t even let him be entombed in any of the great London churches. She survived by chopping heads off her enemies, staying one step ahead of everyone and generally being as fearsomely impressive as possible.
Queen Anne spent most of her decade on the throne having children, who all died, poor soul. She had seventeen children and terrible health, perhaps the two facts are not unconnected. Her reign saw the Act of Union of Scotland and England, previously separate kingdoms.
Queen Victoria, great grandmother to our Queen Elizabeth, also spent a lot of time pregnant. She had nine children, who all survived, which was unusual for the time. She was interested in Statecraft by private means and attempted to influence Parliament, which did not always go down well. She was only eighteen when she came to the throne and, reigning sixty-three years, also had a Golden Jubilee and a Diamond Jubilee. When her spouse, her cousin, Albert, died very young she went into prolonged mourning in Scotland, refusing to return to London to do a bit of reigning. She went into seclusion for five years, subsequently forming a very iffy relationship with John Brown, a highlander, who was often squiffy and referred to her as ‘woman’. She did, however, reform the army, in which higher positions had previously been for sale.
Our Queen Elizabeth also came to the throne very young, she was only twenty-five. When I think of myself at twenty-five, I was an idiot. The Queen referring to the vow she had made at twenty-one to serve us all her days, said it had been made ‘in her salad days, when she was green in judgement,’ which is a quote from Cleopatra’s Shakespearian speech from Antony and Cleopatra.
Unlike the first Queen Elizabeth, from the very start our Queen made, she was visible, relatable and present, all round the world. Like all the previous queens of these sceptered isles, she was a woman and a small one at that, in an age when large men ruled the world in general. She did not attempt to rule by fear, by seeming larger than she was, or by being anything other than herself. On the contrary, she did not rule, she was of service, as promised.
She was famously ordinary. We all know she kept her breakfast cereals in Tupperware. We know she fed her dogs herself and we know they got budget supermarket dog food. We know that at grand dinners she had learned to eat very slowly, because you can’t start eating before the monarch and you can’t keep on troughing once the monarch has laid down their knife and fork. She was always served first, of course, and must have enjoyed a lifetime of tepid posh dinners.
We have never heard her complain about Buckingham Palace, even though we know it is draughty, leaking, has dodgy plumbing and is full of rats, which her mother, in the war years, used as target practice in case we got invaded.
As you know from my last posting she had good manners. If you sent her a letter, you got a reply. Countless stories are surfacing now of people who met her and said she made them feel important, she knew all about them.
Unless it was a sad occasion, we saw the Queen smiling. She had a radiant smile, which was kept switched on. She must sometimes have been bored. You have to ask yourself how many native dances you could endure and still look interested. How many troops could you review, who are, after all, identical lines of soldiers. How many ships could you launch, centres you could open, sporting events you could attend and visiting dignitaries you could greet without thinking : Good grief! Another one!
Yet the Queen was always interested and I don’t think I ever once saw her yawning. How do you do that?
Unlike Queen Anne, if the Queen ever had a poorly day, we never knew it. She must have had toothache at some time. Everyone does. We know she avoided sea food at banquets in case, but she must have had gippy tummy at some point, everyone does.
We also know, like every other person on the planet, she had some questionable family members. Her grandmother, Queen Mary of the dolls’ house was famously difficult; there are no photographs of her smiling. Collectors know Queen Mary was prone to admiring items at doll shows, so that you had to give her the item she had admired. Our queen only ever encouraged flowers of which there must have been thousands, if not millions throughout her reign, but she looked delighted at every squashed bunch of daises from every child giving a wobbly curtsey as if they were the first flowers she had ever seen.
Her husband, who was known to be flighty in his earlier years, was famous for making off-colour remarks, but she never joined in, never publicly reprimanded him. Her mother was known for having ordered picnics with a full set table and champagne at a moment’s notice, whereas the Queen was known for a DIY barbeque, bring your own sandwiches.
Her sister, who struggled with not being the monarch, took refuge in all sorts on her own private island, and a glass or several. We only ever heard the Queen support her sister, no matter how difficult the sister was being.
The same courtesy was extended to her own children who are as variable as children can be. They did all the all the things that make you wince such as divorces and attendant publicity but, if she had an opinion, we never heard what it was.
Stories are now surfacing of her contact with politicians. Everyone says how understanding and kind she has been. All the Prime Ministers laud her wisdom and her help in the weekly audiences. She has undoubtedly been our greatest diplomat, and the apolitical, experienced oil we, as a nation, could always pour on troubled waters.
The Queen did it famously when she shook hands with Martin McGuinness, who had been a commander of the IRA who murdered her second cousin, Louis Mountbatten, Prince Philp’s uncle, who had been a much loved uncle and mentor to the then Prince Charles.
Her example of forgiveness, humility, putting others first, humanity, and loving kindness is both a reason to mourn her passing and to rejoice in her life and all she gave us.
This interim between her death and the State funeral is a time for reflection and immense gratitude that the girl who gave the promise when she was only twenty-one, lived up to it her whole life.