It has barely been three weeks since September 6th, when a rumpled Prime Minister Johnson arrived at the Balmoral Castle gates to hand in his card at 11 a.m. In quick succession, he was followed by the tight-skirted Truss. It was a long morning for our Queen, and for those watching with concern – seeing the Queen holding onto a stick with one hand while smiling and extending the other used and bruised hand, to Liz Truss. The Queen’s head looking large on her diminished frame, her nose pinched – straining for air – while no amount of lipstick covered the cyanosis of her lips. Tuesday was a brave day. Barely 48 hours later the Queen died as she had lived, in service to her nation. The heavens opened, pouring down their tears and we are still grieving.
Accompanied by The Princess Royal and her husband Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Queen’s coffin slowly made its way south to London to lie in state at Westminster Hall where over two hundred and fifty thousand people from all walks of life filed past to pay their respects and say ‘Thank you Ma’am for your service’. Did she cover all the bases? One could, if one chose, fault her for some family issues, but not on duty to her country as she saw it; honoring and hosting state and national moments or those small engagements around the country. The late Queen Mary was paraphrased as saying ‘We are the Royal Family and we love Infrastructure.’ We all feel a little stronger and stand a little straighter, when someone else shows interest and gratitude for what we do.
The Saturday after the Queen’s death I wove my way behind Piccadilly through the lines of police vans parked all around St. James’ Square, then down the stairs behind that Palace to enter The Mall that felt like the nave of a giant cathedral. There was a quietness in this crowd, many carrying flowers and leading children, that was to last for days all across the country. People walked along the pavements to Buckingham Palace, sometimes with a pause as King Charles III and the Queen Consort were driven in and out of those palaces, Buckingham and St. James’. They were back and forth all afternoon and one hoped that they got at least 15 minutes for a sit-down cup of tea. The Autumn skies tossed grey and white clouds over the park trees, but the rain stayed hidden behind them.
What does it mean for a young girl to take a vow to follow a life that was chosen for her rather than she chose? It happens in all walks of life, people are lucky if they get to live their dreams. It takes an effort and strong will to turn your given path into your chosen one. The Queen embraced her role until she could relish it and turn it to her desiring.
There are fewer of us alive now who remember Queen Elizabeth’s coronation than who will remember her death and funeral. John Galsworthy wrote in the Forsythe Saga at the death of Queen Victoria. “We shan’t see the like of her again”. But now we have this Elizabeth was our Queen for 70 years. Even in death, the Queen managed something that the government could not – as the Transport Unions and the Royal Mail held off their strikes until next month.
At the announcement of the Queen’s death, all the television stations began airing their programs that they had been building for this moment. Planning for the Queen’s funeral had begun when she turned 79. All the news Broadcasters wore black. Huw Edwards, the senior news anchor man at the BBC – and he a Welshman – allowed himself to show some emotion. Those who wished to see the films, the footage, forever repeated could do so. It was like a huge family album of our family, our Queen, for as she vowed to give her life, be it long or short, to our service, she did – and we claimed her and the family as our own, rejoicing in the good times and fussing at the bad. The television stations played ten full days of coverage, back and forth with all the joys and the horrors replayed over and over again, probing into a life lived in the spotlight of her public, her people. The new King’s state and public greetings and meetings were followed in flashy detail. The pageantry and processions built like gentle love-making to the climax as the coffin was carried from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. Giving his address from the pulpit of the Abbey – Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury – looked down across the nave at the congregation seated below. He spoke of our collective grief, the Queen’s abiding Christian faith, and service to duty, and then let out his zinger: “People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer.”
The service over, it was on to Wellington Arch where the coffin was transferred to the royal Hearse then driven slowly on through Hyde Park to join the A 30 road to Windsor. Just as she had begun her journey from Balmoral through the countryside of Scotland now she returned to the farms and lanes of Berkshire.
The flags at all the royal residences flew at half-mast until the day after the State Funeral when the official period of public mourning ended. The Royal family and some of us will continue as long as we need.
In our little London garden is a David Austin Queen Elizabeth rose – still blooming in autumn. My mother bought it after my father died when she had to start a new life in her new home. Now it is with us. The same rose was among the flowers on the Queen’s coffin – in remembrance of things past but not forgotten.
This has been A Letter from A. Broad, written and read for you by Muriel Murch.