Queen Elizabeth worked until the end, fulfilling her vows and earning love and respect
She once consoled Americans when we were at our most vulnerable, “Grief is the price we pay for love,” when we had just lost 2,000 of our countrymen and women on 9/11. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II earned our love, and now we grieve for the United Kingdom’s immense loss. Hers was a life that left an indelible mark on an era.
As an American writer and commentator who has studied and chronicled Elizabeth II for decades, not a week has gone by when I have not turned over in my mind what I would say in this column about her death. Of course, I never wanted to write it, but even a monarch is mortal. Yet, the lessons and example of her life will live on in perpetuity. And in our troubling and divisive times, we need that example more than ever.
Few people alive can remember a time before Elizabeth held the throne. From Winston Churchill to Liz Truss at 10 Downing Street. From Big Band through whatever is the music of this era. From the birth of jet travel to civilian moon landings. Through all this time, she presided as Queen. But it isn’t just her longevity and, until recently, robust health that made Elizabeth so beloved. It was her unique personal qualities and commitment to her role that resonated with people around the globe.
Her enduring presence reassured us all, British or not; with her on the throne, all was well. Her death, though inevitable, nevertheless comes as a shock.
Because we have no constitutional monarchy in the United States, we may feel affection and admiration for the departed Queen, but most Americans will never comprehend the emotional bond those throughout her realm felt for their sovereign. Part of this is owing to the way the British constitution endows the institution of monarchy, and part of this is thanks to the personal qualities of the Queen as a person. To grasp this fully, consider that with no monarch in whose name to fight, U.S. soldiers fight for the flag and country. But in Britain, they fight in the name of a person for whom they felt a profound connection.
For Britons and the Commonwealth countries attached to monarchy, the bond to the Queen was far more profound than that felt for a politician or mere celebrity. A constitutional monarch embodies the nation and — in a difficult-to-grasp way — is the nation. Queen Elizabeth sat above politics. She unified and built strong bonds with her people, referencing early on “the great Imperial family to which we all belong.”
While she was sometimes criticized for not expressing opinions, this was the Queen’s genius. For, while Her Majesty unquestionably held strong opinions on issues of sovereignty, such as Brexit, and nationalism, such as for Scotland, the fact that she kept these thoughts to herself meant that she could stand for whatever people wanted — and against nothing that they did not want.
Politicians invariably offend the part of the nation that disagrees with them, but not in the case of Elizabeth II.
Most profoundly, Elizabeth was so beloved because she was so admirable. Seemingly never ruffled, she kept calm and carried on (and inspired us to do likewise) through wars, pandemics,
recessions, deaths of loved ones; she even worked until the day before she died, welcoming the new prime minister — her 16 and last — Liz Truss to form a government in her name.
Confronted with the reality of what has just transpired, millions of people, fearful of uncertainty after 70 years of steady predictability, are contemplating what comes next. Fortunately for them, the British constitution and Queen Elizabeth have forged a blueprint so that there will be no instability or unrest. That is the magic of the British system. Unwritten though their constitution might be, convention and tradition keep things on track — and have done so, with only a few blips, back to Norman times.
Queen Elizabeth was wholly dedicated with every fiber of her being to fulfilling the expectations of the constitution, which meant for her to plan well into her time beyond this earth. In the end, the woman anointed before God under canopy in Westminster Abbey, during a moment so sacred the television cameras filming were required to turn away, remained practical, dutiful and conscientious to the end, ensuring her place in our hearts. How splendid she was. May she enjoy her well-deserved eternal rest. The Queen is dead. God save the king!
Lee Cohen, a senior fellow of the Bow Group and the Bruges Group, was adviser on Great Britain to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus. Follow him on Twitter @LeeLeesco3.