With the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, we witnessed history. For most here today, all we have known is The Queen! Suddenly to realise that she is no longer with us comes as a bit of a shock even though of course she had been frail for some time.
It was Winston Churchill, her first ever Prime Minister, who said that she will be the founder of a second Elizabethan era. Having reigned for seventy years, the era has become exactly that. She was, when alive, the only Head of State world-wide, to have worn a Second World War uniform, serving in that conflict when only a girl. She was, naturally, of that previous generation to take the matters of obligation, service, and duty to heart. She believed in those old, but honoured virtues. During her reign there were many times of extraordinary stress, family scandals and disappointments. The year 1992 she described as annus horribilus – meaning a horrible year. Who of us cannot forget an elderly lady suffering alone when inspecting the aftermath of the burning of her beloved Windsor Castle on the 20th November 1992. And then there was the funeral of her husband of 74 years in April 2021, sitting alone because of necessity in Westminster Abby. How sad and how cruel it was. She did it without complaint. In her oath taken 2nd June 1953 she pledged, “The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.” And what did she promise in her Coronation Oath? Among many things, was to serve the people and “to maintain the Law of God and the true profession of the Gospel”. She took her oath seriously. As a dedicated Christian her title of “Defender of the Faith”” meant to her more than just mere words. It was a promise.
William Shakespeare from his “Twelve Night” said “some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them”. The Queen had greatness thrust upon her.
What dramatically intervened in her life was the Constitutional crises involving Edward the Prince of Wales and Mrs Wallis Simpson. The affair ended in controversy when Edward, the king, abdicated in 1936. This meant that his younger brother George had the throne forced on him, a role he had not preferred to have inherited.
The King did not enjoy good health and underwent an operation and afterwards appeared though weak, fitter. His illness, however, continued and it was obvious he was dying of cancer. At this time Princess Elizabeth and the Duke had two young children, Charles and Anne. For a number of months the King prevailed. On the 31st January 1951 the King waved goodbye to his daughter and son-in-law from the London Airport. They were off on a tour of East Africa. In the small hours of 6th February 1952 the King died.
The young couple were enjoying a stay at a hunting lodge, a wedding present from the inhabitants of Kenya, when the news of the death of her father, was received. She had planned to move on to Australia and New Zealand, but she immediately drafted apologies herself. One vital chore she had, as now monarch, was to declare as Queen, how she would be known. Her full name is Elizabeth Alexandra May. Her title would now be Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland.
The Queen developed a delightful sense of humour and surely it was needed in times of difficultly. This is in contrast to King Philip II of Spain, as recorded by historians, who laughed but twice in his life. I am not sure when he did so, but I do not think it was because of the Armada. That was during the reign of another Elizabeth. Who can forget of recent times Her Majesty’s afternoon tea with Paddington Bear or her entrance to the London Olympics with James Bond in 2012 descending to the arena from a helicopter.
She recognised a higher power which gave her humbleness. One is reminded of a young Queen Victoria. When attending a performance of Handel’s Messiah, she was informed that she was not obliged to stand when the Hallelujah Chorus was sung. When The King of Kings was being performed, Queen Victoria rose from her seat and stood head bowed during the rest of the chorus.
When the term “Queen” was used world-wide all knew to which Queen it was referred, even though there are other queens in the world. Her passing had not just affected her loyal subjects in Great Britain and the Commonwealth, but throughout the world.
I have never seen such pouring out of grief or seen such huge respect given to one person and may I suggest we will never see the same ever again. Oh, how much more can be said of this amazing woman?
I must add her connection to Tasmania. She first arrived here when only a young lady. She had accepted awesome responsibilities in February 1954 by visiting her realm of Tasmania which included the opening of the Tasmanian Parliament on the 22nd of that month. She was accompanied by her husband the Duke of Edinburgh. She and Philip arrived Saturday 20th February 1954 on the royal yacht, Gothic and were received by a royal salute of 21 guns from the Queen’s Domain. The itinerary for the royal couple was relentless. First was the unveiling of the sesquicentenary memorial on the historic site of Hunter Island. The memorial was erected to commemorate the foundation of Hobart under Colonel David Collins in February 1804. Names of all those who arrived with him are carried on its reverse side and later included those who arrived with Lieutenant John Bowen RN at Risdon in September 1803. Then on the Monday it was the opening of Parliament followed by an investiture at Government House. Later it was a State-wide visit to many centres, flying from Tasmania on the 25th from Launceston airport for Melbourne. It was an exhausting programme and one wonders how a young lady endured it physically. She was an incredible woman.
Her Majesty visited our island State eight times, the last in the year 2000, visiting both Hobart and Launceston.
Her success lay in her ability to be apolitical, a talent she had during her reign. Her son, Charles, while being a Prince has spoken on various issues which have political overtones. For him to be a successful monarch, like his mother, he too will have to stay away from providing political opinions. This he has recognised, stating that being a King is a different role from that of a being a Prince.
Now her reign is over and it will be hard to follow. It will be a challenge to fill her very successful shoes. We hope and give our blessing to the new king, Charles III.
So how can we sum up her reign? Well, it was so pleasing that she enjoyed her platinum jubilee not long before her passing. She proved to be the longest reigning British Monarch, just one of the many records she broke. Her service is a reminder that the monarchy has endured and the monarchy stands at the apex of our system of constitutional law. Her reign prompted a new awareness for our young people, looking for stability and endurance. In any sense of a word, her time as monarch was an outstanding success.
As a monarch who believed most strongly that a higher Monarch reigned over her and that she was but a servant of the Most High, she gave her life to that knowledge. May the Lord welcome her with those immortal words recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, “Well done thou good and faithful servant”.