The global outpouring of grief for Queen Elizabeth II is a testament to her, but also to the system that she so carefully tended - says Daniel Johnson for the Telegraph.
Perhaps no public figure in history has ever elicited such a sense of loss around the world on her death as Queen Elizabeth II. In the United States, with the exception of the churlish New York Times, the reaction has been overwhelming. The President ordered all flags to fly at half-mast until her funeral. The French state’s response has been equally impressive. Yet neither Joe Biden nor Emmanuel Macron is a conspicuous Anglophile.
It is the same story everywhere. In India, now governed by Hindu nationalists who detest the legacy of British rule, today is a day of official – and heartfelt – mourning for the late Queen. Even in Russia, Vladimir Putin has sent condolences to “Karl III” for the death of “Elizaveta II” (though she saw through the Russian despot as soon as she met him, long before most world leaders).
The fact that this universally beloved, almost superhuman focus of respect and reverence happens to have been not only a woman of flesh and blood, but our dear, familiar Queen, is a mystery to those who despise Britain. Yet that enigma offers clues to the future of our monarchy and our country.
It is unquestionably true that the Queen had extraordinary, unprecedented personal qualities that, in her inimitable humanity and selfless constancy, transcended anything the world had seen before in a hereditary monarch. Nobody before her had even imagined that anyone in her position, especially a reigning Queen, could become so accessible, so likeable, so lovable.
Almost as soon as she succeeded her shy and reticent father, Elizabeth set about reinventing the public image of the institution she had inherited. With growing confidence and, by sheer force of personality, she created the means to achieve her ends: the Christmas broadcasts and other uses of the new medium of television; the royal tours, visits and walkabouts; her international profile, especially in the Commonwealth.
Her jubilees grew to become vast in scale, as did the global audiences for royal weddings and funerals. She never put a foot wrong, but she was never afraid of innovation. By the end, she was even engaging in online events and miniature comedy sketches.
The late Queen was anything but a revolutionary, yet the metamorphosis of the monarchy that took place in her 70 years on the throne demonstrates her grasp of the conservative principle encapsulated in Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
And change they did, while always preserving the essentials. In his address on Friday, the King pledged himself “to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation”. He did not need to spell out those principles, because everyone knows how they work.
In the past few days, however, a dangerous narrative has emerged on the anti-monarchist, unpatriotic Left. Queen Elizabeth, they suggest, was indeed loved, but all she did was to mask Britain’s decline. Without her to provide the window dressing, the system will be exposed as hollow and the monarchy will soon be swept away.
This story comforts those in the woke camp who hate everything about our country. That it is nonsense is, however, already being demonstrated by the evidently genuine enthusiasm for the King and Queen, as well as for the new Prince and Princess of Wales.
We are mourning the late Queen as a nation, as indeed we should: nobody deserved it more. Many of us will miss her for the rest of our lives.
Yet already, even as we prepare for what will surely be the most widely watched funeral in history, one senses a rising anticipation and excitement about the King, his coronation and the bright future it portends. The second Elizabethan age, with all its glories, may be drawing to a close, but we may already discern on the horizon a new Carolingian renaissance.
So we should ignore the siren songs of those who praise Queen Elizabeth only to denigrate the institution and the country she loved and for which she gave her entire life. The King and his “dear Mama” should not be played off against each other: Queen and Prince were complementary.
Now, as monarch, the King knows he must put his campaigns and eccentricities behind him. He will remain strictly above politics, just as she did. He can leave “leading the national conversation” to the Prince of Wales, for better or worse.
The deep affection in which the late Queen is held is, of course, shared throughout the free world. To the woke, it may seem paradoxical that she should be so cherished by so many former peoples of the British Empire, which had during her father George VI’s reign still been the largest in history.
But there is no paradox. In Queen Elizabeth, the 2.5 billion inhabitants of the Commonwealth and billions more elsewhere saw a figure who symbolised their own aspirations for liberty under the law. In his address to the nation, the new King pledged to cherish “the precious traditions, freedoms and responsibilities of our unique history and our system of parliamentary government”.
Most of humanity loved the Queen because she stood for all these things. Her successor, son and heir will do the same.
Britain’s cultural influence has always exceeded its economic or military power. This year’s Global Soft Power Index ranks the UK second, behind the US, but ahead of Germany, China and Japan.
For 70 years, Queen Elizabeth has been our secret weapon in diplomacy, ensuring that Britain has maintained its prestige through all the vicissitudes of recent decades. Yet her unique achievement was not solely due to her greatness of spirit, still less an accident of celebrity. The system of which she was the apex is the culmination of more than a thousand years of history.
The British Crown has been immeasurably strengthened by our noble Queen’s example. In the capable hands of King Charles III, however, the monarchy will survive her death and, like the kingdom which it unites, flourish for innumerable generations to come.
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President Biden at his desk sending his condolences