Sunday, April 14, 2024

God Save The Queen – Er, The King

I was attending a meeting of The Federalist Society when a text came across my phone with the sad news that the Queen had died. This ardent Republican (in both senses of the word) immediately felt a pang of grief. I understood instinctively that an era was passing. Of course, there would be little, if any, change in the geopolitics of the world, or even in the governance of the United Kingdom, but I knew that an era was passing nonetheless.

A few moments later the speaker at the lectern announced that the Queen had died. She did not say that Queen Elizabeth II had died. That was not necessary- the forty or so Americans in the room immediately understood that THE Queen had died. Indeed, they probably could not have named another reigning queen if their lives depended on it, and this was an educated group of lawyers and law professors. Americans in the 21st Century, two hundred and forty-six years after the declaration of independence from Great Britain, are still captivated by the British royal family and the Queen in particular.

Elizabeth II became queen on February 6, 1952. Of all the known monarchs in world history, only Louis XIV of France ruled longer, and then only because his father died when he was all of four years old. (Elizabeth became queen when she was twenty-five.) If one counts Louis’ reign as beginning when he was actually crowned king at age fifteen, then Elizabeth II becomes the longest reigning monarch anywhere, ever, at just over seventy and a half years on the job.

To put this length of time in perspective, she outlasted fourteen prime ministers of the United Kingdom (from Winston Churchill to Boris Johnson), and had installed the fifteenth, Liz Truss, just days before she died. (How’s that for job dedication?) Harry Truman was president when she became queen; Joseph Stalin still ruled the benighted Soviet Union; Mao Zedong had begun his misrule of China just a few years earlier. Only about thirteen percent of the current population of the U. K. was even born when she ascended to the throne. Quite a feat, I think we would all agree.

But her reign should not be judged only by its longevity, certainly. She was always there for her subjects: The severe post-war privations, the Cold War, the dissolution of the empire, the Suez Crisis, the Northern Ireland Troubles, Brexit, the immense social and technological changes, and the royal family’s own missteps, scandals, and tragedies. Through it all, she ruled with a grace and subtle firmness which was fueled by a sense of duty and devotion to the institution of the monarchy and the people of the United Kingdom.

Throughout her reign, she was the epitome of the values and graces of a bygone age, and that was her most important contribution to the world at large. Dignity, honor, elegance, selflessness, devotion, honesty, piety, and an ever-so-subtle and kind-hearted wit: Our world is sorely in need of these traits now, but they are very rarely on offer from world leaders. Only the Queen possessed them all, in spades. She was an exemplar of what we in our increasingly depraved world could be like if we only insisted on being better, kinder versions of ourselves. That is surely her greatest legacy to us.

“King Charles III.” When I first heard the announcement of the regnal name that Prince Charles had chosen, it grated on my ear. In retrospect, I think I was actually somewhat offended at this ‘slight’ to the Queen. My first thoughts were, in order: Wasn’t Charles I beheaded in the mid-Seventeenth Century, after losing a civil war? And wasn’t his son, Charles II, forced into exile for nearly a decade to avoid the same fate?

Why would any British monarch take that name? He could just as easily have chosen one of his middle names. (I looked them up- he could have used Philip, Arthur, or George, his grandfather’s regnal name.) Then for some strange reason I tried to recall in my mind’s eye the image of a King Charles Spaniel. Would the breed now become wildly popular? It was, after all, made fashionable by Charles II. Oh, well…

I was startled back to reality by the voice of Prince… er, King Charles, coming over the TV monitor in the lobby of my hotel. He was delivering his first address as king. As I looked up several of the hotel staff rushed by me to hear him speak. It was a brief, heartfelt speech by a son grieving over the loss of his mother. Considering her long and eminently successful reign, he has a tough act to follow, but for the sake of the U.K. and the world, I hope he pulls it off.

God save THE King!