Queen Elizabeth II, R.I.P.

God Save the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Reign of Elizabeth II

This fall semester, I am blessed to be able to study abroad at Pembroke College, Cambridge. As a lifelong Anglophile, I was enchanted by the idea of studying at one of England’s iconic ancient universities. My wish has come true at a surprisingly tumultuous time for the United Kingdom. 

The largest conventional military conflict on European soil since World War II has rocked the nation. Rising inflation, a depreciating pound, and an energy crisis have been sapping national morale. A scandal-ridden Boris Johnson, who steered the United Kingdom through Brexit, resigned as prime minister to make way for Liz Truss, whose election was announced the day after I arrived. 

Elizabeth II had been an enduring pillar of stability, grace, and dignity for 70 years.

All of that should prove enough, I thought, to make my semester abroad interesting. After the passing of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, however, I feel fortunate to be in the United Kingdom to witness history, join the nation in mourning, and pay my respects to Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. 

For many around the world, not just Britons, Elizabeth II’s death cuts deeper than one might expect. Elizabeth II had been an enduring pillar of stability, grace, and dignity for 70 years since she acceded to the throne in 1952 at the tender age of 25. Through a disintegrating empire, a transforming nation, and an often- disappointing family, Elizabeth II endured with the quiet resolve and devotion to duty that became her trademark. Elizabeth II inspired countless people as the head of the commonwealth and a cultural icon. So remarkably long and stable was her tenure as monarch that only Britons in at least their late seventies can vividly remember the last time they had a king. 

Perhaps a more profound reason that the Queen’s death has left so many devastated is that her passing brings a sense of something else lost with her. Elizabeth II was among the last, and certainly the most prominent, living links to eras and institutions that were in many ways more admirable than those we know today. The Queen was an earthly reminder that all of us do not need to succumb to the temptations of moral relativism and modern sensibilities, but can instead consciously aspire to something greater and nobler. 

The Queen said it best herself when she gave the first televised royal Christmas Broadcast in 1957:

The trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery. They would have religion thrown aside, morality in personal and public life made meaningless, honesty counted as foolishness and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint. At this critical moment in our history we will certainly lose the trust and respect of the world if we just abandon those fundamental principles which guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country and Commonwealth.

To “build and cherish” positive and lasting institutions like the monarchy, parliamentary government, and the West itself is a beautiful, arduous task that requires a “special kind of courage.” The Queen’s death elicits extra sadness for Britons because of their (our?) fears that one of the last great people with the special courage to undertake and defend that task is no longer with us; we may not see the likes of her again any time soon. 

In the speech she gave in South Africa on her twenty-first birthday in 1947, the Queen pledged to devote her whole life to the “service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” Elizabeth II did just that and more, so she has deservedly laid down her burden, and is hopefully reunited with her beloved Prince Philip.

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About Chris Coffey

Chris Coffey is editor in chief emeritus of the Michigan Review.