The last Elizabethan Age and the end of revered silence
Many will mourn the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, an almost immortal-like figure as most living have never know a world without her. We now turn to the continuity of monarchy under King Charles III. How will monarchy transform under this new sovereign? Will he embody the impartiality and silence of his revered predecessor? Can the ethos of “never complain, never explain” continue for generations to come? Should it?
After fifteen British Prime Ministers, fourteen U.S. Presidents, and five hundred and eighteen days after the death of His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, London Bridge has fallen. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II drew her last breath on 8 September 2022.
Like the predecessor for which she was named, Queen Elizabeth was never supposed to be Queen. In a hurricane of events that surpass Hollywood imagination, Queen Elizabeth’s uncle King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry the love of his life, the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. This catapulted his brother Albert—transformed into King George VI—to the throne. This made King George’s first-born, Princess Elizabeth, his heir presumptive.
Fun fact: if Elizabeth had a younger brother, she never would’ve become queen. Until 2013, royal protocol dictated that all male issue in the immediate family took precedence in the line of succession over their female counterparts, irrespective of birth order. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, as she was eventually known, only had daughters.
As Her Majesty is en route to her final resting place and state funeral plans are underway, it’s not too soon to reflect on the second, and likely last, Elizabethan age. Seven decades in power, ninety-six years in life, there are few people, and fewer leaders, that presided over such an extraordinary transformation of their country. Of the many characteristics for which the Queen will be remembered, chief among them is her silence. Her unwavering commitment to her constitutional impartiality. No one knew what Queen Elizabeth thought. No one knew her opinions, her beliefs, or even her food preferences.
Ostensibly enigmatic, Her Majesty’s reign began in a time of unquestioned authority and entered a world where the populace demands indisputable stands from its leaders. Today, if representatives are too equivocal, or even too reasonable, we punish them accordingly. But this reflects modernity. Queen Elizabeth’s fidelity in bearing witness to history with neutrality, as opposed to creating it with intervention, and the reverence of which that was held, is a relic of an era bygone. It will never, and probably should never, be seen again.
As the sun sets on Her Majesty it rises on a king with opinions that are anything but opaque. King Charles was a staunch environmentalist before it was trending. In 1999 the then-Prince boycotted a state dinner with President Hu Jintao of China and instead met with the Dali Lama. When an anti-immigrant populist wave swept the world in 2016, then-Prince Charles remarked, “all of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s.” Statements open to interpretation of many sentiments, neutrality not one of them.
So, what say the new king for the current state of his kingdom? As the monarchy transitions during a cost-of-living crisis, energy crisis, repeated strikes, and a demand for accountability for their colonial history, it will be interesting to see how silence translates into this new era, with this new Majesty. Speaking on The News Agents podcast, Andrew Marr remarked how Queen Elizabeth was the glue that held the United Kingdom together. That within Mr Marr’s lifetime, Ireland could reunite, and Scotland may become independent.
Only ever slightly, did Queen Elizabeth ever offer opinions on such matters. Her presence so powerful that any seismic shifts to the realms of the United Kingdom would only commence at the conclusion of her reign. Can her son replicate such profound strength in ostensible silence? Can anyone?
After an historic tenure as heir apparent, King Charles inherits a different kingdom from what was bestowed to his mother and an indecipherable legend to lead it. Will the same impartiality, the same silence, offer the same sense of relief and stability to the United Kingdom of 2022, as it did to the United Kingdom of 1952? With all the hereditary privileges Queen Elizabeth bequeathed to King Charles, unquestioned deference wasn’t one of them.
The age of not asking questions, of accepting things as they are because that’s how they’ve always been, is over. And how will King Charles respond? Will he carry on as he has for the past forty years, or will he seek to embody his predecessor and remain neutral, seemingly against instinct? Will his citizens allow him to do so?
Despite her mature age of 96, Queen Elizabeth’s death sent shockwaves of grief throughout world. Yes, one knows cognitively that someone of a certain age is reaching the sunset of their life. However, that only mitigates, not removes, the pain of loss.
A true testament to the test of time, Queen Elizabeth made few public mistakes and learned the lessons accordingly. Her mortal conclusion, the embodiment of a historical transition if there ever was, passes a torch to a son who waited longer than any other to ascend to his destiny. With that torch, it remains to be seen if the leadership exampled will shine a light of stability and continuity or ignite a passion among his citizens for change. In the spirit of the late Queen of which I held great esteem, I will watch as history unfolds, ever so curious to see how it does.