,hOn 8 September, 2022 when England lost its Queen, the world’s response was largely one of grief, love and respect. In stark contrast, there were many who took a stoic stance refusing to share in that emotional response, while a few others stayed conflicted. The Queen had been little more than a ceremonial head for the better part of her life.  Seldom seen and heard even less, making all these resurfacing emotions not about the Queen herself, but about an institution she represented by becoming its symbol. 

In his book Beyond Good and Evil, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, ‘One loves ultimately one’s desires, not the thing desired”. There’s no reason for that statement to be constrained only to ‘love and desire’ for it to hold true. The Queen evokes and represents different things to different people and whatever one’s emotions, they stem from something deeper inside the psyche comingled with their personally held beliefs and life experiences.  A fading monarchy, imperialism, a colonial history, a glorious past, stability, continuity, unification are a few things she symbolizes along with the regality of her reign and the pomp of the institution that is called the British Empire. Regardless of what it is, she took that with her. 

As the Queen of England, at the time of her passing at 96 years old, Queen Elizabeth II was the monarch of not just one, but of 15 countries including Canada, Australia and New Zealand among a dozen others. As the Duchess of Edinburgh, Elizabeth wasn’t in the original line of succession to be Queen until her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated his throne to marry a divorcee.  This in turn made her father, the King. When her father King George VI died suddenly in his sleep, Queen Elizabeth went from heir to the throne to the Queen of England at the relatively young age of 26. She assumed the throne as a form of duty towards her people, her country and to God. She carried that responsibility dutifully, faithfully and devotedly through 7 checkered decades marked by world wars, economic depressions, socio-political as well as cultural upheavals, shifting attitudes towards royalty, and the invasively sweeping power of media over her family’s personal lives.

Queen Elizabeth, even from the days of her coronation, rarely drew attention to herself. Her coronation was eclipsed by coverage of the King’s abrupt demise and funeral. There were no daring acts of courage and bravery ascribed to her such as the tales of Rani Laxmibai, nor were there defiant, rousing speeches as the ones from the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. Her style of dressing didn’t make her sassy and sexy enough to be heralded a style icon such as the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly. And unlike her daughter-in-law Princess Diana, the Queen wasn’t known to attract crowds by virtue of her alluring, charming personality. She even didn’t give the paparazzi anything remotely interesting to photograph and gossip about. Not this Queen! She was unremarkable and staid across every realm of life. There is however consensus from those close to her that the Queen was quick-witted and could be quite funny, within protocol of course. 

Armed with that quiet sense of humor, Queen Elizabeth II remained quite neutral, not rocking the boat, not causing waves, always present in the background as a unifying century-long symbol to an institution she promised to serve no matter what, by showing up each day for seventy straight years, keeping the promise she made to her country undeterred, unperturbed, and unassuming until her very end.  Call this Queen anything but unremarkable!

Within hours of news of her death, social media was ablaze with demands revisiting dormant themes of reparations, the return of items to Britain’s once colonized nations, and questioning the relevance and role of a British monarchy in modern times. With his mother’s passing, King Charles recognizes that a curtain has been drawn over an era past and for the monarchy to survive and hold its purpose it must adapt and evolve. As a momentous and drastic step in that direction, the King is said to be giving serious consideration to limiting royal family members to just the direct line of successors. The new King also envisions a strictly public service monarchy – royal family as public servants with public money subject to public accountability. This sends a positive signal to the few more than 40 countries in the world that continue to have monarchy as their form of government. 

Although we tend to view monarchies as archaic, the truth is contemporary societies are a mix of modernity and tradition, and according to Wharton Management Professor Mauro Guillen, “People who live in countries that have a monarchy enjoy higher standards of living than those in republics, precisely because monarchies protect property rights to a greater extent”. 

Not to digress too much from the central subject of the piece, I searched in conclusion for words that might best capture the Queen’s essence, until I encountered her own words made during the broadcast on her 21st birthday to the world, “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service”.  And when she later became queen and people hailed long live the Queen, God listened.


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