Thy Kingdom Come
On the 14th September, six days after the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll, Stuart Millson, Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review, was present at The Mall
On Thursday 8th September, during the course of the afternoon’s broadcasting on news channels, presenters appeared in dark suits and black ties. Meanwhile, at the House of Commons, notes were passed across the despatch boxes – alarm and concern appearing on the faces of politicians of all parties. Reports had stated that HM The Queen, 96 years old and suffering from “mobility problems”, was now “under medical supervision” at Balmoral, the Royal residence in the heart of Scotland, to which all members of her family were now travelling, post-haste. By early evening, 6.30pm, BBC News showed the Union Flag of the United Kingdom being lowered at the Buckingham Palace flagpole – a scene transmitted with no commentary or explanation. Then, the programme’s presenter Huw Edwards, made the announcement that Elizabeth ll had died peacefully that afternoon (although this fact was only later released) – his words being followed by the playing of the National Anthem. Via television and radio, and news alerts to millions of mobile phones, the long, second Elizabethan Age came to its end: the Queen’s first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was born in 1874: the 15th and last Prime Minister of her reign, Liz Truss, in 1974.
Acres of newsprint and hours of broadcast time, online comment and expert constitutional discussion of Her Majesty’s 70-year-reign, have since followed. One common assessment is that “in an age of change, the Queen remained constant” – followed by another, that the late monarch “devoted her life to duty”, in endless Royal tours; the presiding-over and patronage of numerous charities; the hosting of countless foreign leaders and fellow-monarchs; and as the guiding light of the Established Church and the Armed Forces.
The second Elizabethan age, starting with such high hopes and a grand 1953 Coronation March by Sir William Walton (its noble strains arguably distracting us from post-war rationing and the loss of India and the Empire), coincided with decades of “managed decline”, with politicians resigned to the loss of heavy industries and of worldwide influence. Just three years on from the Coronation, Britain was humiliated in the Suez crisis – the then Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, reportedly suffering a nervous breakdown. The first attempt in 1963 to join the embryonic European community met with a dismissive “non” from President De Gaulle. In 1972, the United Kingdom became a member of the Common Market. But subsequently industry was brought to a standstill by union militancy – the public enduring the infamous “three-day week” and existing by candlelight, as the National Grid closed down.
However, national pride was restored by victory in the Falklands War of 1982, a hazardous expedition which many in the political establishment would not have undertaken. And in the Brexit referendum (2016), Britain said “non” to a Common Market that had quietly grown into a European Union,
On the Wednesday following Her Majesty’s death, her funeral cortege left Buckingham Palace for the lying-in-state at Westminster Hall. In the mellow September sunshine of that day, as the crowds filed through from St. James’s Park to the leafy thoroughfare linking Buckingham Palace with Admiralty Arch – their tone and character was reflective but not loud; and their number made up of people from the Home Counties, the home-nations, from the United States and Japan, one felt that something valuable had survived “the age of change”. As the funereal drumbeat from the escorting military band came ever closer; as the gun carriage carrying the Queen’s coffin and crown rolled slowly by – the new King, dressed ceremonially in the uniform of the Royal Air Force, following in its wake – the hearts and emotions of everyone present beat as one. And a strange silence, too, settled as the procession moved out of view.
Can this moment of unity – evident, also on the streets of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, outlive this extraordinary time of heightened emotion and official mourning? The late Queen was the Defender of the Faith and a devout Christian – so, as the flags fly at half-mast and when the Queen is interred behind the battlements of Windsor Castle, a passage from The Lord’s Prayer seems apposite, to wit, “Thy kingdom come…”