Rare among my countrymen, I love America. I love its open spaces and great cities; I love much of its culture and its music (I am a bluegrass aficionado). I love its founding in the Revolution and the consummation of the truth of that founding in the Civil War; I read National Review and prefer baseball to cricket.
Unlike the great National Review writer Charles C.W.Cooke, I could not take up its citizenship and give up my status as a subject of the King, however. Even suggesting the idea is odd to my ears and to my heart. My whole life and that of my parents has been as loyal subjects to our Sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth. Singing God Save the King will take a lot of getting used to.
There are many places one could turn for a detailed narrative of a Queen who has reigned for over a quarter of the lifespan of the United States of America. I wish to focus instead on the response of the British people to her death (and the accession of King Charles III).
When something is “positively mediaeval” or someone “goes medieval,” it is not generally seen as a good thing. We assume it means barbaric, violent or reactionary. The British people’s reaction to the death of our Queen, however, has been if not mediaeval then at least premodern. Everywhere King Charles goes, in all parts of his kingdom, he meets with spontaneous shouts of, “God save the King!” or “Long live the King!” or “God bless your Majesty!” A woman outside Buckingham Palace kissed his hand.
This sort of display is not, shall we say, typical in British public life. It encompasses emotions and ideas that seem out of place in our world: loyalty, deference, respect, self-effacement, patriotism, and love. Indeed, the King promised at the start of his reign that he would serve his people with “loyalty, respect and love.”
To use the word “love” in public is beautiful and should be done more. Yet I cannot conceive of it being used outside of the Royal Family. Our loyalty to his mother has transferred seamlessly to the King, who has not always been the most popular person with the British public (though consistently more popular than most politicians).
The Most Watched Event in Human History
The queues to visit Queen Elizabeth’s lying in state wound on for over twenty-four hours at times. At one point a queue to join the queue—how British is that? At every point in the journey of her earthly remains from Balmoral in the highlands of Scotland, to her burial in the George VI Chapel at St George’s, Windsor, crowds gathered.
Religion was at the forefront. She lay first in Crathie Kirk, guarded by her ghillies. Her coffin was moved to St Giles’s Cathedral in Edinburgh then passed across the border and into Westminster Great Hall, then across the street to Westminster Abbey. There her life was commemorated in the same way as at any other Anglican funeral, albeit on a bigger scale and with better music. Her final rest lay in the chapel of the castle she knew as home.
How wonderous that the most watched event in human history was a Christian service. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave an unequivocal statement of the truth of our faith: ”Christ rose from the dead and offers life to all, abundant life now and life with God in eternity.” Elizabeth’s faith is a matter of public record but as with so many of the best people in this world, her actions and choices spoke much louder than her words.
After the Funeral
One of the hardest things I have ever had to do was telling my eight year old daughter that the Queen had died. She does not understand that constitutional monarchy bequeaths us a non-partisan head of state who is a uniquely unifying figure, that the sovereign’s role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England allows our nation to be a model of religious tolerance and pluralism. We are protected against totalitarianism by a sacral monarchy, not because of the limited power that monarchy has, but because of the space which its presence denies to the power-hungry. We are connected to our past, all the way back to the dark ages, by a human being not an object. Faith and family are foregrounded in our national life.
She understands none of this. She only knew that the Queen was dead.
And we wept.
After the funeral, there was nothing I could do but proclaim my loyalty to the King. Yet her loss felt real then in a way it did not on the night when it was announced. For those of us who share the faith of Her Late Majesty, the loss is not dullness and void, however. It is sadness, to be sure, but tempered by the knowledge that she has come into her eternal reward as a good and faithful servant. As the Dean of Windsor said,
Go forth upon thy journey from this world,
O Christian soul;
In the name of God the Father Almighty who created thee;
In the name of Jesus Christ who suffered for thee;
In the name of the Holy Spirit who strengtheneth thee.
In communion with the blessèd saints,
and aided by Angels and Archangels,
and all the armies of the heavenly host,
may thy portion this day be in peace,
and thy dwelling in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Elizabeth is the model for Christian princes upon the earth. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
God save the King.