In a radio address on her 21st birthday, the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, told her listeners: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service… But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your
support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”
She was not to know then how long would be her life, an extraordinary 96 years, but her resolution as a young woman was fulfilled as Queen: she did indeed give her life to our service and she was indeed supported by her subjects. Her life was lived out in fulfilment of her vow, and the promises she made at her coronation. She is gone now but we who lived during her reign are fortunate to have had as head of state and queen a woman whose sense of duty was steady and unwavering.
In this and other ways she kept alive the values of the generation to which she belonged. She was a living link with a very different world.
She was taught about her role by her grandmother, Queen Mary, as well as her father, the king. In her stoicism and her dignity she embodied qualities which are different from those valued now, but people of all ages nonetheless recognised and valued her authenticity. She was from the generation which weathered the hardships and losses of war — she herself joined the Auxilary Territorial Service as a driver — and the stoicism of that tough cohort marked both her and her husband, Prince Philip. And yet she did her best to adapt to changing times; during the Covid pandemic, she responded with warmth and empathy to those affected by the crisis.
Sustained by faith
Certainly she had a life of great privilege associated with the role she inherited, but that role was not always easy. Her marriage to Prince Philip, her “rock”, was a source of great strength, but it had its difficulties; the divorces of her children caused her pain.
And yet, sustained by her Christian faith, she continued to fulfil her role. And that role was not just ceremonial. Her function entailed advising and warning successive prime ministers; many of them have paid tribute to the Queen’s wisdom and her qualities as a listener and questioner, aided by long experience. Her first prime minister was Winston Churchill; her last Liz Truss. Almost her last act as monarch was to bid farewell to Boris Johnson and to welcome her 15th prime minister.
By simply living so long, she gave the nation and much of the Commonwealth a subliminal sense of security, a protective carapace of continuity. While governments came and went, and society changed beyod recognition, people had a reassuring sense that while the Queen continued to reign, all was well. The Queen’s death was hardly unexpected, but it is still shocking.
The nation is now, to a quite extraordinary extent, united in grief, but it is grief mixed with gratitude to have been blessed with such a monarch. The national anthem is a prayer — “God save our gracious queen; Long live our noble queen” — and it was answered in Elizabeth II.