“When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future”.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Think on this! In my now long life of over six decades until last night I had known only one head of state, Her Gracious Britannic Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. No state, let alone a democracy, can say that. At 1935 hours on September 8th, 2022 that changed and King Charles III immediately ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom and thirteen other states around the world. Apart from the interregnum between 1649 and 1660 there has been an unbroken chain of succession to the English throne since the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Elder died in AD 924. In over seventy years on the throne Her Majesty oversaw fifteen British prime ministers and thirteen US presidents, but what was her influence on the international stage?
Influence is the word. As a constitutional monarch Elizabeth II had no formal role in the conduct of British foreign and security policy. However, as Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth, and Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces (and many others), she had an unrivalled network of influence the world-over which she used for the betterment of all. Her first prime minister and early tutor was none other than Winston Churchill in 1952. His power years were the war years, they were also her formative years during which she trained as a mechanic as 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor of the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service. She remained an under-stated ‘mechanic’ of world affairs thereafter, quietly and patiently fixing things as part of her unrivalled devotion to duty.
She was also the rock upon which the British people leaned during seventy years of the most profound transition from imperial power to a modern European democracy. As prime ministers struggled too often inconsistently with the politics of post-imperial decline she was the constant that ensured stability in a state and nation undergoing perhaps the greatest change since the 1066 Norman Conquest.
It was that continuity that not only enabled her to exert influence but helped preserve British influence. She both charmed world leaders at the height of their respective powers and offered her increasingly deep understanding of world affairs in equal measure, with her under-stated but powerful insights. Her weekly meetings with her prime ministers were not simply formal events for the them to inform Her Majesty of their policies and decisions, but a unique moment in Britain’s constitution when she would offer steadfast and wise advice born of her experience.
At times of war, such as during the Falklands Conflict in 1982, she was the embodiment of the nation. Her armed forces fought for each other, the country, but above all in Her Majesty’s name. This ensured not only a sense of historic continuity but also the vital separation between force, church and state. Indeed, as Head of the Church of England she had profound influence over the Anglican and Episcopalian community the world over. However, perhaps her most direct influence on world affairs was as the Head of the Commonwealth. Born of Empire by the 1990s the Commonwealth had morphed into an influence network of now 56 nations of which Britain is but one. That the Commonwealth has endured owes much to Her Majesty and it is that legacy which is perhaps the one of which she was most proud, and rightly so.
Her commitment to duty was matched by a sense of humour that could be both wry and sharp. Her “Good evening, Mr Bond”, ‘parachute jump’ into the 2012 Olympic stadium with James Bond (actor Daniel Craig) and her Platinum Jubilee tea with Paddington Bear revealed a capacity for fun she retained throughout her life. It is something she took from her late and revered father, King George VI.
To conclude this tribute to my former Queen and Head of State let me recount the tale of my first meeting with Her Majesty. In the early 1960s my parents were watching a polo match at Smith’s Lawn in Windsor Great Park. As befitted the five year old me I had wandered off to talk to the horses whilst my parents talked to grown-ups. As equally befitted the five year old me I decided to push the odd boundary by putting my hand inside a horse’s mouth. One of my earliest memories is of this very nice lady telling me that it was perhaps not a particularly good idea… and my parents rushing over and then standing erect in Her Majesty’s presence. I have been putting my hand in the horse’s mouth pretty much ever since?
Steadfast, strong and wise. Thank you, your Majesty. Rest in Peace.
God Save the King!