Millions of words have flowed in conventional and social media since Queen Elizabeth II died at age 96 on Sept. 8. Her funeral was yesterday at Westminster Abbey.
Coverage of her death and assumption of the crown by King Charles II has seemed smooth, efficient and appropriate. The new king has performed magnificently on the world stage, ever dutiful to memorializing his mother.
For nearly two weeks, I have paid scant attention to inflation, global warming and Russian aggression in Ukraine. I have immersed myself in the unending ceremony, pageantry and substance surrounding the exquisite handoff of the British throne from a monarch who served as a symbol of stability for 70 years to her 73-year-old son, who served his apprenticeship loyally and patiently.
I might have been guilty of seeking an escape from the Washington political muck. In fact, I freely admit it.
I am aware that British royalty is considered archaic. I am aware that a segment of British citizenry views the monarchy a wasteful expense. I realize the Commonwealth ruled by Queen Elizabeth II tolerated horrendous treatment of British subjects throughout the world. The Queen exhibited little emotion in performing her public duties. If the television series, “The Crown,” is even partially true, she was a mother who raised her four children with little warmth and empathy. She ceded parenting to her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Still, I respected the Queen. I found the rigid traditions surrounding her role as the monarch magical. Nearly 11 years ago, when my daughters and I visited London, my oldest daughter arranged a private tour of Buckingham Palace. The Queen and family were spending their winter holiday in Sandringham. To raise money for restoration of Windsor Castle wrecked by a fire, the Queen opened Buckingham Place to small groups of 30 at a hefty price.
My daughters and I loved the privately guided tour. We could envision the Queen’s living space, including a secret door behind a bookcase that enabled her to escape visitors. We saw the room where she bestowed honors and awards. The huge, elaborately furnished palace was a home and workplace at the same time. Her lifestyle was rich in entrenched ritual, exquisite art and incredible wealth.
Despite her love of horses, dogs, hunting and Balmoral Castle in her beloved Scotland, she found her duties endless and consuming as she walked a tightrope of responsibility and sensibility, while quietly enjoying the prerogatives of the rich and famous. Unlike most of us, she rarely could escape the spotlight. She also endured her share of family dysfunction and objectionable behavior, as manifested by her children.
During the past two weeks, British civility has been on full display. For me, it is has been in sharp relief from the United States, where our democracy has faced frontal attacks by election deniers who are systematically trying to corrupt our election process. Media coverage of the Queen’s death and the consequent grieving in the United Kingdom have provided me a two-week mental-well-being vacation, one that I have enjoyed immensely.
Discordant life will return to Britain. Liz Truss, the new prime minister, will generate criticism from her political opponents. British inflation will continue to disrupt the lives of British citizens. And King Charles III will experience missteps as his royal honeymoon will have a short shelf life.
Does royalty matter in modern times? Probably not. But it does matter in Great Britain. It is part of the culture. It is an anchor, a source of tradition, an example of service above self. That works for me.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.