The magnificent celebration of the life of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch in British history, has come to an end.
She arrived at her final resting place, St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, on Monday. Elizabeth was buried in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, which she had commissioned for her late father in 1962, along with Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, her sister Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
It’s fascinating to note Elizabeth’s side of the family would have never ruled the United Kingdom had it not been for an accident of history. The abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, in Dec. 1936 so he could marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson was the only reason her father ascended to the throne.
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While initially interpreted as a curse by some royal observers, the abdication turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Edward was an eccentric figure who fought with his family and was attracted to scandal, controversy and women. He lacked a proper filter and often blurted out thoughtless opinions at will. One of the worst was his flirtation with pro-Nazi sympathies. He allegedly told a friend, Patrick Balfour, 3rd Baron Kinross, in the 1960s, “I never thought [Adolf] Hitler was such a bad chap.”
George was a notable improvement. He had to overcome nervousness, shyness and stuttering, the latter of which was the subject of the 2010 Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech. He also had some bad personal habits, including heavy smoking – which ultimately led to his passing in 1952.
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At the same time, he and his family became important sources of pride and inspiration during the Second World War. The Royal Family remained in Buckingham Palace even after Nazi Germany started bombing Britain, although they spent most nights at Windsor Castle. They travelled the country and met with soldiers and citizens to help boost morale. They visited munition factories and bomb sites despite the obvious danger in doing so.
George also forged a powerful friendship with Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He wasn’t the monarch’s first choice for this role – that was reserved for Lord Halifax – but he soon became a trusted ally. British historian Robert Rhodes James wrote in A Spirit Undaunted: The Political Role of George VI that the two men developed “the closest personal relationship in modern British history between a monarch and a Prime Minister.” It also helped redefine the relationship between the British monarchy and parliamentary democracy.
Elizabeth absorbed these early lessons learned from her father. But she took them in different directions and became a powerful symbol of public service, honour and dignity.
That’s equally remarkable when you consider that, as Canadian historian Pierre Berton wrote in Maclean’s on April 15, 1953, “Elizabeth II was reared to a simple country existence.” She lived in a world in which faith, family and level-headedness took precedence above all other things.
“Her father was a man who had once told his gardener to stop calling him Your Royal Highness because he was sick of hearing it,” Berton noted. George also “confessed to an acquaintance that he was ‘not palace-minded’ and who had agreed to plunge into the task of inspecting factories on the condition that there wouldn’t be ‘any of that damn red carpet.’”
Her family’s simple country existence was especially clear in this small passage. “When young Elizabeth answered the phone with the words ‘this is royalty speaking,’” the popular historian wrote, “she was given a severe dressing down.”
Elizabeth, to her credit, continued this pattern of being a powerful, well-connected and naturally intelligent commoner-cum-monarch. She enjoyed riding horses, and bred them into champions. She loved her treasured corgis more than most human beings. She didn’t live as opulent a lifestyle as she easily could have. Through it all, there was a down-to-earth quality that was always present in her character.
That’s something her controversial grandson, Prince Harry, clearly didn’t absorb into his less-than-desirable personality. The same goes for his wife, Meghan Markle, a low-level, left-wing Hollywood celebrity who thought she would get everything when she arrived on the scene. She didn’t realize that marrying into the Royal Family is a point of entry – nothing more, nothing less. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are learning this the hard way.
Elizabeth’s other grandson, Prince William, has absorbed elements of his grandmother’s character into his own. He and his wife, Kate, have been impressive throughout this difficult period. When the new Prince and Princess of Wales become King and Queen one day, the institution will be in good hands.
This brings us to King Charles III. For all the concerns and doubts some have had about him, he’s handled this difficult transition to near-perfection. The same goes for Camilla, the Queen Consort. She’s been the model of respect, grace and civility, and the finest addition the Royal Family could have ever hoped for.
If Charles continues to follow tradition and protocol to the letter, his reign could be an unexpectedly impressive one. Let’s hope this unfolds – for his mother, his family, himself and the preservation of the British monarchy.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.
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