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PETER YOUNG: Final farewell to cherished monarch

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Peter Young

ALL eyes were on London yesterday as the state funeral for The Queen took place in majestic style at Westminster Abbey. It has been described as the most spell-binding spectacle in the nation’s recent history. For the British people it was a moment of reverence, sadness and thanksgiving. But it was also a global occasion. The world’s media was captivated by the proceedings, with one commentator calling it an event of “special magnificence the like of which we shall never see again”.

It was the first such funeral in Britain since the one for Sir Winston Churchill in 1965 and the biggest state ceremony since then. It was attended by world leaders, foreign royalty and other dignitaries among 2,000 mourners, and planning had stretched back for years. It also required what has been called the largest and most complex security operation the country has ever undertaken.

The nation effectively came to a standstill on Monday as massive crowds lined the streets and millions watched events unfold on giant screens in public places in cities and towns across the land, while also observing a two-minute silence. Later, The Queen’s coffin was taken to Windsor for a committal service in St George’s Chapel where she was laid to rest.

The momentous events of the past week since The Queen’s death on September 8 have demonstrated Britain’s remarkable capacity for pomp and pageantry that reflected the country’s sense of history. In particular, the display of military precision has been outstanding. Although there had been meticulous advance preparation, putting in to practice such a range of public ceremonies and events so effectively - and providing everything required for the national ceremonial occasions on the day - was a phenomenal achievement. This has been truly awe-inspiring and a triumph of organisation.

The public has been at the centre of the national mourning that has been described as a juxtaposition of splendid pageantry and public homage. It has surely brought out the very best in the Royal Family and the country itself. The lesson already is that there is more that unites than divides the nation. It is being said that what has happened shows that Britain is not the declining power that the liberal elite likes to portray, with agitators and academics often running down their own country and decrying its achievements while claiming Britain has lost its political influence in the world - all of which is manifestly untrue. Moreover, the minority woke activists continue to voice what most people regard as manufactured grievances and anti-British propaganda that only fuels division.

The Queen has been a force for genuine equality, solidarity and unity, by successfully helping to blend the ancient and modern. Her passing has brought together the whole country in a way that reflects her unique ability during the course of her long reign to bind together what was at times a fractious community. As a result, the public’s love of her in return is unsurpassed. Her death has also acted as a force for harmony because, amidst the sorrow over her loss, people are showing their love, respect and admiration for her and gratitude for her life – and, all the while, they are expressing a feeling of pride in their own country. This has included MPs whose warm tributes to her in Parliament were a poignant display showing that, in the words of the Labour Party leader, even in politics there is more that brings people together than divides them.

There has been a growing mood of acceptance that, while people mourn, there should increasingly be an emphasis on thanksgiving. So, while shedding tears, at the same time people are celebrating with joy the Queen’s life and achievements which have been a blessing for the nation. These have inspired the affection and admiration not just of Britons but of millions beyond their shores -- and it seems to be the case that throughout the land and elsewhere in the world more and more people are realising that they are witnessing one of the most remarkable chapters in Britain’s island story.

Perhaps the most significant expression of the remarkable strength of public feeling has been the lying-in-state in Westminster Hall for four days before the funeral. The epic turnout of millions to file past The Queen’s coffin and pay their last respects has been a powerful indication of the depths of the people’s affection. The numbers have been mind-boggling. At its peak, the waiting time was reported to be some 20 hours in a queue that at one stage was well over 5 miles long. But more people kept coming before the coffin was removed early yesterday morning in advance of the funeral.

Meanwhile, inside Westminster Hall the scene was said to be poignant and uplifting in a dignified silence and mood of reflection. Amongst the massive crowds queuing outside for many hours - in some cases braving the overnight cold - there was not only shared sorrow but also a spirit of warm harmony embracing people of all races, ages, faiths and classes. As well as the vigils by members of the Royal Family, this was an unprecedented act of collective grief on a huge scale by people who felt a close affinity with The Queen. Many even said it seemed like losing a family member and they recalled what was said to be the monarch’s own personal mantra that the price of love is grief.

It was heart-warming to watch the King and the new Prince of Wales moving along the lines of people waiting to enter Westminster Hall and greeting and talking to countless numbers of well-wishers. It was notable, too, that, during his visits last week to other parts of the United Kingdom -- Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland -- the King was ready to do walkabouts and meet and greet the people who had gathered to see him. He received a warm welcome in each country and there can be no doubt that the UK has been strengthened as a union despite ongoing moves for another referendum about Scottish independence.

Other members of the Royal Family have also been interacting with the public and many people were delighted to see Princes William and Harry meeting large numbers outside Windsor Castle more than a week ago. Some say this is a new approach by the Royal Family in order to connect more closely with the public – and it is clear that the vast majority welcome it.

The Queen’s passing has not just created a sense of profound sorrow but also a feeling of disorientation. For many, she had been part of their lives forever and was a national treasure. She was a bridgehead between continuity and change while combining tradition and modernity but protecting the timeless values of moderation and tolerance, steadfastness and constancy. She herself, strengthened by her own deep religious faith, always respected other faiths.

On the international front, the extent to which The Queen’s passing has created global reaction and interest is remarkable, though not unexpected. The world’s leaders have flocked to London for her funeral. Reportedly, there are 27 other monarchies in the world. But none comes even close to capturing the global interest and respect enjoyed by the British monarchy.

The overall response to The Queen’s passing speaks volumes for Britain’s standing in the world and its soft power -- the reach of its culture, institutions and influence. The Queen was the nation’s last truly imperial figure but managed to bring unity to the post-imperial world through her dedication to, and leadership of, the Commonwealth. As a voluntary association of 56 countries -- not all of which are former British colonies – this is seen by many as a unique achievement in post-colonial history. She was able to do that by largely staying above politics and moving – in the perceptive words of one observer – ‘unsullied in a world of power ordered by men’.

Many people are now fully realising that, as one long and glorious reign comes to an end, another one begins. A great light in our lives has gone out. But another has been illuminated and the Crown has never looked more secure than it does today. The period of mourning has shown how strong the roots of constitutional monarchy really are. Republicanism seems to be largely invisible and any threat to the concept of nationhood through growing identity politics has diminished. It appears that increasing numbers of Britons value and appreciate the monarchy since they see it as instrumental in binding society together for the benefit of the whole country which supports diversity but is enjoying greater unity than in the past – and the majority regard the recent pomp and ceremony as a source of national pride.

It is said that The Queen never mistook royalty for celebrity. Her emphasis was on virtues like service and duty, responsibility, reserve, civility and modesty, not the vacuous narcissism and self-promotion indulged in by so-called celebrities.

Many believe that King Charles III, who has shown calmness and dignity while in distress at losing his mother, possesses the right qualities to be a successful monarch and that he will respect The Queen’s values. But he has always shown that he is his own man as a visionary with certain ideas – for example, about the environment -- that may once have appeared weird and eccentric but which have now become mainstream.

Certainly, the new King is a good communicator and has a reputation for being proactive. He has already displayed a new authority as a unifier of the nation – and it is clear that he will respect tradition but embrace progress in a new modern Britain with a promising future.

Comments

Alan1 2 weeks, 1 day ago

An excellent article. We are proud of our links with the U.K. and our constitutional monarchy. A stable anchor for our country. Let us give our new King our support in the time ahead.

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