It was a moment long anticipated, but nevertheless, when it came, it was a profound shock. The House was listening to the statement on energy price support measures when Members’ smartphones, set to silent, started vibrating. Everyone’s attention focused on the newsflash: the Queen’s doctors were concerned for her health and members of the Royal Family were travelling to Balmoral to be with her.
At 6:30 pm, it was announced that she had died.
Two days later, the Commons began two full days of tributes to Elizabeth II. The speeches varied in tone, but many Members remarked that, for most of us, it was impossible to remember a time when the Queen was not there.
When she was born in 1926, it was thought a remote possibility that she would ever accede to the throne. Her uncle David, later to become Edward VIII, was still a young, single man. The likelihood was that he would marry and have children, and Elizabeth’s prospects of becoming Queen would be extinguished.
Then came the abdication, when the very institution of the monarchy was thrown into doubt. Her father, the Duke of York, succeeded his brother and steadied the ship. His health, however, was poor and Elizabeth, at the age of 25, ascended the throne.
Her 70-year reign was not only the longest, but one of the most momentous in our history. The British Empire evolved into the Commonwealth, the greatest association of liberal democracies in the world. The Cold War ended with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Domestically, the face of the United Kingdom was transformed by immigration from all quarters of the globe. Social norms and attitudes changed in the 1960s and have continued to change.
It is now a very different world from 1952.
Throughout all the upheaval, hers was a continuous, reassuring presence. She had a rare, innate ability to generate affection, respect and loyalty – not only from the people of this country, but from countless millions throughout the Commonwealth and beyond. Hers was the most recognised face on the planet, and she will be missed not only here, but in other lands across the world—even in the few countries she never visited during her long reign.
At the time of her platinum jubilee, the BBC broadcast a remarkable documentary called “Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen”, part-narrated by the Queen herself. In it, she spoke the following words of an Australian aboriginal proverb:
“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through.
“Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love.
“And then we return home.”
While most of us will feel the deepest grief at her passing, we must find comfort in knowing that the Queen, strong in the Christian faith that sustained her throughout her life, has returned home and is at peace.
God bless her lovely memory.
God save the King.