She did not change

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

ON Fe­bru­ary 6, Bri­tain will mark a new mile­stone in its his­tory, but it will be one that could well largely go un­no­ticed and will be gen­er­ally un­marked. On that date, it will have been 65 years since El­iz­a­beth II ac­ceded to the throne, the first time such a num­ber has ever been reached.

On the oc­ca­sion of her Sap­phire Ju­bilee, the words in­scribed around the me­mo­rial planter in Queen Street Gar­dens to cel­e­brate a smaller ju­bilee 40 years ago, seem prophetic: ‘In times where noth­ing stood/ But wors­ened or grew strange/there was one con­stant good/she did not change.’

For a time, it seemed fash­ion­able to mock Larkin’s words, but The Queen’s very con­stancy has forced the de­rid­ers into re­spect­ful si­lence. How proud and pleased her grand­fa­ther, Ge­orge V, would have been that his dy­nasty had passed into such care­ful hands, which have shaped to­day’s monar­chy over such a large per­cent­age of the 100 years since he em­pha­sised his fam­ily’s com­mit­ment to Bri­tain by adopt­ing the name of Wind­sor (page 34).

In that time, and es­pe­cially since Her Majesty’s reign be­gan, Bri­tain has changed be­yond any­thing he could have con­ceived of. The gad­gets and ma­chines we take for granted, from mi­crowaves and com­put­ers to tele­vi­sion, would not have been thought pos­si­ble. Our cities have grown and teem with a much more di­verse pop­u­la­tion. Tra­di­tional Bri­tish in­dus­tries have de­clined and, in their place, the coun­try has achieved pre-em­i­nence in the tech­nol­ogy field. The class sys­tem and sex­ual mores have ir­re­vo­ca­bly changed and we have be­come a more sec­u­lar so­ci­ety.

Poverty on the Vic­to­rian scale is a thing of the dis­tant past and we are liv­ing longer, health­ier lives. Bri­tish in­flu­ence has waned and Theresa May has em­pha­sised that we will no longer seek to ‘re­make the world in our im­age’. Com­mon­wealth and co-op­er­a­tion have re­placed em­pire.

Of The Queen, A. N. Wil­son said ‘she car­ries the past’ as the liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of her an­ces­tors, but she is also clearly cog­nizant of car­ry­ing the fu­ture, too. Ge­orge V was the last Bri­tish monarch to visit Ire­land be­fore vi­o­lent un­rest in the coun­try be­gan, but it was Her Majesty’s quiet dig­nity and hu­mil­ity that helped bring the Trou­bles to a close on her his­toric visit to the repub­lic in 2011.

Al­though she seems im­mutable, The Queen is con­stantly chang­ing how she en­gages with her pub­lic, sub­tle tweaks that speak softly in our ‘look at me’, self­iemad so­ci­ety. She doesn’t seek to share ev­ery as­pect of her life with us, there are no In­sta­gram pic­tures of her ev­ery move, no Face­book likes and dis­likes.

She sim­ply goes about her du­ties, meet­ing mil­lions of peo­ple in the course of her reign, bring­ing joy and ex­cite­ment in her wake. It is surely typ­i­cal of her mod­esty that she doesn’t wish to mark her land­mark ju­bilee in any of­fi­cial way.

Be­side Larkin’s verse is an­other, by Ted Hughes, which per­fectly sums up the debt we owe her for keep­ing the vow she so mov­ingly made on her 21st birth­day to de­vote her whole life to our ser­vice: ‘A soul is a wheel/a na­tion’s a soul/with a crown for a hub/to keep it whole.’

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