She did not change
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.’