The Daily Telegraph
Cherish the continuity amid great change
As King Charles III addressed the nation last night, it was with a warm understanding of what his people yearned to hear: fierce love and sharp grief for Queen Elizabeth II; profound understanding of his now awesome responsibility; an expression of the firm faith that will guide him and a solemn dedication to the duty that is now his.
But he also eloquently expressed what such dedication can bring, venerating “the precious traditions, freedoms and responsibilities of our unique history and our system of parliamentary government” and the foundation they provide the country. His Majesty spoke, too, of how our “abiding love of tradition” can be wedded to a “fearless embrace of progress” to make us prosper and flourish, even as our values “have remained, and must remain, constant”. In doing so, his words provided the comfort, calm and confidence for which his mother was long celebrated.
Because it has been a week without parallel. A change of government. Above all the death of a monarch and head of state so beloved and so enduring that the nation she reigned over for so long can scarcely believe that she has gone. Who could fail to excuse that nation a moment of disorientation as the earth moves under its feet, and the certainties of the past are replaced in ways as yet unfamiliar?
Yet, of course, there is no disorientation. Even as millions of Britons mourn the loss of their late Queen, they welcome their King. The pageantry and tradition for which this island nation is famous, and of which we will see so much in the coming days, will like all great ritual make plain the most intangible of concepts: succession, duty, crown and country. We will take comfort in that.
We should remember, too, that this pageantry is no mere stage show, played out for the benefit of cameras beaming their pictures live around the world, to audiences who perhaps cannot quite explain why they feel such a connection to a land where many will never have set foot. Rather, such ritual is a vital expression of a constitution not written in some dusty, sacred text, but living and breathing and shaped every day by those who inhabit its great offices: palace, Parliament, people.
That is why, weep as we most certainly will for a Queen who made a vow as a young woman to dedicate her whole life to her role and made good the promise, the coming weeks are also a glorious reminder that the country she led is as steadfast as she. Fortified and buttressed by an unrivalled sense of identity, anchored as no other nation by history, geography, time and the monarchy itself, Britons can take confidence in what elsewhere might have proved a moment of self-doubt.
The very act of succession, in its stability and assuredness, is an enviable badge of that confidence, an ever-greater blessing in an ever-less certain world, and the final gift, in a life that gave so much, of Queen Elizabeth II to her people. Perhaps that is why the world tunes in from afar, to see what endurance, constancy and cohesion look like.
If those who mourn here need any convincing, they only need examine the tributes paid from around the world. They only need to listen, for example, to the words of France’s President Macron, who spoke of the late Queen’s “courage to uphold from one century to the next the values of freedom and tenacity” and summed up her universal significance thus: “To you she was your Queen. To us she was the Queen.”
Similar expressions of admiration came from across the globe revealing, in the words of President Biden, “a personal and immediate connection” – not just with her, or the monarchy, but through her the country whose dignity, strength and fortitude she so personified. In their appreciation that she was a head of state of unique genius and devotion, such tributes also acknowledge the unique genius of our founding principles and institutions. They are right to do so.
For those principles and institutions allow for continuity amid change, two values which nations struggle ever harder to yoke together. In the next 96 years, as King Charles suggested, those states which best manage to twin the virtues of each, never letting one submerge the other, neither tolerating ossification nor revolution, will be those that prosper.
For without stability, what is innovation? Without purpose, what is prosperity? And without fortitude, what is freedom? Our most cherished principles are given true meaning by the character of the country that stands behind them. And nothing so sums up that character as the person of the late Queen.
Perhaps that is why the former prime minister, Boris Johnson, whose departure from office precipitated Queen Elizabeth’s last public appearance, called her “the figurehead of our entire system, the keystone in the vast arch of the British state”, whose “indomitable spirit created the modern constitutional monarchy, an institution so strong and so happy and so well understood, not just in this country but in the Commonwealth and around the world, that the succession has already seamlessly taken place”.
A country that can bid such an irreplaceable, inspirational and loved figure goodbye with neither tremor nor tantrum, fear nor enfeeblement, is a country that can face the future with confidence and pride. It is days like these, paradoxically, that remind the people of this great nation that we are fortunate indeed.