The end of an era for all of us

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Lower Manhattan as seen from a porthole. September, 11, 2022.

Monday, September 12, 2022. I felt compelled to write something about the Queen. Of course everybody and their Aunt Hattie is writing something about the lady. It’s a rich subject. Tina Brown gave her the final send-off with her elegant piece in yesterday’s New York Times.


It is a subject right now that can get anybody’s interest. Furthermore her image remains intact in our consciousness, and undoubtedly will. Her last public gesture of getting up from what was soon to be her deathbed to pay greetings to Liz Truss, the new Prime Minister, was her role to the last breath. And with the charm of her bravery. That moment was her last message to all of us! The graciousness of her smile in extending her hand said it all.

The Queen receiving Liz Truss at Balmoral Castle just a few days ago. @theroyalfamily

For most of my life, my interest in Queen Elizabeth was entirely historical almost in the academic sense. I respect the subject, especially of previous times and centuries. Over the last several years, however, she’d taken my curiosity more. I’d come to see her as not just the Queen of England, but a light of survival of this civilization of ours. Our peacemaker with ourselves. Our last hope.

I know that seems naïve, and actually is, since I am merely a citizen and an observer. And all I really know about her role as Queen is what we all see, that which is presented to us —usually little more than her shaking a hand and that gracious smile.

When I first saw an ungracious smile (in the press of course), it might have begun with the death of Diana. It was then that she learned (we later learned) something about the powerful importance of Diana’s death openly expressed by the entire world. Her own relationship with Diana was, naturally, much more personal. The Queen, after all, was a mother-in-law, and of an important son in her scheme of things.

Diana’s coffin borne through the streets of London on its way to Westminster Abbey.

Whatever it was, I’d come to see her in a different light. Obviously, she’s not an important individual in my personal life. But what I was seeing was a woman who actually had no real legal political power, and yet presented a natural image of a woman with great power. Like a great Mother. This time, for not only the British people, but also for the world. She was a woman of her time in these great changing times, re-defining the role of the woman in this world of ours.

In my lifetime and in the lifetimes of the generations that came before, the woman’s role was mainly to stand back. Victoria had power and she exercised it but she didn’t expose herself to the crowds; she didn’t like being out there among the people. Elizabeth was the last Queen of a world power in a world of changing roles. It reminds me of her “work” as a young teenage volunteer in World War 2 where she learned to be a mechanic and working with the people.

The then Queen, and behind her, Princess Elizabeth talking to paratroopers preparing for D-Day, 19 May 1944.

In thinking about her, I’m reminded of the Queen Mother. I never met the Queen Mother although I have known a number of people who knew her including three who actually worked for her in the palace: the footmen. Those whom I met were all then working in private homes in New York and Beverly Hills, having graduated from service for the Royal Family.

The Queen Mother, by Richard Stone, 1986.

The most popular member of the Royal Family who came up in conversation was always, with an affectionate humor, The Queen Mother.

One of my favorite anecdotes I learned from a man in the service of friends of mine in Beverly Hills, was how genial and friendly the Queen Mother was with her staff. There was a now off-told incident when the Queen Mother sent one of the footmen to collect the jewels she would be wearing at a dinner that evening. When he got off the lift beset in shiny stones and sparkle, and she saw he was wearing them all, the Queen Mum openly feigning dismay said: “Give me those; those are for a real Queen.”

A good laugh was had by all. Remember this is the Mother the Queen was born to.

The Queen Mother arrives! June 1961. Courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

She was a woman who liked people and liked the social life of being a Queen. She was from a  prominent family, not royal, but as a young woman she was popular in London Society. She was fond of David, then Prince of Wales, then Edward VIII. Like others, she lost out to Mrs. Simpson, the American divorcee.

However, Elizabeth had married David’s younger brother, who would replace his older brother on the throne after he abdicated. Her first born child was given her name. Elizabeth would be The Queen for more than a century in the history of the UK.

When George VI died, and his daughter was now the Queen, her mother was concerned that she herself would lose the experience of being a “real” queen to others. She liked the title, and all that came with it. And she liked wearing it. Comfortably. She always had the real power in her sense of self.  It was no accident that they created a new title for her, a first: The Queen Mother. Thank you.

Her effect on her daughters’ lives was typical where there are sisters and one is bestowed with a “specialness” that can’t be bought or shared with the other. Toward the end of their lives — Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother — there were times when they’d go up to the Queen Mum’s country residence at Windsor on weekends, along with several of the boys (footmen). And they’d have a Saturday evening of drinks with Margaret playing the piano surrounded by the boys singing (and drinking) and a good time was had by all. Real lives among the monarchs.

Her Majesty The Queen’s coffin arriving at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where it rest in the Throne Room until today. @theroyalfamily

It was the end of an era for all of us. King Charles III as he will now be known, at least formally, has finally come into the reason he’s been the Prince of Wales longer than any previous PoW. He’s always been an interesting character to this would-be historian because we’re of the same generation and I have watched him waiting all his life. I’ve even had the privilege of watching him host a black tie dinner and concert at Buckingham Palace.

His Majesty The King addressing the Nation and the Commonwealth: “Queen Elizabeth’s was a life well lived; a promise with destiny kept and she is mourned most deeply in her passing. That promise of lifelong service I renew to you all today.”

He could have gone off and made a separate life for himself, but that is exempt powerful tradition and Charles did not have that. His mother’s Uncle David, the Duke of Windsor, did that and look where it got him: excluded and de-privileged.

But Charles clearly has stick-to-it-iveness and has hung in there to succeed his late great mother, the most powerful woman in the world in terms of goodness. He has arrived at his heritage when the world is amidst uncertainty and fear. His life has been challenging since childhood. He was well cared for but he did not have a great mother in the Motherly Department. That is not uncommon amongst us humanoids although it is frequently challenging for the child. And Charles’ life was never going to be an ordinary one, and no doubt the challenges will continue for the man.

King Charles’ London is already dramatically different from all previous monarchs. Because the world is dramatically different. It’s notable to Londoners as now being filled with foreigners from all those lands that were once acquired/ conquered/taken over by the British. Back then. Now we’re in the Now.

And with the loss of the great Queen, we await the work and effect of The Heir. The image has begun:

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