I am a true child of the Elizabethan era. You may well be, too.
The late Queen’s reign was just four years old when I was born. I vividly remember outdoor primary school assemblies in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Every week, even in winter, we stood to attention for the anthem - back in the days when we still sang “God save the Queen”.
I clearly remember the photo of the Queen in the office of my high school and in public halls where my friends and I would attend children’s clubs. I’ve seen various versions of that photo regularly throughout my life. It’s only now that I realise how many of those photos there must have been, spread across the land and the nations of the Commonwealth.
A similar photo hung on the wall of a civic centre in Oxfordshire as, in middle age, I took my citizenship test and was accepted as a British citizen. I’m proud to be a citizen of two of the most blessed and forward-looking nations on earth, both of which owe a great debt to the Queen.
Earlier this year, I lost my much-beloved mother. Thinking about her now, I feel sure she was inspired and influenced by a monarch who was just a few years older than herself. As a young woman, my mother lost her own mum to cancer. She became the rock of reliance for her younger sisters and brother. I wonder now who she turned to in her moments of uncertainty. Who were her role models? She was by nature a very private person, so who did she go to for advice?
Perhaps, in some way, the distant Queen offered a model of resilience under pressure, having lost her father not long before. If indeed my mother took a few cues from the Queen, she was among millions of others the world over who did the same.
As for countless others, the Queen has been a presence throughout my life, an enduring symbol. Of continuity, yes, but more than that. She also stood for hope, resilience and commitment to service. Am I a monarchist? I suppose I am, but I’m an Elizabethan monarchist. I believe in the monarchy as Elizabeth II represented it.
Though she ascended the throne in the dying days of the British Empire, she quickly realised that this was a ship that had already sailed. Yet she believed that Britain still had a major role among the nations and that it might do this via the Commonwealth. If there was one public cause dear to the Queen’s heart, this was it. Through it, she proved herself a statesperson of note.
The Queen played her role as constitutional monarch very well indeed. We saw her as being apart from the political fray while still holding a steady hand to the tiller of the ship of state. We know very little of her stance on government policies. I think we can be sure, though, that the 14 prime ministers who met with her on a weekly basis knew if she was “not amused” by certain decisions they’d made. (Her fifteenth British prime minister met her just once - this week.)
On those occasions when the Queen very privately disagreed with British policy - for example, on its refusal to sanction apartheid South Africa - she would ensure that things were slightly different at Commonwealth level. It’s revelatory to read about some of her behind-the-scenes actions - and non-actions - which led to change on issues she cared about.
Historians will judge the Queen's record-breaking reign by events. We will remember her in our hearts. How many times in the past few hours have we heard phrases like “mother of the nation” used to describe her?
In 2015, when Elizabeth II became Britain’s longest-serving monarch, a Sky poll suggested that 70 per cent of Brits believed their country should retain its monarchy “forever”. This was probably in no small part because of people’s love for the Queen. A pre-Jubilee YouGov survey found that she was “liked” by 75 per cent of the population. (She was “disliked” by just nine per cent and only 13 per cent were “indifferent” toward her.)
Of course, time will tell whether the monarchy remains a popular, or even tolerated institution. If does not, it will not be because Britain has not seen the best it has to offer.
There have been times when this nation - and others for whom the Queen was head of state - has had reason to complain about “the royals”. But with the possible exception of events immediately following the death of Princess Diana, as far as we know the Queen was not a party to the causes for complaint. Instead, she played the peacemaker role while still fiercely protective of the monarchy.
The affection people feel is a response to personal qualities as much as professional attributes. For me, the most important was meekness. I know, it’s not a quality much talked about these days. It wasn’t even popular when the Queen started out - partly because the word meekness is often misunderstood.
It does not refer to weakness, either of character or ability. Just the opposite: it speaks of controlled strength. It’s about the ability to recognise that even our greatest strengths must be surrendered to something greater than ourselves. Her Majesty, it seems to me, understood that even as Queen she needed to surrender the authority this gave her, both to God and to public service.
Unlike many of her predecessors, the Queen saw people not as her subjects but as citizens and fellow human beings to whom she owed a debt of service. She saw her role as one of stewardship, not just of an institution but of the best interests of her fellow travellers through life.
“The meek shall inherit the earth,” said Christ. The Queen is proof of that, for she has won hearts across the globe. Even Russia’s President Putin, who is certainly not on friendly terms with the British right now, paid tribute to her. The Queen has done this, though, without allowing herself to become “anybody’s doormat”. She has shown humility and selflessness alongside strength. That is meekness.
That the Queen has been for so long the object of public affection is a testament to her personal resilience and resolve, plus her sense of public duty, sustained by her faith. She always saw her role as a vocation rather than a profession. She will be remembered not just for the position she held, but for the person she was. Elizabeth the Great.