Here it is, one random Canadian’s take on the death of Queen Elizabeth.
I have to admit, even having heard on the morning news yesterday that she was “under medical supervision,” I was shook when I found out that she had died. I mean, she was ninety-six. She had seventy years of being Queen. Didn’t it just seem like she was going to live forever?
But Queen Elizabeth was human too. Mortal and, I would think, pretty tired of all that reign. (No disrespect intended by this pun; I like to think she might have politely chuckled or at least agreed.)
As a Canadian, I have of course always been aware of the Royals (and as a youngster I always felt kinda cool and special to have the same first name as Lady Di). My sister had a book about Queen Elizabeth, filled with photos. We admired her wedding dress and her perfectly curled hair and all her matching hat-suit combos (and she was only in her 50s then, so she had many more outfits to go). We have also been known to listen to the Queen’s Christmas address sometimes.
Overall, though, I’ve never been a “royal-watcher.” I mean, I’ve enjoyed watching The Crown and The Queen and so on, knowing of course that movies and TV shows about her can’t be wholly accurate, because she was as private a person as her role allowed her to be. Those stories, even as guesswork-y as they have to be, have been good reminders to the public that Queen Elizabeth was a person. She was a celebrity beyond celebrity, an institution, an icon, AND a woman with kids, pets, a sex drive, secret jokes, a family nickname, and favourite snacks. And a ginormous yoke of responsibility.
Her role couldn’t have been easy. She didn’t ask for it, didn’t expect it, and she got it when she was only 25. Doesn’t it seem unfair that monarchs only get the job right when their predecessors die, leaving them without a mentor? (And sorry, young queen-kiddo, you can never retire. You have to die to get a break.)
Then, the world changed so much, and in so many ways. Her very status as a woman was flipped around underneath her – even though in a way, she was on the cutting edge of that, as a female monarch surrounded by the old boys’ club. Through all the social, political, environmental, and economic changes, she had to be THE example of civilized society. She had to have good manners and and say wise things, and be not just presentable but impeccable.
And she wasn’t supposed to make mistakes or dislike people or speak candidly where anyone could hear it. She was smart and funny, and I’m sure she had many, many thoughts and opinions that she was not able to say aloud. Can you imagine how many times she must have been mansplained to over the years? How many times she must have wanted to just say “Fuck off!” but couldn’t? I shudder to think. Did any of her Royal Tours allow for wandering or soul-searching or experimentation, for her to better understand who Elizabeth really was? (Ha.) And did she ever get to just hang around in her joggers and eat chips? (Uh, crisps.) Did she ever allow herself to drink a bit too much and get loud and silly? Did she get to binge-watch crime dramas on an actual comfy couch (as opposed to a priceless antique settee), or turn up the music and dance around in the kitchen? She probably didn’t even hang out in the kitchen. I don’t know.
Of course I’m not saying that the most privileged person in the world had a bad time of it. I just know that I don’t want to live in a palace or wear matching skirt-suits, ever. I wouldn’t have traded places with her for anything.
And now she’s gone. It still hasn’t sunk in. The death of Queen Elizabeth feels a bit like the loss of a great-grandmother. She made mistakes and was a part of a few notable messes, but she did always feel – from my faraway vantage point – like a benevolent presence, a maternal figure, and a very strong woman.
The older I get, the weirder it seems that the British monarchy still exists. I’ve been envisioning this moment for several years – thinking to myself, Imagine when Queen Elizabeth dies. Then we’ll have a king… That doesn’t seem right.
Because however archaic the whole monarchy thing might be, she made it more palatable in my mind. Now I’m trying to figure out why. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because I saw her as the Queen, not the Monarchy.
The Monarchy is responsible for a lot of extremely dark stuff. Bloodshed that can’t be quantified. Colonization and exploitation and outrageous extravagance. I guess it’s naive and privileged of me to write about Queen Elizabeth as though she were something other than the linchpin of that… but also, she was doing her duty and took her service to her people very seriously. She started out in a very different global time, and she just… kept calm and carried on. For generations. Did what her role asked of her, almost without exception.
When I think that the Commonwealth has a King now… honestly, it’s un-thrilling. Even offensive. I’m not interested in a man’s face on my money; we’ve already had jillions of those. The word “king” makes the antiquated nature of monarchy stick out like Elizabeth’s lime-green ensemble. In a time when we’re starting to see clearly that the patriarchy and colonialism have had their turn and must be dismantled, the king thing just… feels kinda icky.
My non-expert opinion is that the monarchy will be over before many more decades go by. If that’s true, we’re unlikely to have another Queen, considering that after Charles, there’s William and George in line next.
And even if the crown survives another seventy years, will any of those wearing it be able to pull off the grace, humour, and self-possession that Queen Elizabeth maintained right through to the ripe old age of ninety-six?