When Queen Elizabeth II dies, who knows how a Brexit-addled Britain might react. She’s ruled now for 65 years; so long that three of her Prime Ministers were born during her rule. That’s why the Palace has a plan (known as “London Bridge”) for announcing her death, “its ceremonial aftermath”, and the ascension of Charles to the throne.
More overwhelming than any of this, though, there will be an almighty psychological reckoning for the kingdom that she leaves behind. The Queen is Britain’s last living link with our former greatness - the nation’s id, its problematic self-regard — which is still defined by our victory in the second world war. One leading historian, who like most people I interviewed for this article declined to be named, stressed that the farewell for this country’s longest-serving monarch will be magnificent. “Oh, she will get everything,” he said. “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes.”
Unlike the US presidency, say, monarchies allow huge passages of time — a century, in some cases — to become entwined with an individual. The second Elizabethan age is likely to be remembered as a reign of uninterrupted national decline, and even, if she lives long enough and Scotland departs the union, as one of disintegration. Life and politics at the end of her rule will be unrecognisable from their grandeur and innocence at its beginning. “We don’t blame her for it,” Philip Ziegler, the historian and royal biographer, told me. “We have declined with her, so to speak.”
This is a great piece, full of interesting details and observations throughout. Like that George V was euthanized in time for the morning paper:
“The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close,” was the final notice issued by George V’s doctor, Lord Dawson, at 9.30pm on the night of 20 January 1936. Not long afterwards, Dawson injected the king with 750mg of morphine and a gram of cocaine — enough to kill him twice over — in order to ease the monarch’s suffering, and to have him expire in time for the printing presses of the Times, which rolled at midnight.
And that radio stations are equipped with a emergency system:
Britain’s commercial radio stations have a network of blue “obit lights”, which is tested once a week and supposed to light up in the event of a national catastrophe. When the news breaks, these lights will start flashing, to alert DJs to switch to the news in the next few minutes and to play inoffensive music in the meantime. Every station, down to hospital radio, has prepared music lists made up of “Mood 2” (sad) or “Mood 1” (saddest) songs to reach for in times of sudden mourning.
They’ve got this planned out to the second…no detail is too small:
It takes 28 minutes at a slow march from the doors of St James’s to the entrance of Westminster Hall.
British royals are buried in lead-lined coffins. Diana’s weighed a quarter of a ton.