A truly momentous passing, the Royal Family, Britain, and millions of people around the world are mourning after Queen Elizabeth II died peacefully on Thursday at Balmoral Castle, Scotland. Her passing, at the age of 96, defined a sharply contrasting week of national celebration and grieving in Britain: two days after the Queen appointed Liz Truss of the Conservative Party as the Prime Minister, Charles, the Prince of Wales, and her eldest child, succeeded her. In a rapidly changing world, where she had been a constant presence for seven decades, Elizabeth’s death truly marks the end of a remarkable era in British politics.
In a world convulsed by divisions, tensions, war, and economic turbulence, many global leaders are penning tributes to the Queen. Her successor, King Charles III, said the death of “my cherished mother” is the “greatest sadness for me and all members of my family.” Truss, the third female PM under Elizabeth, described her as “the rock upon which modern Britain was built.”
Tributes to the Queen, born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor on April 21, 1926, flowed from the United States, where she was the first British monarch to address a joint session of the Congress, France, China, Canada, Australia, Nigeria, the European Union, the United Nations, and Sweden. Praise for her lifetime of service to Britain and her people has also come from Belgium, Germany, India, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand, Israel, Jordan, Ukraine, Russia, Kenya, Gabon, and Ghana.
Thousands of mourners gathered at the Buckingham Palace, London, to pay their last respects. They laid flowers, and some wept.
Her 1953 coronation that garnered a 20-million audience was the first event to be transmitted live on television in Britain. That marked the beginning of openness into the monarchy that defined greatly her understanding of a modern world.
Remarkably, her death temporarily united adversaries. The rail sector unions, Royal Mail, Openreach (a BT plc company) engineers, and barristers, who had all declared strikes, called them off. The authorities debated closing schools and declaring a Bank Holiday. Sporting events, including the 10 English Premier League and Championship matches in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, scheduled for the weekend, were postponed.
All this is a testament to her life of unparalleled service that lasted 70 years (1952-2022). In September 2015, she surpassed Queen Victoria (1819-1901) as Britain’s longest serving monarch. As the British Empire waned, she focussed on its successor, the Commonwealth of Nations, a group of 56 nations, mostly former territories of the lapsed empire. A firm believer in its ideals, she was reportedly opposed to PM Margaret Thatcher’s reactionary stance on Apartheid South Africa. She toured all the Commonwealth countries at least once during her tenure, visiting Australia, where she was head of state, 16 times.
Interestingly, Elizabeth was not meant for the throne because her father, Albert, the Duke of York, was the second son to George V, which ruled her out of the succession. But destiny dictated otherwise. George V’s first son, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne because his marriage in 1936 to American Wallis Simpson, a two-time divorcee, was deemed politically and religiously unacceptable.
That changed the course of the British monarchy, allowing Albert to ascend the throne as George VI. The lot then fell on Elizabeth upon her father’s death in 1952. Till her passing, she conducted herself admirably, restoring a great measure of dignity and integrity to the changing institution of monarchy.
Politically, Elizabeth was astute. Despite the monarchy’s diminishing influence, she appointed 15 PMs, starting with Winston Churchill and ending with Truss. She gained respect around the world. The debate on the monarchy in a constitutional democracy will certainly intensify now that she is gone.
As expected, social tensions marked her long era. She described 1992 as her “annus horribilis.” The marriages of two of her children ended in divorce in 1992; it was also the year that the marriage of Prince Charles to Princess Diana began the irreparable journey to divorce. It culminated in the fire disaster at Windsor Castle. The Queen faced criticism for her muted response after the death of Diana in a ghastly auto crash in Paris in 1997.
In 2014, the Scottish referendum put her in a great dilemma. Years earlier, she had pledged, “When I was 21, I pledged my life to the service of our people, and I asked for God’s help to make good that vow. Although that vow was made in my salad days, when I was green in judgement, I do not regret, or retract, one word of it.” Her grandson, Prince Harry, is estranged from the Royal Family after his marriage to Merkel Meghan, relocating with her to the US. Through it all, Elizabeth was universally praised for her stoicism.
Her era also saw the completion of the process of decolonisation, the Cold War, and the nuclear arms race, as well as the emergence of global Islamic terrorism.
Her legacy as a great leader will stand the test of time. She presided over a country that has no written constitution but is a renowned bastion of stable democracy. Elizabeth embodied leadership rectitude, and sustenance of state institutions, even in the face of seismic political changes. On her watch, Britain has become more ethnically diverse and inclusive with many more members of racial minorities breaking through to leadership positions.
Nigeria, which gained independence in 1960, has much to learn from its former colonial overlord. Leadership in Nigeria has failed: public institutions are weak; elections are fraught with manipulations; the wheel of justice is ponderously sluggish and the journey to nationhood is chaotic. An unworkable political system that is destined for fatality is the result and elections only serve as a shadow of democratic success.
This must change; the departed Queen leaves indelible lessons in public service and leadership; Nigeria’s leaders should stop being self-serving, corrupt, and visionless. They should imbibe the ethos of service, and selflessness, and commit themselves to work for the good of the majority. The world will miss Elizabeth II.