As jubilee flags and bunting flutter in the summer sunshine as they did in previous jubilees, maybe we should reflect on a life dedicated to our service. The period leading up to this one has not been easy for our Queen. Her husband died and she was forced to sit alone at his funeral on a day when government officials partied, Barbados rejected Her as its Queen, her grandson left the Firm and appeared with Oprah Winfrey in an infamous TV interview, she caught Covid and two Royal visits to the Caribbean were marred by republican demonstrations and demands for apologies and reparations for slavery.
Meanwhile, for the enduring business of the Crown and Commonwealth, it was business as usual. On May 19, the Queen’s Baton Relay reached St Vincent and the Grenadines as the conclusion of its journey to all 72 Commonwealth nations and territories, bringing cultures and communities together in the lead up to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, which takes place from 28 July to 8 August. It is that togetherness and common purpose which the Queen has represented and sought to promote since before her coronation.
Her Majesty has made plain that the countries of the Caribbean hold a special place in Her heart, visiting personally in 1953. 1966, 1975, 1977, 1983, 1985, 1994, 2002, and 2009. She takes her responsibilities as Queen of overseas realms and as Head of the Commonwealth, very seriously.
The world is very different from 1952, though, and in spite of with its advances it is torn with division and injustice, the solving of which have been constant themes of Her Majesty’s speeches from her Accession onwards. These expressions of her core beliefs, based on deep faith, include the unity of peoples expressed as family, peace, freedom, justice, common purpose and an emphasis on youth and building for the future.
These days, however, duty has been replaced by accountability, an inculcation of honour with an assumption of amorality and a culture of modern blame confused with an assumed legacy of ancient guilt.
It is understandable, though unforgivable, that there are some people in Britain who regard the Queen as theirs alone, plus some outside who also think this is so. For the Queen, however, nowhere that, and no one who, has Her as Queen has any more of Her service or affection than any other. Similarly, the Commonwealth does not belong to the Queen, but the Queen most certainly belongs to the Commonwealth.
On her 21st birthday she promised to dedicate Her life to the service of Her people of the Dominions and the Commonwealth her whole life: “If we all go forward together with an unwavering faith, a high courage, and a quiet heart, we shall be able to make of this ancient commonwealth, which we all love so dearly, an even grander thing – more free, more prosperous, more happy and a more powerful influence for good in the world – than it has been in the greatest days of our forefathers.”
Following the death of George VI, Her Majesty spoke to Parliament of her determination to follow her father’s example of devotion to the service of His peoples throughout the world: “I pray that with the blessing of Almighty God I may, ever justify your trust, and that, aided by your counsel and sustained by the strength of the affection of My peoples, I may uphold the ideals that My Father set before Me of peace, freedom and the happiness of the great family of which I am now the Head.”
When she first became Queen, she described the Commonwealth as an “entirely new conception” built on friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peace: “To that new conception of an equal partnership of nations and races, I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my life.”
In 1952 She compared the Commonwealth to a family, which can be a great power for good: “A force which I believe can be of immeasurable benefit to all humanity” and described it as an “entirely new conception” built on friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peace. “To that new conception of an equal partnership of nations and races, I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my life,” she pledged.
Later, at the time of her coronation, she spoke of the vast regions and varied peoples “to whom I owe my duty” and the living strength and majesty of the Commonwealth and Empire; of societies old and new, “Of lands and races different in history and origins but all, by God’s Will, united in spirit and in aim.”
She also spoke of living principles to be cherished and practiced, parliamentary institutions, which she praised for their free speech and respect for the rights of minorities, and the inspiration of a broad tolerance in thought and expression. “All this we conceive to be a precious part of our way of life and outlook,” she said.
She always referred to the past as the foundation and context of a living present and a future that we must all be active in building for the benefit of all people. She is the template for us all in her tireless devotion to duty already 36 years after retirement age.
She has not only worked hard, but has put duty to her peoples and the Commonwealth above any personal consideration. In 1961, when after being cautioned not to visit to Ghana where there was civil unrest, re said: “How silly I should look if I was scared to visit Ghana and then [Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev went and had a good reception.” Elizabeth also told her prime minister, “I am not a film star. I am the head of the Commonwealth — and I am paid to face any risks that may be involved. Nor do I say this lightly. Do not forget that I have three children.”
Her Christmas speech of 1975 is particularly relevant today. She referred to great impersonal forces beyond our control, of brutal and senseless violence, and, above all, “the whole fabric of our lives” threatened by inflation, the “frightening sickness” of the world today as then.
For some, Her Majesty is a remote figure of wealth and privilege. For others a lady who would have loved to have just raised horses on a quiet farm a long way from celebrity and power. For others she is the cornerstone of Constitutions and defender of our democracy and freedom. She is, for certain, someone has given her life for her people around the world and for those high principles to which the rest of us refer from a distance. She is the living embodiment of the best of us and if we do not recognise that and cherish her service, maybe we never deserved it.