Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Queen Mother

From the May 2002 Trumpet Print Edition

One million people lined the streets to witness the passing of the cortege as the body of the centenarian mother of the ruling monarch of the British Commonwealth wound its way from Westminster Abbey to be interred at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, by the side of her husband, George vi.

The media moguls and liberal anti-monarchists who throughout the past decade did all in their power to besmirch the name of the queen and her family were, on this day, denied an audience. For a moment in time, a wave of royalist nostalgia swept Britain and part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Forty-seven countries tuned in to observe the televised funeral service and procession. The organization of the subdued funeral pageantry served as a reminder that on such occasions of state, no one does it like the British.

Of the many words written in eulogy of the Queen Mother, those of author Sarah Bradford seemed to offer the most succinct summary of this probably most-well-known woman in the world: “She was a life-enhancer with a unique ability to communicate pleasure and enjoyment, and to combine it with a sense of dignity and tradition. It is hard to imagine anyone taking her place” (Spectator, April 6).

The Queen Mother is, indeed, irreplaceable in this age of generations born since World War i. With the quieting of the cannon on the western front in Europe at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, the royal houses of Europe largely ceased to bear any influence on their subjects as kings, queens, princes and princesses fled into exile. The one notable exception was Great Britain.

Britain’s king still ruled a vast empire stretching across the seas from the United Kingdom to Canada, to Africa and Australasia, South East Asia, India and the West Indies. The king who ruled this empire at that time, King George v, commanded the respect of his subjects, for we had not yet entered the age of the gutter press, with its vacuous intent of maximizing profits by self-righteously digging up and headlining every tale, true or false, about the royal family’s carnal weaknesses.

The Queen Mother, with her century-long perspective, could look back to remember an empire at its height, and reflect on its descent from the first among all world powers, to a second- and perhaps now third-rank power. She could muse over the progression from leaders of vision such as Disraeli, Churchill and Thatcher, to the currency of a prime minister who, in the words of a different article in that same Spectator issue, “plays statesman the way children play doctors. Above all, she witnessed the complete collapse of national morale and pride in country” (ibid.).

Indeed, she had lived to see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths” (Isa. 3:12). It is this prophecy for our time which, perhaps more than any other, explains why, at the end of this regal lady’s life, “She lived to see the day when the word British was practically an accusation in itself, or a term of abuse” (ibid.).

In reading the many words written in praise of the “Queen Mum,” certain terms are constantly repeated in describing her character: impeccable manners, charm, humor, courage, wit, personality, loyalty, patriotism, a sense of dignity and tradition, and that old British trait, “unflappability.” The shame of our age is that those terms have, over the past two generations, become so unfashionable. The type of character and behavior they describe has largely ceased to exist. The televised image of the British football hooligan has completely replaced that of the gentleman as the archetypical Englishman. A once-great culture has degenerated to the point where, “By the end of her life, the Queen Mother saw her own daughter publicly derided for having displayed the kind of iron self-control and devotion to duty that many British public servants would not be able to manage for half an hour, let alone for a half a century” (ibid.).

Queen Elizabeth ii did not acquire the grace with which she carries out her often burdensome and restrictive duties by a stroke of luck. She is the daughter of a devoted, family-oriented mother. The Queen Mother’s devotion and loyalty to her husband, King George vi, and her respect for his duty to his subjects, the wider, far-flung family of the empire and commonwealth, was evidenced in one singular instance. When requested to consider taking refuge in Canada with the two princesses at the commencement of World War ii, her retort was, “The children won’t go without me. I won’t leave without the king. And the king will never leave.”

Sadly, for the present condition of this world, the Queen Mother is among the last of that stoic breed of British persons with the backbone, evident brains, innate common sense and moral courage which built the mightiest, most benign and beneficial empire this world has ever seen.

With her generation die the values of basic goodness based on the ancient Ten Commandments. That generation was drilled to learn and repeat by rote those fundamental laws that govern man’s relationship with God and humanity. The world is a far less safe, peaceful and happy place without that strength of character.

The Queen Mother’s basic common sense, that of unapologetic realism, led her to clearly see that with the passing of the British Empire went a better mode of civilization: “Not for the Queen Mother any guilt-ridden 1960s-style revisionism about ‘the inherent immorality of colonialism’; throughout her life she believed implicitly that the British Empire was a tremendous force for good and for civilization in the world, and she unapologetically mourned its passing” (Daily Telegraph, March 31).

Some believe the British royal family may gain an upsurge of support following the death of the Queen Mother and the images of the one million who attended the funeral procession in London telecast around the world. Yet, many also thought that America would undergo a religious revival following the events of September 11. It lasted three weeks, then the nation returned to its corrupt and corrupting habits.

It is not in the mind of those intent on burying Britain’s royal heritage to entertain the prospect of its longevity. Indeed, before the spring warms to summer, the spin-doctors will be at it again, beavering away at their cultural denigration of the masses, intent on blinding them to any memory of the values and standards of behavior which shaped an empire, personified in a lady of character which they once simply called, “the Queen Mum.”

“She stood at the pinnacle of this nation’s traditional hierarchy, yet was able to put at their ease, and to talk on terms of easy equality with, people from the humblest walks of life. This paradox of equality within inequality is one that people who see in the monarchy nothing but an indefensible relic of feudalism will never be able to grasp. No wonder some of us have difficulty understanding what we have lost” (op. cit., Spectator).