Judging from the picture, they were truly married. They enjoyed their ups and downs, their public roles, their private life, and the winding road of family life and children. In short, they were human. That is why Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, died last week. He was of that same stuff that keeps kings and commoners on the same footing.
When I see the photo I see more than an institution, I see a husband and wife, and I see some joy over what looks like a pedestrian picnic likely in the Scottish highlands where they could escape and be a couple for just a little while. The Queen will now be alone, and those next in line to the throne will be practising their coronation speeches, as the Queen is in her nineties and likely not much longer on this earth.
Seeing the Queen sitting all alone makes me remember the frailty of my own bereaved mother. Queen Elizabeth is around the age my mother would have been had she lived, and she represents a link to a British history that is fading away rather rapidly. I heard God Save the Queen played on the radio today and wondered that Philip, the Queen’s husband was as much bound by that reality as anybody else. He had to venerate the Crown as an institution, embodied in the role and duties of his spouse, and he had to learn to be good with it even when not.
There is little understanding of the value of a constitutional monarchy these days. Mostly the colonies are crying out for emancipation. Trudeau has recently opined that now is “not the time” for the Monarchy be done away with in Canada, while suggesting by its very mention, that it IS. Perhaps it is wishful thinking on his part. The sovereign though symbolic, judges the viability of the head of state. The crown evaluates whether the leader is just, based on whether he or she reflects the will of the people. The Crown’s overview is therefore, a necessary antidote to despots. It ensures democracies remain democratic.
The Queen’s representative is the Governor General, a role that has sunk to new lows in Canada. The past few have been polished up not for what they did or how they did it, but because of their gender, and their politics. Sadly, a generation of kids have little knowledge of Runnymede, or the Magna Carta that was formed there. Our civil liberties are being eaten away on a daily basis and no one seems to be wringing their hands, much less understanding what can be done about it.
When the time comes, I will mourn the Queen more than Philip because it will mean the end of something. The Queen has filled her role in a respectable and dignified manner. She is a smart woman, and she has understood how to use her role in a way that would serve the commonwealth, and sustain those things which need to be sustained for the sake of us all.
I have at times scratched my head over the idea of a Queen. I grew up gazing at the her figure looming over the classroom, and I had to stand and sing in her honour every morning as a loyal Canadian citizen and British subject. I understand more now, why this was a good arrangement. We were standing for a hierarchy of ideas that starts with better and best, and ends with God. This hierarchy is the locus of order because it reinforces the virtues of loyalty and duty, and the value of tradition. It looks beyond the individual, to the greater good. Instead, we now have statue-topplers, who celebrate tearing down culture while lacking any understanding of how to build it back up again.
Looking at the coming lineup, I am not so sure. Judging from Harry and Meghan, they will grasp at cheap celebrity that to their mind is on par with or better than royalty. They will have their photo ops and their moments of symbolic virtue, but they will not know why, and they will not know what is is all for. They think it is for them, and that is why they are misguided and will not be much remembered.
But I think on some level Philip got it. The Queen definitely does. When she goes the world will be a darker and more evil place, and something special will have vanished, the lynch pin that held things together with some stability for a very long time. I cannot remember a time without the Queen, and it gives me pause about the duration of things. They can last a lifetime and still not be enough.
What comes next, I don’t know, but I will say, God save the Queen. I expect she is feeling particularly human today, laying her lifelong companion to rest. God save the Queen, and God save us all. If he won’t I am not sure who will. The list of worthy candidates dwindles daily.