Saturday 30 September 2023

The late Queen died one year and 22 days ago

Telegraph obituaries are the best, wonderfully funny and intentionally the nearest modern equivalent to John Aubrey's Brief Lives, one of my favourite books.

I suppose I read the Daily Telegraph obituary of Queen Elizabeth II or did I? I am reading it now anyway and thought these passages were interesting. 

I knew but had forgotten that Prince Philip was born in a house with the same name as many bungalows in the English home counties, Mon Repos. 

He had wanted his children to bear his name, of course, but to be the House of Edinburgh rather than the House of Mountbatten. I regret that this did not happen.

The future Queen Elizabeth II was born at 17 Bruton Street, off Berkeley Square, the five-storey London house of the Duchess of York’s parents, the 14th Earl of Strathmore and his wife. The child’s parents were then living at White Lodge, Richmond Park, a draughty, neglected royal residence without adequate heating or plumbing, too near London for privacy, too far for convenience. Nor was a maternity home thought suitable for the birth of a princess.

Even a generation later her father, who by then had succeeded to the throne as George VI, declined to undergo an operation on which his life depended except in the familiar but far from aseptic rooms of Buckingham Palace. Pressed by doctors and surgeons to change his mind, he declared: “I have never heard of a king going to a hospital before.”


The illusion was sustained by the Coronation on June 2 1953, a day of sacred ceremonial and medieval pageantry seen on television by 20 million of her subjects. Later that year she became the first reigning sovereign to circumnavigate the globe, scarcely ever needing to set foot outside her own territories. It seemed irresistible to cast the radiant young Queen as Gloriana and to proclaim her heritage the Second Elizabethan Age.

In retrospect the notion seems as insubstantial as the tinsel finery of the Festival of Britain that in 1951 had parodied the solid commercial enterprise of the Great Exhibition a century earlier.

Only when she was 60 did she cease to celebrate her “official” birthday by riding through the capital at the head of her Household Troops – a dazzling panoply of scarlet, blue and gold, of bearskins and plumes and cuirasses. Whatever economies Parliament imposed on her, she retained at her command a Master of the Horse and a Mistress of the Robes, a Clerk of the Closet and a Yeoman Bed Hanger, a Lord High Almoner and a Poet Laureate, two Gold Sticks, a Serjeant Surgeon, several apothecaries, chaplains galore and a coroner.

The Speaker of the Commons, Selwyn Lloyd, wrote in his diary that at a diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace the Queen told him how much she disliked the government’s restrictions on immigration [the Immigration Act 1971] that had affected a member of her staff. “I told the prime minister just what I thought,” she confided. Nor did the Queen warm to Heath’s pursuit of European union or his clumsy handling of trade union disputes.


The Queen was even obliged to entertain Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds – before his divorce had been settled – on his 2019 visit to Balmoral, on the grounds that she might appear old-fashioned if she did not.

When a household official apologised on the morning after a state banquet that it was difficult to keep the food hot when using gold plates, the Queen replied: “My guests come here not for hot food but to eat off gold plate.”

During one state visit to France, she happened to mention to her hosts in the Louvre that she had never seen the Mona Lisa. Within minutes, two attendants staggered in with the picture, which they exhibited on bended knees.

And as she stood beside Queen Frederica of the Hellenes while a Communist mob bayed at her outside Covent Garden, she murmured to her guest: “I thought this sort of thing only happened in the Balkans.”

No comments:

Post a Comment