And with her death, a volume of world history closes.
Queen Elizabeth II has died, and an era has ended. Several eras, actually, all transited by the life of an earnest little girl called Lilibet by the tiny handful of people who truly knew and truly loved her.
It was a life apart, a life of service, and on its last full day she stood to shake the hand of and confer her blessing upon the elected leader of her nation and people.
In the Second World War, when her father was on the throne and his capital was under attack, she wore coveralls and fixed trucks, reporting for duty like countless other daughters of Britain. She was then a favorite of Winston Churchill and had been since her birth, and would similarly know and counsel with the next 15 of her nation’s prime ministers.
After the war, in a wedding to her cousin, she wore the jewels and the crown of her kingdom and her heritage, an interwoven community of royals where every crowned head on the continent and beyond was a relative by blood or marriage. She was beautiful and resplendent and her consort, born prince of Greece and Denmark, was her visual match – tall and regal and bedecked with naval medals he had actually earned.
They were the model for every Disney princess and every Prince Charming. They were the sweethearts of the world, and she was a monarch for the ages who straddled the ages. Raised in the circle of a kingly grandfather who collected stamps and shot hundreds of pheasants most days, she vaulted ahead in the succession as, first, her uncle ditched the dreaded crown by running off with one of his girlfriends, an American divorcee, and, then, her father declining quickly after his own coronation, she went from princess to queen. And once almost accidentally upon the throne, she stayed there longer than any other crowned head in the history of man.
And she was well suited to the task.
In a world that changed incomprehensibly more than once, she was a steady and comforting figure. She knew Eisenhower and she welcomed Obama, she embraced the Beatles and cheered for “Hamilton.” She saw the Berlin Airlift, and the wall come down, and the Russians run roughshod outside their borders again. She was raised in a nation of white people, saw its rising populations of Indians and Muslims, and embraced a granddaughter-in-law of African heritage. She was born in an empire and died on an island, and seemed perfectly at ease and at home all along the way.
She was a woman who watched her people go extinct. The family connections forged by her second-great grandmother – Queen Victoria – tied together major and minor principalities, duchies, kingdoms and empires. Her grandfather – George V – fought the First World War against his cousins – Kaiser Wilhelm and Czar Nicholas. Her husband had two brothers-in-law whose Germanic titles led them to fight with the Nazis in World War Two. Her own family name – Windsor – had been Saxe-Coburg-Gotha when her ancestors still claimed their German castles. She was born into a world of royals with the first nipping of republicanism at their heels, and by midlife most of those thrones would be gone and most of those lines would be ended, an intricate genealogy which had entranced her mother and grandmother but which, in her own life, became irrelevant and moot.
In many ways, she was the last queen.
Oh, Charles will finally take the throne, a sad monument to a weak mind and a pointless life, and after him Prince William, the duke of Cambridge, will wear the crown. But in a way the line ends here. The connection with a royal past – as failed and oppressive as that so often was – is tenuous at best. The culture of the royals ended with Lilibet and her Philip. The connection to the days of court and ermine, power and privilege, is lost. No one speaks that language anymore, no one feels those bonds.
Charles will be a placeholder, and William will be a new beginning of his own creation.
But the empire died today, as its empress and queen laid down her head.
She loved her land, she served her people, and she did her duty.
And there is no greater legacy than that.