Two days ago, Queen Elizabeth II fulfilled her final official engagement as she swore in Liz Truss, her 15th prime minister in her 70-year-long reign.
It was the first time the handover took place at Balmoral in Scotland and not the queen’s official residence of Buckingham Palace, and was a fitting end to a life of service and sacrifice.
Such was her mystique and influence, that even anti-monarchists admired or respected Elizabeth the Steadfast.
The 96-year-old monarch embodied some of the qualities of another era: duty, grace, dignity, service, honor and more besides.
Humor. Wisdom. Family.
Elizabeth wasn’t even meant to be queen. She was the elder daughter of the second-in-line to the throne and enjoyed a charmed life in interwar Britain.
This year marked 70 years since her accession. The day she was proclaimed queen was a sad day for the queen who knew a lot of sadness in her life.
On February 6, 1952 her beloved father George VI died while she was in Kenya on a royal tour with husband, Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
She was one of the last people in the world to find out about her father’s death, in an age without instant communication. She hurried back to a cold and rainy Britain to begin one of the most important eras in modern history: the second Elizabethan period.
Her route to the throne began just before Christmas in 1936 when her uncle Edward VIII abdicated for the love of an American divorcee creating a constitutional crisis.
Her father George then took on the role he never wanted and as monarch took Britain into the post-colonial era.
Unlike her father George VI who died aged 56, who as well as being the king of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth was the last Emperor of India until August 1947 when the British Raj was dissolved, the queen lived a long life and enjoyed good health.
The queen was one of the great personalities of the last century. She had a rock band and a ketchup named after her. Her face is on stamps and coins and banknotes.
She met 13 of the last 14 U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Joe Biden, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson.
Up until the very end as queen and head of state, she experienced turmoil with her family, the war in Ukraine and its knock-on effects, and a shaky government.
But Queen Elizabeth had a magical almost otherworldly quality about her.
At the same time she was a down-to-earth woman who loved her horses, her corgis and a glass of Dubonnet and gin (she didn’t quaff copious glasses of Romanian wine as was erroneously reported).
Her eldest son- Prince- now King Charles, who has spent decades as heir to the throne, has found peace and solace in Romania and I’m sure shared the wonders of the country with his mother.
Her whole life was about duty. The challenge for the monarchy will be to sustain that after her death. But Charles has decades of experience and William, now heir to the throne, is popular and sensible.
When she ascended to the throne, Elizabeth swore an oath to her subjects.
“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service… God help me to make good my vow. ”
Elizabeth II will go down as a great modernizer. She moved with the times, listened to her subjects, yet managed to keep the mystique of royalty alive. On Wednesday, courtiers canceled a Zoom meeting. What could be more 21st century?
Since 1534 when King Henry VII created the Church of England, the monarch has been the temporal head of the church.
As queen, she was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, a position that all British monarchs have held since it was founded.
Henry created the church as the Catholic Church wouldn’t let him divorce.
There is a portrait of her in the Anglican Church in Bucharest which was built in 1920 thanks to Queen Marie, herself the granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
In May 2015, the queen became the Britain’s longest-serving monarch.
I asked my parents about her June 1953 coronation.
My mother joined the crowds with her mother and brother and had a good view at Marble Arch. She said the Queen of Tonga was the talking point of the day.
“She was very joyous and made a big impression. Even though it was raining, she was happy,” my mother said.
The queen is simply “an anchor,” she said. “She is dignified and has integrity. She is interested in the people she meets and has a special interest in the Commonwealth.”
“She’s a committed Christian. She never lets events even big events throw her off course whether they’re political or personal. It’s who she is.”
As a teenager, my father worked for Wallace Heaton which supplied the British Royal family with all their cameras.
“They gave us a week’s wages as a bonus,” he remembered, still sounding pleased 70 years later.
My grandfather wasn’t a monarchist.
“He said he wasn’t going to come and watch the coronation,” my mother said. „He didn’t like the fuss.”
Later that night, he sheepishly told the family he’d come into London after all and stayed most of the day at Trafalgar Square, one of the best vantage points.
There was something about Queen Elizabeth II that touched even the anti-monarchists.