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Happy and glorious, long to reign over us ...

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Adoring public: the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are greeted by Bermudians during their visit in 1953 as part of an around-the-world tour (Photograph by PA)

Seventy years after she ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom, British Empire and Commonwealth, the Queen passed away yesterday.

Even the most ardent republicans are happy to admit that Elizabeth II carried out the role she inherited with dignity, unimpeachable personal standards and a steadfastness that would have brought low most other people.

In doing so, she maintained a throne and an institution that has become increasingly rare in the 21st century, and she left a world that looks very different from when she took her throne in 1952.

Then, she took over the symbolic leadership of a country that had recently vanquished the evils of Nazism and fascism, and could still boast that the sun never set on its flag as its empire straddled a quarter of the world.

Only five years before she succeeded George VI, Britain had ended its rule over India, the “jewel in the crown”, and over the ensuing three decades, the United Kingdom would see almost all of its other possessions become independent.

The Union Jack flies at half-mast at Government House to mark the death of the Queen (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Today Bermuda is the largest by population of its remaining Overseas Territories, and the rest are primarily small islands and peninsulas whose combined populations would barely fill Wembley and Twickenham stadiums.

While the Queen’s role in this largely peaceful shedding of empire was mainly symbolic, she helped to bind these disparate and diverse nations together in the Commonwealth, whose existence and continuity was a lifelong passion.

Whatever its flaws and inconsistencies, the Commonwealth remains an organisation dedicated to tolerance, peace, racial harmony and the values of democracy, free speech and the rule of law. As such, it helps the nations of much of the world to aspire to better things. Now more than ever, those aspirations matter.

That a hereditary monarch should be the face of those values may seem ironic, but she also symbolised the importance of flexibility and adaptability, while also assuring the importance of continuity and tradition.

As such, she represented evolution and not revolution. History has shown time and again how such gradual change is better, sparing people the trauma and horrors of political and military upheaval while improving lives.

Bermuda has demonstrated the sense of his approach. It is no accident that this was the first Overseas Territory the Queen visited and one she returned to many times, most recently and happily in 2009.

Over that time, as she saw her dominions change, she saw Bermuda change as well, moving from segregated society to a self-governing and modern democracy, led by elected Black leaders, which was virtually unthinkable in 1952.

Indeed, the Queen herself had a small role in making this change happen when the government of the day failed to invited any Black Bermudians to a state dinner when she visited in 1953, sparking international condemnation.

But Black Bermudians were invited to other public events and introduced to the Queen in moves widely interpreted as efforts to make up for the “blunder”.

Over her ensuing visits, the Queen would have seen Bermuda change quickly. At her 1975 visit, she was welcomed by Sir Edward Richards, Bermuda’s first Black premier, in 1994 by Sir John Swan, Bermuda’s first Black Bermudian-born premier and in 2009, by Ewart Brown, leading the Progressive Labour Party government after the historic victory of 1998.

Bermuda also evolved, as Patrick Burgess describes in his excellent obituary, from a sleepy tourism resort to a bustling international business centre and a thoroughly modern member of the family of nations.

Where the institution of the monarchy goes from here is a subject for another day. The Queen has been a symbol of continuity and tradition, presiding over a United Kingdom that has changed dramatically in 70 years and will continue to do so.

The King, Charles III, will now have the task of steering the British monarchy forward.

In his classic book The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot describes how Britain’s government is divided into two sections — the dignified ones “impress the many” while the efficient ones “govern the many”. The elected government is, at least in theory, the efficient part; royalty the dignified.

Bagehot argued that royalty was to be reverenced, “and if you begin to poke about it, you cannot reverence it … its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic”.

The King must maintain dignity while in this modern age he must also let some daylight in. Whether he can perform that balancing act as well as his mother remains to be seen.

When the Queen ascended to the throne, there was a good deal of talk about a new Elizabethan age. In fact, the Queen created her own unique legacy. We will never see her like again. May she rest in peace.

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Published September 09, 2022 at 7:45 am (Updated September 09, 2022 at 7:45 am)

Happy and glorious, long to reign over us ...

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