This morning we were greeted with the news that our monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, had peacefully passed away in her sleep. It was sobering news, although not that shocking considering her recent ill health. Quite aptly our day here in Toowoomba had begun a little earlier with reverberating thunder that vibrated through our floor boards into our bones, accompanied by flashes of lighting and pouring rain. Were the heavens announcing that a monumental change was on its way?
It has been strange to read headlines about Elizabeth II’s reign as the “Second Elizabethan Era.” Whenever I hear the phrase “Elizabethan Era” I immediately think of Elizabeth I, but now I suppose historians will have to quantify the term with either “first” or “second.” Eras, of course, are always something applied in retrospect. I don’t expect the people living during Elizabeth I’s reign knew they were living in the Elizabethan Age anymore than we realised that we were living during the Second Elizabethan Age. For all of my life she has just been “the Queen.”
Elizabeth II will be remembered with great love and the highest regard. As the longest reigning British monarch she was one of the most well known, if not the best known woman alive in this world. The tributes are already rolling in from all corners of the world, from people who had the privilege of meeting her and for those of us who may just have been a face in the crowd. Whether you are part of the Commonwealth of Nations or not, the passing of Elizabeth II has been an event to stop the world.
The news this morning was a jolt for another reason too. It’s the sudden realisation that we now have a king – King Charles III. I must admit it feels a bit weird and it raises all sorts of questions. What happens to our money? Will we get new coins with Charles III on the reverse? Will the Queen’s Birthday holiday become the King’s Birthday instead? Think of all the imagery and portraits that will now have to be changed.
We are entering into new territory. For the first time many of us will be witnessing the protocols and ceremony that take place in the transition from one reign to another. While there are many in the older generations who may remember Elizabeth II’s coronation, the digital age may bring a completely different experience. Elizabeth II’s coronation was well before my time, but I remember Charles and Diana’s wedding and the horror of our maths class when the student teacher assigned homework on the night of the Royal Wedding! I don’t know what he was thinking. The televised broadcasting of royal weddings and funerals is commonplace now, as well as the almost tawdry explosion of memorial merchandise, but I expect these next few weeks will be a sober time as we observe the official protocols and pay our respects. And we wait to find out about our own period of National Mourning.
As King Charles III takes the throne there may be some wondering what kind of king he will be. He certainly has big shoes to fill, but it is a job he has been training for all his life – probably the longest apprenticeship anyone has ever served. Perhaps kings and queens are perceived and regarded differently. Queen Elizabeth II always seemed to me to be like a doting, affectionate grandmother. I expect though, that Charles III will earn the respect and regard of people in his own way. And I spare a thought for Prince William, who has now taken one huge step closer to the throne himself.
Whether we are monarchists or republicans or somewhere in between, I think all Australians extend their utmost sympathies and condolences to the family of our former Queen, Elizabeth II, as they mourn her passing and celebrate her life. I doubt that we will ever see another long reign like hers. Her steadfastness and commitment to a role she was not born to hold and her genuine care for others stands as a great example for us all of what it means to commit one’s life to the service of others.
May Elizabeth II rest in eternal peace, reunited with her beloved Phillip, and may her reign endure long in our memory.