La Reine est Morte

Well, it’s been an interesting few days hasn’t it?

I went to bed on Thursday after a quiz at the local pub, having seen online that doctors were concerned for the Queen’s health, then woke up on Friday morning to find that she was gone and we now had a King. I had the day off work and had a medical appointment to get to, so it was all rather surreal. I kind of felt like the world should have stopped for a bit, while at the same time was wondering just why the world – especially the Australian bit – should have stopped for the death of one rather elderly person.

Maybe it was the speed of it. If she’d taken to bed and been ailing for weeks it would have been less surprising. But she was up on her feet and doing things – including swearing in (or whatever) a new Prime Minister – only the day before. I guess she kept going right until the motor burnt out.

I was raised as a monarchist, in the sense that my mother is English and both she and my dad are social conservatives that got into the reproduction game fairly late. I can’t recall ever being specifically sat down and told that the Royal family were our rightful rulers and overlords, but it was a kind of unspoken assumption. She was the Queen, and as such we were her subjects, how the world be any other way?

I remember going out to join the crowds lining the streets to see her Maj on one of her visits – the one in 1981 seems a bit early but it can’t have been the bicentenary visit in 1988 so 1981 it must have been. I remember standing by the roadside near the Mount Hospital, waving a small Union Jack while a large black car sped past with a white-gloved hand circling out the window. I think I was slightly disappointed, I suspect when Mum said we were going to see the Queen I thought we were actually going to meet her – or at least see more of her than her hand.

As I got older I found myself increasingly conflicted. The fact that our country was ruled (de jure if not de facto under most circumstances) by a foreigner rankled a bit. As did the fact that said foreigner got the job based not on any personal merits but by accident of birth. It seemed unfair and undemocratic. But that said, the Queen really didn’t seem to do much. Wouldn’t it be worse to have someone at the top who had actively pursued the role? I could see arguments on both sides.

When the first $5 polymer bank note came out in 1992 production problems made it possible to scratch the design – which included a portrait of the Queen – off with a fingernail. An informal movement sprung up with people scratching her off the notes in protest at a foreigner appearing on our money. It was prevalent enough that my high school had to issue a rule that defaced notes would not be accepted at the canteen – although how many students were doing it as a political protest as opposed to simply engaging in general mischief must remain unknown.

At the end of the 90s we had a referendum on ditching the royals and becoming a republic. By this point I had come to an uneasy internal truce, balancing my royalist upbringing with my sense of the unfairness of the whole thing with a somewhat disingenuous argument that things weren’t terribly bad so why go to all the trouble of changing them? I voted ‘No’ to the republic, but at the same time utterly despised some of the advertising promulgated by the No campaign. There was one TV commercial in particular that informed the public that “The Republic movement want to make over 200 changes to the Constitution!” without mentioning that around 197 of them were replacing the words ‘Monarch’ or ‘Governor General’ with ‘President’. The referendum failed to get up and we remained a Constitutional Monarchy.

In the years since I have got over my upbringing and although I have no specific problems with the Royals I think that we should stand on our own two feet. It’s been said for many years that the time to revisit the Republic would be when the Queen passed away, and now she has. We’ll likely have another referendum in the next couple of years and if Charles III is still our Head of State in 2027 I’ll be rather surprised.

Concerning the transfer of power I find myself quite surprised by the speed of it all. I guess it was always going to go like that, but I’d always envisaged her Maj passing away then there being about a week of arranging things before Charles was proclaimed as the new monarch. Of course he became King the moment the Queen passed (possibly due to the instantaneous transfer of kingons), so in hindsight why would there be any delay? It still all feels rather strange.

Whether monarchies should exist is a valid question, but overall I think her Majesty did a decent job of managing a very difficult position. I had hoped she’d make it to 100 like her mother, but the elderly tend to not long survive the loss of their spouses, so when Phillip went it was really only a matter of time. She held out for her Jubilee, then left.

So, the Queen is dead, long live the King. I was a bit confused when the media was calling him Charles III as I understood that he was going to take the throne as George VII, but apparently he changed his mind – maybe he didn’t want to have to keep explaining regnal names? Given the disdain he’s been surrounded by ever since the Diana fiasco he seems to be doing remarkably well – I imagine the media fixers at the Palace are working overtime to convince the public he’s the best thing since sliced bread before the sympathy for his mother dies off.

In any case I’m now mostly just waiting for the ABC to go back to regular programing instead of 24 hour live coverage of every leaf that blows down a Westminster avenue. I did happen to catch the Proclamation at the Royal Exchange and was amused in equal parts by the noisy dog in the crowd and by the ABC commentator telling us that “Lord Mayor Sadiq Khan” would soon call for three cheers (what do they teach them at journalism school these days?). The Mace and Sword of the City of London were quite impressive, although I’m not quite convinced about the sword bearer’s fuzzy hat.

I’ll finish up with a song. In 1951 composer Ronald Binge premiered a piece of music he named Andante Cantabile. The next year he renamed it Elizabethan Serenade to celebrate the newly crowned Queen and the start of a new Elizabethan age. Eight years afterwards it was re-recorded as Elizabethan Reggae by Boris Gardiner and the Love People. And here it is.

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