Lord Chartres tribute to Queen Elizabeth II: ‘She provided a calm centre in our national life’
After we saw the Queen at work appointing her new Prime Minister, it was a grievous shock to hear of her death so soon afterwards. The outpouring of affection that has swelled over these past days is the most eloquent tribute to the place she established at the heart of national life.
Yet she was herself very often surprised by the depth of love and loyalty that brought crowds onto the street to watch as she went about her official duties or went to church on a Sunday.
Public life is often especially attractive to narcissistic personalities. The Queen by contrast was a very private person. She was always reticent about her personal opinions on persons and policies. She was even reluctant to divulge whether she had a favourite hymn, knowing that she would be condemned to hear it ever afterwards.
The Queen was in the public eye for 96 years and her death has released a torrent of gratitude and love
She was not a celebrity idol but an icon, as so many have said, of discipline, devotion and duty. Celebrities and politicians can expect perhaps 10 years in the limelight before we tire of them. The Queen was in the public eye for 96 years and her death has released a torrent of gratitude and love.
She was sparing in speech but when she did speak her words resonated and were remembered. Her eloquence, however, went beyond words. Observing the Queen in her regular church attendance, her myriad visits to other places of worship, her interaction with the individuals she met, and perhaps above all in the annual wreath laying ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, I was reminded of St Bernard’s advice to a young abbot: “Notice everything; keep silent most of the time; correct a few things and cherish the brethren.”
Her role was to cherish whatever community she was visiting; to hallmark the importance of particular occasions; and to recognise outstanding achievement on behalf of society as a whole. She communicated all this not so much by words as by a quality of presence and attention which brought depth and value to every encounter however brief.
At events like the funeral of Lady Thatcher, amid the tensions and the complex emotions of the occasion, she stood with hieratic stillness on the steps of St Paul’s watching the departure of the coffin. She conveyed more eloquently than any words could that at the centre of national life there was a calm confidence and that the ship of state had a firm anchor.
Her funeral ceremonies are not only the occasion for heartfelt gratitude and tributes but an opportunity to reflect on her legacy and example at a time when her qualities of respect for the word, restraint and personal discipline are more than ever needed in our public life.
Lord Chartres, crossbench peer and former Dean of HM Chapels Royal.
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