IN MEMORIAM As the nation mourns we commemorate the extraordinary life of our longest-reigning monarch, HM Queen Elizabeth II, who made history, and did so with an unfaltering grace that can only be admired
HM QUEEN ELIZABETH II
The Field was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral, a place dear to her heart. As a nation and commonwealth mourn her death, we commemorate her life. Thank you Ma’am, for your lifetime of devoted service, and Godspeed.
A RARE MONARCH
Look up the word platinum and definitions such as ‘rare’, ‘precious’ and ‘highly unreactive’ abound. How fitting, then, for HM The Queen to have celebrated her Platinum Jubilee this year, before her peaceful death at Balmoral on 8 September 2022. Rare she certainly was. Following a turnover of four kings in 50 years, she set her own precedent with the longest reign in British history. Precious, indisputably. She was a national treasure in a way that Dame Judi Dench or Sir David Attenborough could only dream of. And highly unreactive? She remained staunchly tight-lipped during events which would have provoked many to throw their orb and sceptre right out of the pram. Such attributes stemmed from an unwavering commitment to her duty, which was first pledged to the nation in her Speech of Dedication to the Commonwealth, given as Princess Elizabeth on her 21st birthday: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”
Seventy-five years on, her vow is still as heartfelt. However, her strength of character was tested by events throughout her life. The abdication of Edward VIII changed her path of succession and then, in her twenties, she married, became a mother twice, lost a beloved father and acceded to the throne all within five years. She has weathered storms on both personal and public levels and braved a series of incidents including blank shots fired at a Birthday Parade, an intruder in her bedroom at Buckingham Palace and, in her own words, an “annus horribilis”.
DESTINY FULFILLED AS THE QUEEN
Nevertheless, becoming queen was a destiny for which she seemed designed. She was said to be modest, tidy and dutiful even in the nursery. In 1953, Mrs Franklin D Roosevelt wrote in The Field, “From the first time I saw her as a very young girl in Buckingham Palace in the autumn of 1942, I thought she had great charm and dignity and poise unusual for a girl of that age. No one could fail to detect the serious thoughtfulness and sweet character that developed as she grew older. One of the things that impressed me when I next met her was this thoughtfulness and her interest in things which, it seemed to me, unusual she should know very much about at her age. I only hope she can preserve some of the spontaneous pleasure and joy in life which I have always noticed when I have seen her with her sister.” Indeed, from her earliest days of childhood with Princess Margaret to her remarkable union with HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and their subsequent children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, The Queen seemed to have continued to derive those moments of pleasure from those closest to her. Devotion was the cement with which she has bonded her family to her, and The Queen’s relationships appeared steadfast.
MOTHER OF A NATION
Just as no family occasion is complete without the matriarch presiding over it, during The Queen’s reign as sovereign she was the central figure in annual events of national pageantry such as the State Opening of Parliament and Trooping the Colour. When one considers how many hundreds of varying engagements per year The Queen was duty bound to attend, it is impressive to think of how few she missed. One had to marvel at her ability to always present with a smile, enthusiasm and interest despite her exhaustive and exhausting list of commitments. This endurance was necessary from the beginning; on her 58-day tour of Australia in 1954, she travelled 13,000 miles by air, car, rail and sea and visited 57 towns and cities, with only seven days and nights completely free of engagements. Rather than resenting such demand on her time, she was sensitive to the expectations on her and the work that others put in to enable her schedules to run efficiently. On her tour of India in 1961, she was asked several times whether she would ride during the visit, to which she said that she would love to, but she might be late for her next engagement, and that would make work for those arranging the tour. Such an offer must have been hard to refuse, as one imagines that a huge part of The Queen’s love of riding was the solace it offered. It is noteworthy that despite all the advances in mechanisation in recent decades, the horse remained centre stage on ceremonial occasions. From The Queen’s poise and demeanour when mounted, it is evident that her love of horses was genuine and she had a deep understanding of and connection to them.
A PASSION FOR HORSES
This had been the case from the days when she sat astride Peggy, the Shetland her grandfather King George V gave her when she was four, through to her bond with Winston, her police horse for Trooping the Colour, and the Fell ponies she had ridden in Windsor Home Park in recent years. Riding was not the only equestrian pastime she took pleasure from. It may be that racing has the sobriquet “the sport of kings”, but The Queen’s knowledge of, passion for and investment in it, as well as her presence adding prestige to events, significantly boosted the industry over the decades. Her interest was as much in what goes on behind the scenes as in who is fastest on the turf, and her knowledge of bloodstock breeding was staggering. This was not limited to thoroughbreds; Shetlands, Fell and Highland ponies were all bred with The Queen’s involvement. Indeed, she named each Balmoral foal herself.
THE QUEEN WAS DEDICATED TO HER DOGS
Horses weren’t the only animals to benefit from the monarch’s attention. A dog lover since childhood and a breeder since her teens, The Queen was rarely seen without a canine companion at her regal heels, and she fed and walked them herself whenever possible. Perhaps the most famous of her dogs was Susan, a Pembroke Welsh corgi who was given to the then Princess Elizabeth as an 18th birthday present, and accompanied her and the Duke on their honeymoon. Susan’s descendants have graced palace dog beds – perhaps even chaises longues – along with ‘dorgis’ (a cross between a corgi and a dachshund), labradors and cocker spaniels. The latter two breeds have been run in field trial championships with admirable success, a hobby The Queen shared with Prince Philip. Professional pickers-up who have worked alongside her at shoots regarded her as among the best, especially at working her dogs over long distances.
In an interview with The Field in 1998, when he was headkeeper at Sandringham, Bill Meldrum disclosed that the best retrieve he had ever witnessed was accomplished by The Queen with a black labrador named Sherry, on the grouse moor at Balmoral. “The Queen had seen a grouse fall on a ridge of peat about half a mile behind the butts and sent Sherry to find it. By whistle and hand signals she worked the dog across a river, up a steep slope and on to the peat, where a grouse was seen to fly away. On seeing the grouse go, Sherry began to return but, convinced the dead bird was still there, The Queen, still operating half a mile away, induced the dog back to the ridge, where it found and brought back the grouse to spontaneous applause from the Guns and beaters who were watching.”
A TRUE COUNTRYWOMAN
While The Queen did not shoulder a gun or ride to hounds, she was irrefutably a countrywoman and one sensed she was most content when in a headscarf and gumboots with reins in her hands or dogs around her ankles. She consistently turned to British country life for her recreations, with the summer break at Balmoral and the Christmas holiday at Sandringham calendar highlights. One only has to look at the private photograph of her and Prince Philip sitting in the Scottish hills, published after the Duke’s death, to recognise that look of being truly at peace and off duty. What an achievement in itself. Think of what she saw and where she went, what she knew and what she didn’t disclose. No fewer than 15 Prime Ministers were in office during her reign, yet she remained above party politics. The contents of the ubiquitous red boxes ensured she was kept abreast of state affairs and she tackled a workload many would baulk at. She was the country’s link between the past, the present and the future. As she said in one Christmas broadcast, “In the year I was born, radio communication was barely out of its infancy; there was no television; civil aviation had hardly started and space satellites were still in the realm of science fiction.” In 1958, she made the first dialled trunk call, reportedly “massaging her fingers as a concert pianist might do” before dialling and majestically stating, “This is The Queen,” when the call was answered. One supposes she would never have imagined carrying out engagements via video during lockdown and having a Royal Family website more than 60 years on.
DEVOTION TO HER PEOPLE
The Queen was a bridesmaid and a bride, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and in those roles shared a common experience with so many. She was a reassuring constant in times of social, moral and cultural change, yet simultaneously allowed the monarchy to modernise. As a female figurehead, she empowered women around the globe and, closer to home, she instituted the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, enabling royal females to keep their place in the line of succession.
As the then Princess Elizabeth declared in that Speech of Dedication back in 1947, “We must give nothing less than the whole of ourselves.” Such capacity for devotion is something that ran through The Queen’s blue-blooded veins from a young age, whether towards her people, her family or her animals. Unlike the rest of us, she was not in a position to turn a blind eye to things she did not wish to see. Instead, she was the nation’s conscience, its sense of decorum, its unflinching faith and its hope in its future. No other monarch has possessed such mettle.
The Field sends our sincere condolences to The Royal Family on the sad occasion of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.