It is complicated. This is how a couple might explain a closer relationship than their story suggests. It could also describe the relationship between the United States and Great Britain. Witness the admiration for Queen Elizabeth II expressed by many Americans after her death on Thursday.
The leader of a country that didn’t want our nation to exist was mourned as if she were an American too. “She stood in solidarity with the United States during our darkest days after 9/11, when she poignantly reminded us that ‘grief is the price we pay for love,'” said President Biden, one of 13 US presidents who met Elizabeth during her 70-year reign. It quoted Elizabeth’s words of support for America after the 9/11 attack.
Philadelphia has a treasured memory of Elizabeth when she visited our city in 1976 and left behind a 10-ton replica of the Liberty Bell to commemorate that country’s bicentennial. She said Britons should also celebrate Independence Day because the American Revolution taught her country a valuable lesson.
“We lost the American colonies because we didn’t have the statesmanship to know when and how to surrender, which is impossible to keep,” the queen said. She did not mention the War of 1812, which shows that the lesson was not learned quickly. But after World War II, Elizabeth successfully guided her country’s transition from a colonial power to a trusted global leader.
More than 40 countries, many in the Caribbean or Africa, gained independence from Britain after Elizabeth became queen in 1952, including the Bahamas, Barbados, Botswana, Cyprus, Ghana, Jamaica , Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Upon Elizabeth’s death, her eldest son immediately became King Charles III. His challenge – as the titular leader of a nation that clings to the pomp and circumstance of royalty even as it questions the continuation of its monarchy – will be great. Charles must be the public face that reassures Britons when Parliament seems to be failing them, especially with Russia’s Vladimir Putin appearing to be pushing Europe into another world war with his invasion of Ukraine.
For now, he and his family will have time to mourn his mother, whom they will long remember not only themselves but the world. At 25, Elizabeth immediately became queen on the death, on February 26, 1952, of her father, King George VI, who died in his sleep at the Sandringham estate of the royal family. Elizabeth, 4,000 miles away on safari in Kenya, was reportedly perched in a tree watching rhinos when she learned she was queen.
Who knew then that the length of her reign would exceed that of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who died aged 81 after serving as British monarch for 63 years, from 1837 to 1901? Elizabeth suffered from health issues associated with the age of 96, which prepared the public for her death. “As you can see I can’t move,” she told visitors to Windsor Castle for its Platinum Jubilee celebration in February. She dragged her feet, leaning on a cane.
Despite her age, millions of people hoped that Elizabeth would be with us longer. After 70 years as Queen, she – more than any other person or symbol – has represented what England has represented to the world: small but mighty, a presence to be respected, an ally to be reckoned with, a spirit who dares to fly when the odds are against. Without Elizabeth, another page is turned. What he will say is a mystery.