by Niall Gooch
Friday, 9
September 2022
Explainer
12:30

Why the Queen’s death affects us all so deeply

She served as a mysterious and vital connection to the nation
by Niall Gooch
Credit: Getty

I was, aptly enough, on the Elizabeth Line when the news began to filter through. People started to nudge one another and share phone screens, as they might once have gathered round the television sets in the window of Dixons or the kiosk of an evening newspaper seller. Young City workers and middle-aged Indian ladies and a raucous but good-natured group of cricket fans who’d had a disappointing day at the Oval all began to share their reactions and discuss the implications. It sounds like a dreadful cliché but I saw Britons from all kinds of backgrounds who were deeply affected. Personally I found myself surprisingly upset, without fully understanding why.

At these kind of moments, the arguments for monarchy, which can have an abstract feel, come into their own. Most of us on that train had probably never even seen Elizabeth II in the flesh, much less met her — although you never know, given the tens of thousands of public engagements she undertook — and yet the fact of her dying clearly meant something to us all. Over the next few days and weeks, all across the country, people will be feeling a genuine sense of loss and sadness that would not arise from, say, the death of a Prime Minister or another public figure.

The difference is that the crown represents not simply the state or the government or a party, but that mysterious and vital thing, the nation. The throne embodies permanence, solidity and continuity, and as such is a kind of focal point for the profound bond of people, land, custom and history. The Windsors are sometimes regarded as a newish family, especially in British terms, but they are direct descendants of Henry VII, who was himself directly descended from William the Conqueror. When the new King is crowned, the service will incorporate elements that trace their origin to Anglo-Saxon times. The magnificent ceremony will also, if not too much messed about by barbarian modernisers, hark back to Biblical notions of sacral kingship.

The promises made in the Coronation Oath — vows of service, duty, and fidelity — have great resonance and power. Even if you do not believe in the God before whom they are sworn, their value is immense. Certainly, in prosaic terms, the Oath is a kind of contract, but it is also vastly more than that. When we hear Charles speak those words, we will not be listening to a salesman explain the terms of the lifetime warranty on our new dishwasher. Instead, we will be the observers, and in some sense the guarantors, of a man binding himself to a high and transcendent realm of meaning and purpose, far above the day-to-day concerns of partisan politics. All the pomp and ritual, all the splendid uniforms and smart drill and glorious music, point beyond themselves to something else, some eternal order.

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Steve State
Steve State
23 days ago

“All the pomp and ritual, all the splendid uniforms and smart drill and glorious music, point beyond themselves to something else, some eternal order.”
There’s precious little of that in today’s society.
May her memory be a blessing.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
23 days ago

So well said. Rituals are so important for people, as they are conduits through which one becomes part of and helps to maintain something larger. A religion. A group of old friends. A cult. A nation.
I will of course be watching the coronation, and be a witness to these ancient rituals by which I, an entirely religion-free zone, can connect to a feeling of identity, history and community.

Last edited 23 days ago by Katharine Eyre
polidori redux
polidori redux
22 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Well said and I also agree completely. Note the warning about barbaric modernisers

Susan Lundie
Susan Lundie
23 days ago

Thank you for that, and for clarifying why a monarch has more meaning, to many of us, than a mere elected or appointed national representative.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
23 days ago

Thanks for this, well observed on every level. If anyone’s interested in learning more about how the popmp & ritual point beyond themselves ‘to something else, some eternal order.’ they could do worse than google “meaning of the Coronation & England’s Sacred Symbols” for an in depth youtube on the topic.

Gill Holway
Gill Holway
21 days ago

All this and more. Murder , intrigue, you name it. Right up to Meghan who sought to manipulate the Royal family and one particular member for her own ends. I dont think she realises that she is just one of many of t those involved in the inrigues surrouunding the Crown and weve seen it all before.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
21 days ago

Do not mistake the pointing finger for the moon. Zen saying.

Bruce Edgar
Bruce Edgar
23 days ago

Diderot once said: “Man will not be free until the last King is strangled with the entrails of the last Priest.” He did–and still does–have a point. Mind you: It is not about E as a person; it’s about the whole architecture of the thing.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
22 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Edgar

…but it’s the architecture of the thing where the connectivity between and amongst people resides Bruce. And not just for those ‘subjects’ of HRH in Britain.

Last edited 22 days ago by Bernard Hill
Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
21 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Edgar

When there are no “kings”, every man will be his own king. There will never be a time without kings.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
20 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Edgar

“Man will not be free until people like Denis Diderot are in charge” – Denis Diderot. How’s that worked out for the countries foolish enough to believe him?