After living to the age of 96 and enjoying a reign that endured for seven decades, the Queen lived a life that has, unsurprisingly, accrued as many meanings and interpretations as she had subjects: to some she symbolised stability to a nation that has undergone seismic changes throughout her rule; to others, a shared identity and set of values. But although our feelings about royalty and the historic legacy of the crown may be complicated and contradictory, nobody can deny the steadfast determination of this woman – who, at birth, was not expected to become queen, and who was also a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother – to dedicate every day of her life to her work.
Her death marks the end of an era, which will be remembered in history for the scale of change it witnessed, especially for women. As a figurehead throughout, the Queen managed to navigate it all with an outlook that was underpinned by compassion and duty to the end: the last official picture of Her Majesty was taken just days before her death as she swore in a new prime minister.
As the world changed, the Queen changed with it (she launched Buckingham Palace’s first website, and in 2014 sent the first Tweet from a British monarch). But as the landscape shifted around her, she never forwent the much-loved hallmarks that represented her stability and constancy. Even when enjoy-ing the element of surprise – such as when she sat front row at Richard Quinn’s AW18 show, when the designer won the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design – she still appeared in her trademark tailored two-piece, with brooch, gloves and handbag in place.
After her death, as thousands of people gathered in the rain outside her residences across the country, many left notes addressed to her personally, proof that a famously private woman nevertheless touched the inner lives of so many. We face uncertain times ahead, but whatever comes next, we can all take something from the life and example of Elizabeth II, and remember her words: ‘When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future.’
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