On Friday September 9, 2022, I set foot for the first time in my life in the United Kingdom, never having imagined until then that it would be ruled by a king when it happened. The queen had not been dead for 24 hours and I was leaving for franceinfo to cover the event, which inevitably had a major impact: the country had just lost the one who had ruled it for 70 years, a record for longevity. When Elizabeth II began to reign, my grandmother was 8 years old.
From Balmoral to Edinburgh, from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, everywhere the same scenes. The crowds rushed in, flowers in hand, sometimes a flag on their backs, to catch a glimpse of the procession for a few seconds, the coffin covered with the royal standard and surmounted by the imperial crown worn by the late sovereign during her coronation. The queen, for her last trip, moved thousands of people, who accompanied her in solemn silence, often followed by loud applause. A ceremonial validated by the queen herself, if she were to die in Scotland. A way of doing politics without doing it, according to Teresa, a Scotswoman crossed in Edinburgh: “I don’t know if it’s accidental or not, but dying at Balmoral, doing all this procession all the way to Edinburgh before returning to London… It’s very political, without really being so.”
They were tens of thousands at Saint-Gilles Cathedral in Edinburgh, then hundreds of thousands at Westminster Hall, in London, when the subjects of the Crown were able to gather in front of the coffin. In both cities, huge queues where everyone was ready to wait for hours. In Edinburgh, for example, the queue was more than two kilometers long, and crossed half of the city center. In London, some positioned themselves 48 hours in advance. 750,000 people are expected.
It is however an intimate thing to go in front of the coffin of a deceased. But invariably, the answers were the same: “She was our queen”, “We want to pay him our respects”, “She was a bit like a grandmother”. And each time the same reminder: “Yes but why ?” And often nothing. The mystery. She was the queen, period. That’s enough to queue for hours, at night, in the cold and in the rain.
“You still have to remember that she’s been there since most Britons were born, like their parentsrecalls Alma-Pierre Bonnet, lecturer in British civilization at Jean Moulin-Lyon 3 University. She has always been the watermark of their lives: you can’t spend a day in the United Kingdom without seeing her face, between the coins and the banknotes, the stamps… Or the acronym HM, for ‘Her Majesty ”, written all over the place.”
The queen has therefore imposed herself in everyday life, be it. Especially since indeed, in 70 years it has been, as many of the British people I have interviewed say, a “constant in crises”. She was already there during the Second World War, not as a sovereign but as a princess. It was there during decolonization. There again during the oil crisis of 1973, and the entry into the European Economic Community, the same year. There for the Falklands War in 1982, for the first Gulf War in 1991, then for the second in 2003. Always there for the financial crisis of 2008, the Brexit of 2016, the Covid crisis in 2020. never took a stand, content to be an affable, smiling, motherly figure, thanks to effective Buckingham storytelling. “On the spin-doctor side, they are very strong, emphasizes Alma-Pierre Bonnet. Since 1997 [et la mort de Diana]they focused on a positive image, and gathered around a small family” to build a narrative, analyzes the researcher.
But there’s more to this side “respondent” that many Britons point out. Because Alma-Pierre Bonnet does not remember such enthusiasm for previous English sovereigns. “This funeral reminds me of that of Winston Churchill. More than one person, the United Kingdom says goodbye to an era, that of British unity”he explains.
“It’s a certain idea of Britain that is dead. The British feel like they’re saying goodbye to an era.”Alma Pierre Bonnet
Basically, “despite decolonisation, despite Brexit which really tore the UK apart, the British still thought of themselves as a great nation. It’s a very nostalgic countrydecrypts Alma-Pierre Bonnet. It is the legacy of Churchill, of the British Empire that is disappearing. The British are surely living a moment of loneliness.”
“France has more or less understood that alone, it was no longer so strong as that”, according to him. It therefore remains for the British to take the same path, those who are going “to begin, as we come out of the Covid crisis, to discover the real effects of Brexit”. Here is perhaps this little something which from here seems incomprehensible, even inexplicable. By mourning their queen, the British are also mourning a certain idea of their country. And that, perhaps, is well worth a few hours standing together, recounting memories of the past before saluting 70 years of history one last time.