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God save the King

Monica Doumit
Monica Doumit
Monica Doumit is the Director, Public Affairs and Engagement for the Archdiocese of Sydney and a columnist with The Catholic Weekly.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, pose at Windsor Castle Nov. 18, 2017, in celebration of their 70th wedding anniversary. Prince Philip, the longest-serving consort of any British monarch, died April 9, 2021, at age 99, Buckingham Palace said. (CNS photo/Matt Holyoak, CameraPress handout via Reuters)

From the Blitz of WWII to the 2020s, the life and service of Queen Elizabeth II taught us all something deeply important

“The nature of promises is that they remain immune to changing circumstances.”

So said Frank Underwood, protagonist of the hit TV series House of Cards, in its very first episode.

It might appear strange that I begin a column about the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II by quoting a television character whose philosophy of leadership could not be further from Her Majesty’s, played by an actor who is currently the subject of sexual abuse allegations.

But on hearing of her death and watching the tributes pour in, Underwood’s quote kept coming to mind.

“God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”

“The nature of promises is that they remain immune to changing circumstances.”

We have heard repeated many times over the words of the Queen on her 21st birthday, in what she described as her “solemn act of dedication”:

“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong. But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”

She obviously didn’t know at the time of making that vow that she would need to live it for the next 75 years, 70 of them as Queen.

In 1992, when she simultaneously celebrated 40 years on the throne and endured her annus horribilis, she did not know that there were still 30 more years of scandal and sorrow ahead, including the death five years later of Princess Diana.

Britain's King Charles III walks at Aberdeen Airport in Scotland as he travels to London Sept. 9, 2022, following the Sept. 8 death of Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: CNS photo/Aaron Chown, pool via Reuters
Britain’s King Charles III walks at Aberdeen Airport in Scotland as he travels to London Sept. 9, 2022, following the Sept. 8 death of Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: CNS photo/Aaron Chown, pool via Reuters

She did not know that Instagram would exist, let alone that her grandson and his new wife would use it to announce to her and the rest of the world simultaneously that they were separating themselves from the Royal Family, that she would have to sit alone at her husband’s funeral because the world was in the middle of a deadly pandemic when he died, or that her son would be accused of sexually abusing a minor.

But the nature of promises is that they remain immune to personal circumstances and the Queen kept her promise to serve, despite circumstances constantly changing around her. I hadn’t ever appreciated what an extraordinary thing that was until her passing this week.
Here was a leader who did not attain her role by popular vote, but because 70 years of leadership was – in a sense – imposed upon her by her uncle’s abdication and her father’s early death.

She did not pursue higher office; being born was enough for her to attain the great gift and great burden of being a monarch.

The only thing she could have done to change her circumstances would have been to abdicate after her coronation (like her uncle before her), or to separate herself from Royal duties, like the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

But the nature of promises is that they remain immune to changing circumstances.

“The key to the Royal Family is the presence of a leader – even if their role is mainly ceremonial …”

There has been some speculation (or even some push) for King Charles III to reign only for a short time, before standing aside. I have heard it said that the Royal Family’s best chance of survival is to recognise that Prince William and Princess Kate are far more popular than King Charles III and Camilla, and so they should take over as soon as possible.

I understand the argument, but I disagree. In fact, I think that doing so would spell the beginning of the end of the Royal Family.

The key to the Royal Family is the presence of a leader – even if their role is mainly ceremonial – who is there not because they were the most popular choice but because they had been born into it and then prepared their whole life to serve a country and a Commonwealth.

Running through the line of succession and crowning the most well-liked member (or, if I want to be controversial, electing an Australian Head of State) turns the role into just another political position that someone can aspire and lobby their way to.

If, at the end of this Elizabethan era, we dramatically change the Royal Family because we just don’t like Charles that much, we will have lost more than a Queen: we would have lost the idea that there are some leadership roles that should be outside of politics and simply about service. God save the King.

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