EDITORIAL: Farewell to our Elizabethan age

The Queen in Skye in 1956. Picture courtesy of Janet Donaldson

There are people upwards of 75 today who will recall celebrating the last coronation alongside friends and family members who had reached adulthood by the time of the death of Queen Victoria – Queen Elizabeth II’s great, great Grandmother.

Aside from the ground on which they walk, it’s hard to think of much that anyone alive in the UK today could say they had shared with a person born in the 1870s – save for the monarch which could have reigned over them both.

That long period of time stands alone in its historical significance – for most of us the Queen has been the only head of state we’ve ever known.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh – in Portree 66 years ago. Pic courtesy of Janet Donaldson

Yet the tributes, the outpouring of sympathy and support, the thousands of personal stories relayed and the vast crowds that gathered from Aberdeenshire to Edinburgh and onwards to London tell a tale of much more than mere longevity.

The days since her passing at Balmoral on Thursday 8th September have shown again what an immensely popular and respected monarch the Queen was.

In every corner of the realm people have found ways to honour the service, duty and commitment shown steadfastly by an individual who was – in the words of the former Skye minister Iain Greenshields, who delivered the homily during the service at St Giles last Monday – “a constant in all of our lives for over 70 years”.

Rev Greenshields, who had spent time with the Queen at Balmoral just days before her passing, observed that the Queen “was determined to see her work as a form of service to others, and she maintained that steady course until the end of her life.”

That she did so is beyond dispute.

This newspaper ran editorials calling for the abolition of the monarchy on the occasion of the silver and golden jubilees – yet in later years even the most ardent of republicans would have to concede that this became something of a lost cause.

Although hereditary principles were banished from other spheres, and the scars of empire became better acknowledged – still the popularity of, and fascination with, the British monarchy endured.

Much – perhaps most – of that was down to the Queen whose popularity grew even greater in the twilight of her life. But there is little indication the appeal will wane under King Charles, who has had his whole life to prepare for the role.

The attachment to the Royal family seems little affected by British geography either.

As appears to have been her wish, the Queen died in Scotland, and her affection for the place has been reciprocated by the people. The thousands who have been in Edinburgh and elsewhere suggest a country still well at ease with sharing a head of state with the other nations that form the UK.

For Gaels, too, there will have been pride at seeing their culture given a prominent place in this week’s proceedings. 

Last Monday, when the new sovereign came to Westminster Hall, the household cavalry were playing the Eriskay Love Lilt. On Tuesday Karen Matheson delivered a beautiful rendition of the 118th Psalm in Gaelic during a presbyterian service presided over by clergy rooted in the Hebrides.

The Queen’s passing, and the heralding of a new King should in time bring further modernisation of the royal institutions, though it remains to be seen how significant this will be, and what – if any – political ramifications will result from the change.

That debate can wait until the mourning has passed.

But if there were to be one broad conclusion drawn about what we have witnessed this week in the wake of the Queen’s death, perhaps it would be to suggest that we’ve seen a glimpse of a Scotland some would have had you believe did not exist anymore.

The reaction reflects a measured, modest, respectful country of quiet faith  – a place that many who by their nature don’t tend to shout about such things, still value and cherish deeply.