Photo: Former Prime Ministers along with members of the Privy Council at the Accession Council ceremony, 10 September 2022. Photo AP: Kirsty O’Connor/Pool
725 words / 3 ½ minute read
When Martin was asked to become a member of the Iraq Inquiry in 2009, in order to have the security level to see some of the documents involved, he had to become a member of the Privy Council. As a Privy Counsellor, he could add to his name, “the Right Honourable”. One of the responsibilities of the Privy Counsellors, he told me, is to proclaim the new monarch, should the ruling monarch step down or become deceased. Those who viewed the broadcast of the Accession Council ceremony at St James’s Palace, London on 10 September 2022 will remember seeing the current and former prime ministers along with 200 current Privy Counsellors standing while King Charles III was formally proclaimed to be the monarch. Had Martin been alive, he would no doubt have been there, proud to be part of that moment in British history.
Martin told me the funeral for the late Queen Elizabeth II had been in the plans for at least twenty years by the time he joined the Privy Council, when he became privy to the arrangements. That the funeral came last autumn, during a time of global upheaval post-pandemic, with wars raging and with the UK government in less than stellar shape, it was amazing to see how flawlessly it unfolded. Not one uniformed member of the arrangements was out of step or out of synch. The British invented “pomp and circumstance” with even the music composed by Sir Edward Elgar. So it is no surprise that no one does pageantry like the British, with the monarchy at the pinnacle of that pageant.
Perhaps what was a surprise was the devotion and love shown to the Queen, the longest serving monarch, if not during her lifetime then certainly after. Maybe we don’t realise what we have until it is lost. The Queen brought to the position a lifetime of dedication and a determination to keep herself above the fray and maintain, in her quiet subtle way, the messages of unity and humanity she wanted to get across. Her world, her country, even her family, all had their challenges but through it all she put Britain and the Commonwealth above the difficulties, all the while maintaining her devotion to her duties. That and the constancy of her long reign was repaid in the devotion to their Queen that the British and the world recognised and acknowledged.
Who was not moved by the sight of the tractors lined up in their fields as she left her beloved Balmoral for the trip to Westminster, or the long queues of those who patiently waited hours and hours for the chance to file past her coffin, or those who lined the highway when her funeral cortege went past? It was a moment in history, a moment of shared grief, a connection to something larger than each of us, a chance to say farewell and thank you to someone who for most had always been there.
As the Queen freed herself of her earthly duties, as seamlessly, the next monarch stepped up to the challenge. King Charles III, grieving the sudden loss of his mother, and after waiting nearly a lifetime to take up the reins of the job he was born to take on, suddenly became King of the United Kingdom. In Alberta in Canada where I now live, the Queen’s Court changed it’s name to the King’s Court. Immediately. Just like that. Jews in the United Kingdom who every Shabbat recite the prayer for the Royal Family saw it change from “Our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth” to the new King. And the British national anthem wording changed. Seamlessly. Life goes on.
And so on May 4th King Charles and his Queen Camilla officially take up their royal duties as Sovereign, determined to maintain the example set by the Queen while gently edging the monarchy into the 21st Century. This coronation, on May 6th, offers us an opportunity to celebrate an institution that is above politics and strives to be above reproach. Like all of us, the Royal Family is made of human beings who are prone to err at times, who try to lead private lives while presenting a public face, who try to do the best they can. And we “mere mortals” get to enjoy the pageantry and have a reason in this difficult world to celebrate.
God save the King.
Read: British History Atlas