Flat White

Our ‘matter-of-fact’ Queen in life and in death

John Simpson

Getty Images

John Simpson

14 September 2022

8:00 AM

The public outpouring of emotion and deep sorrow being expressed around the world following the death of Queen Elizabeth II would, in all probability, have embarrassed Her Majesty.

We can hear her saying to those close to her, ‘What’s all the fuss about?’ She would quite likely have thought it all ‘just a bit much’.

The Queen, like her only daughter Anne, was not one for public displays of emotion and nor was she given to ‘playing to the cameras’ which shadowed her every public appearance, not only for her seventy years as Sovereign, but her entire life.

The cameras followed her – not the other way round.

Her truly remarkable life has been micro-documented in books, film, cameo appearances, documentaries, newsprint, magazines, social media, and perhaps most importantly, in sound.

The early archival recordings of the Queen’s voice are startling and fascinating to hear. As the movie The King’s Speech so poignantly highlighted – a good speaking voice was a significant advantage for those in public life. Elizabeth had such a voice.

At 21, when most of us might struggle to deliver a coherent speech in the company of family and friends – Elizabeth found the self-assured wisdom to say these words to a global audience:

My whole life, be it long or short, will be devoted to your service, and to that of the great imperial family to which we all belong.’

Then, as so recently, the Queen’s words were crisp, clear, and to the point. While humour certainly featured in the Queen’s speeches from to time – ambiguity did not. People to whom she spoke knew exactly what she was saying.

Just seven years after the end of the second world war, the Coronation of Her Majesty took place on June 2, 1953 at Westminster Abbey.

Elizabeth was 25 when she acceded the throne upon the early death of her father George VI on February 6, 1952. She was proclaimed Queen by her respective Privy and Executive Councils shortly afterwards. Astonishingly, Elizabeth II was Queen of 32 sovereign states during her long life and served as Monarch of 15 of them, including Australia, at the time of her death just a few days ago.

The vast number of archival records about the Queen’s life reveal a no-nonsense, practical mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She took on the role as Queen while also being mother of two children with two more yet to appear. She dressed simply and pragmatically, she was fun-loving yet appropriately restrained when ‘on duty’.

While neither arrogance nor over-bearance featured as traits of the Queen’s personality – her time with her children was obviously constrained and this is said to have troubled her at the time and later in her life.

In the fervour of life after the second world war, many women took on roles outside their family lives and many continued work they had started during the war. While the Queen came to exemplify a working mother – millions of women also had jobs. Many friends of my mother (the same age as Elizabeth II) were experienced nurses she had trained with. Others were teachers or office workers.

They were themselves fun-loving, family-centric, highly intelligent, well-informed women who – albeit from afar – admired the Queen immensely. Was it the impact of war that made them determined, resourceful, capable, spirited, and fun-loving? It certainly seemed that way to children of the 60s. The Depression of the late 20s too instilled in those born in the years following a need to work, to help keep food on the table, and to keep families together. People got on with life, as did the Queen. The realities of life required people ‘keep calm and carry on’.

Three features of the Queen’s approach to her tasks underpinned her life and endured to her last days. These are visibility, purposefulness, and duty. Despite knowing of her rapidly failing health, Elizabeth performed her constitutional role, accepting the resignation of one Prime Minister and the appointment of another just 48 hours before she died. Unfailingly, the Queen delivered on the promise she made in 1947 on her 21st birthday.

Numerous other virtues have been highlighted in recent days, but the three outlined above seem to provide the scaffolding upon which so much of the Queen’s life and work was built.

Love and devotion towards her family, the people of Britain and her realms, and an unshakeable sense of duty shaped and propelled her life to its end.

The world is better for her example and Australia is more fortunate than some may appreciate for her calm, reassuring, and determined presence over seven decades as Monarch.

Keenly appreciating this historic moment – King Charles III has the task ahead of him as does his eldest son.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.


A brief history of Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth II’s beloved Scottish residence 

The Aberdeenshire estate where the Queen spent her final days has been frequented by the royals since the time of the late monarch’s great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria

By Dora Davies-Evitt

9 September 2022

Balmoral Castle

It was at Balmoral that the late Queen Elizabeth II would undertake one of her final royal engagements: meeting new British Prime Minister Liz Truss in the Castle’s sitting room. The last public photograph ever taken of the monarch was captured in the minutes following the meeting, showing the 96-year-old Queen smiling brightly. Two days later, Queen Elizabeth II passed peacefully at Balmoral, surrounded by her family. 

Described by her granddaughter, Princess Eugenie, as ‘the most beautiful place on earth’, Balmoral was apparently the late Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite home. An opinion shared by her grandfather, George V, who once said: ‘I am never so happy as when I am fishing the pools of the Dee.’ It therefore comes as no surprise that the Queen would make the 516-mile journey north from London every summer to enjoy time off duty with her family at the rural retreat.

The former monarch had no official duties to attend to when at the Scottish estate, meaning the residence was a place of great comfort and relaxation for her. Most recently the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Cornwall and their three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, visited Her Majesty at the castle, spending some quality family time together before the children started school in Windsor this month. 

While at Balmoral, the Royal Family are reported to spend their time taking ‘long walks in the countryside, fishing, horseback riding, and cycling’. Barbecues also play an important role during their visits, as the late Prince Philip was said to enjoy cooking for his family al fresco using his own ‘specially engineered mobile barbecue’. Shooting and stalking and salmon fishing are also some of the traditional activities enjoyed by guests. 

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Many happy memories have been made in the grounds and gardens of Balmoral, particularly between Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the late Duke of Edinburgh. Typically, the couple used to spend the first week of their Balmoral summer at the much more private Craigowan Lodge, a seven-bedroom guesthouse about a mile from the castle. Here they would enjoy views across Aberdeenshire, while walking through the neighbouring countryside. A great lover of the outdoors, the Queen was known to have spent long periods out and about on the moors with her corgis and driving through the 50,000-acre grounds. She was once spotted behind the wheel of a Land Rover, driving the Duchess of Cambridge and Cornwall up to the grouse moor to join Prince William on a shoot.

The Queen maintained a strong relationship with the Balmoral staff throughout her reign, famously holding the annual Ghillies Ball in the Castle Ballroom, where her neighbours and castle staff would participate in Scottish dancing. Dating back to the time of Queen Victoria, it was dubbed the ‘Ghillies’ ball because that is the Gaelic word for groundskeepers, but fittingly, it’s also the name of the shoe worn during certain Scottish reels.

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Her late Majesty was also known to have encountered a number of members of the public whilst walking on the Scottish estate, once famously bumping into an American couple who mistook her for a fellow tourist. After asking the Queen where she lived, the former monarch replied: ‘I live in London, but I have a holiday home, over the hill there’. She later replied to the question, ‘have you ever met the queen’, with the joke, ‘no, but he has a number of times’, pointing to her private protection officer. 

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The Ghillies Ball: Inside the annual dance thrown by the Queen at Balmoral

The traditional dance dates back to when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would throw a summer party for their staff, known in Gaelic as ‘ghillies’

By Rebecca Cope

The history of the castle as a royal residence dates back to the time of Queen Victoria after Prince Albert bought Balmoral for £32,000 in 1852 (roughly around £4m today), as a gift for his wife. The prince apparently felt a strong connection to the Highlands, as its landscape reminded him of his native Germany. The Castle is a rebuild of the original property, which the prince considered too small for Victoria at the time. 

Architect William Smith helped redesign the Castle, whilst inside, Victoria indulged in her love of Scottish heraldry and tartan. ‘The curtains, the furniture, the carpets, the furniture are all of the different plaids,’ Secretary of State Lord Clarendon noted in 1856. ‘And the thistles are in such abundance that they would rejoice the heart of a donkey if they happened to look like his favourite repast, which they don’t.’ The estate became, for Queen Victoria, ‘my dear paradise in the Highlands.’

The residence is therefore privately owned, like Sandringham, and not part of the Crown Estate. One tradition established by Queen Victoria that the late Queen reportedly enjoyed was having a bagpiper play for 15 minutes under her window at 9am every morning, something she is even said to have replicated at Buckingham Palace, to remind her of the Highlands. 

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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