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Queen Elizabeth II’s royal role was both daunting and imprecise – but she made her mark

Andreas Whittam Smith, a founding editor of The Independent, reflects on the Queen’s 70-year reign

Sunday 11 September 2022 16:18 BST
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The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on Coronation Day
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on Coronation Day (PA)

The death of Queen Elizabeth leaves a gap in the familiar landscape of all our lives. To have any real sense of what Britain was like before Elizabeth II came to the throne, you would have to be in your seventies. The rest of us have known only one monarch. The effect of her passing is as if Big Ben had suddenly toppled down. While the late Queen continued impeccably to carry out the duties of head of state, Britain was still the country we knew and loved. Now she is no longer there, we will not be able to prevent ourselves from wondering about the future with a more anxious heart.

The tributes to Queen Elizabeth have focused on the sheer length of her reign and on the conscientiousness with which she conducted herself. She readied herself for this challenging course a long time ago. The occasion was her 21st birthday, in April 1947, five years before she was to ascend the throne. She had gone on a major tour with the King and Queen, and she had arrived in South Africa, where the government declared the day of the Princess’s birthday to be a public holiday. It was then that she made her famous broadcast to the empire and Commonwealth:

“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 the strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join with me, as I now invite you to do. I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”

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