Great Britain has not only lost the world’s longest reigning monarch as well as the most famous woman on the planet. Her passing also denotes the end of the glory and clout that she represented of the unrivaled British Empire. It still amazes me that England, the approximate size of the state of Alabama, controlled the four corners of the earth for nearly 150 years.
Britain’s power is not as great as it was in 1952, when Elizabeth’s father George Vl died. He was the last emperor; she became the first queen of the post-industrial age. Her funeral was the first state funeral since that of Winston Churchill in 1965. It’s only a state funeral if British sailors haul your coffin, and if, as Britain stood for two minutes silence, you know that one age is closing and another is opening. For Churchill, the dockers of the East End of London, who had borne the brunt of the German Blitz, lowered their cranes onto the dark Thames River as if they were doffing their caps.
There are no cranes there today. The area is now called Docklands and it is the back office of the City of London. The warehouses that carried the scents of India and Africa in their dust are apartments for bankers. The East End, the Ellis Island of England , is now home to descendants of empire. Only hipsters wear flat caps in England now, and there’s no doffing. Only the Thames runs on forever. Britain today is less deferential and more democratic, and life is easier and longer.
Churchill’s funeral was the hinge between the old England of coal mines and class system, empire and aristocracy, and the new Technicolor England. The world’s master became the world’s entertainer. Within a year or two of Churchill’s death, the kind of uniform he’d worn in deadly earnest as a soldier in Afghanistan and Sudan could be seen on the swinging streets of London and on the cover of “Sgt. Pepper,” like a ghost of the empire.
Queen Elizabeth’s funeral cast Great Britain into a new era. She was perhaps the most famous face of them all in the golden age of global media. In the 60’s, Britain became the hub of an empire of entertainment. All roads led to London, once you finished a season in Las Vegas. But every empire must fall. Digital media have made the world smaller but more various and provincial. In the future, no one can be as famous as Elizabeth was or her most famous subjects, John, Paul, George and Ringo. When the last of the Fab Four pass, it will make Britain even smaller.
The past is suddenly slipping away, the present is disordered and a dangerous future rushes forth like a cold wind. The Queen was one of Britain’s last witnesses to Britain’s Finest Hour when they stood alone against Hitler in the summer of 1940. Britain will need the memory of her generation in the trials to come. I hope the Woke movement does not erase the memory of the greatness of Great Britain with their erasure culture.
For that to happen the British must maintain their stiff upper lip but also realize that what is happening in the American classroom could easily occur their especially now with the demise of the Queen as a tradition beholder. The current British society may not be so much at ease with the shadow of their history but it will be one of their greatest resources going forward facing a turbulent, uncertain future.