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The Passing of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth is captured giving a rare smirk in a never-before-seen portrait from 2004 | The Associated Press
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She is the only woman in history to have gone up a tree as a princess and come down a queen. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was enjoying a vacation with her husband Philip on a Treetop House in faraway Kenya. Urged by her father George VI, both left England in February 1952. They were to tour Africa, Australia and New Zealand, sort of getting to know her possessions around the world.

The house was actually built atop a sturdy fig tree in the African jungle from which the royals climbed down to explore the vast savannah in the day time. Done with watching hippos frolicking in muddy rivers, hungry big cats taking down a buffalo, gazelle, wildebeest, a parliament of chimps swinging from tree to tree effortlessly outperforming the most professional of human gymnasts or just savoring the sunniness of the endless grassland, they clambered up once again. Philip and princess were atop the tree when news came from England that her father, King George V1, had died.

There is something paradoxical about an individual descending from such a lofty height down to earth to still rise higher in the royal ranks. That was exactly what happened. From that moment on, Princess Elizabeth had become Queen Elizabeth 11! She was 96 when she died on September 8, making her the longest reigning monarch of the United Kingdom and sovereign of some Commonwealth nations.

During her coronation on June 2 1953 at Westminster Abbey, Queen Elizabeth was both a mourner and successor. “By the sudden death of my dear father,” she solemnly pledged, “I am called to assume the duties and responsibilities of sovereignty. My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than I shall always work as my father did throughout his reign, to advance the happiness and prosperity of my peoples, spread as they are all the world over.”

True to her word she was everywhere, from such remote corner places as Papua New Guinea to the creeks of Port Harcourt where riverine natives performed for her from flotillas in 1953, from Canada to Australia and India, down to Kenya and the Caribbean and many more countries where her authority held sway.

Fate had a hand in her becoming queen of the UK and sovereign of the Commonwealth. Her father, King George VI, was not heir apparent when his own father passed on in 1936. His elder brother, Edward, was next in line. But to the astonishment of Brits everywhere he declined to be king preferring, instead, the love of an American divorcee, Mrs. Wallis Simpson. For the besotted prince, abdication was the only option. He did, paving the way for his younger sibling, George to take up the royal mantle.

As first child of King George, Elizabeth was suitably placed to succeed her father – only if she lived long enough. She did, surprising her own subjects and the rest of the world by clocking almost a century when she died on September 8 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

According to The Guardian podcast, Sam Knight stated that the Queen suffered from great physical prostration accompanied by symptoms which caused much anxiety. On her death bed, the queen called up some of her close friends and gifted them with royal thoroughbreds. There was no word, though on the royal pooches – the many Corgis she spoon fed herself from silver dishes and cutleries.

There are not many women you can count on your fingers anywhere in the world who lived a coddled life as Queen Elizabeth 11. Presidents and Prime Ministers bowed before her. Their wives curtsied compulsorily and if she didn’t offer a handshake you dare not offer yours. School children in Commonwealth nations lined up major roads and streets when she came visiting. She was feted lavishly at state dinners in scores of countries around the world and generally treated like the royalty she was.

On one occasion, though, she it was who genuflected before another monarch when she called on Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopa in the nineteen thirties. She was seen in a b&w photograph back stepping from the emperor instead of turning her back on him. It would have been a sign of disrespect on her part.

Though a pampered progeny right from birth, Queen Elizabeth has had her share of misfortune, prompting her to rue sometime in 1992 that it was the year of Annus Horribilis, a Latin phrase meaning the horrible year. In that year, her husband Prince Philip had an accident with his Range Rover which flipped over near their Sandrigham estate; Prince Charles was living through a rocky relationship with Diana; Elizabeth’s daughter Anne had divorced; the Duke and Duchess of York separated and then Windsor Castle caught fire.

It was as if the queen was seeing her very life being tore apart bit by excruciating bit, her family and possession. Worst of all was the public criticism of her reign, as if she was the problem in all of those tribulations. True, again, she acknowledged that no one institution or community was completely perfect or fee from faults but asked for fairness from her subjects.

“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” she told a roomful of guests at Corporation of London Guildhall luncheon on November 24 1992. It was also her 40th anniversary as queen. “In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘Annus Horribilis’. I suspect that I am not alone in thinking it so. Indeed I suspect that there are very few people or institutions unaffected by these last months of worldwide turmoil and uncertainty.”

Admitting that criticism has its own advantages, she went on: “There can be no doubt, of course, that criticism is good for people and institutions that are part of public life. No institution, city, monarchy, whatever, should expect to be free from the scrutiny of those who give it their loyalty and support, not to mention those who don’t. But we are all part of the same fabric of our national society and that scrutiny, by one part of another, can be just as effective if it is made with a touch of gentleness, good humour and understanding.”

Down with a cold that November, her voice cracked as she spoke making her speech more solemn like a maternal aunt in severe pains. “I dare say that history will take a slightly more moderate view than that of some contemporary commentators. Distance is well-known to lend enchantment, even to the less attractive views. After all, it has the inestimable advantage of hindsight. But it can also lend an extra dimension to judgment, giving it a leavening of moderation and compassion, even of wisdom, that is sometimes lacking in the reaction of those whose task it is in life to offer instant opinions on all things great and small.”

If you are quarrelling with someone, Sogyal Rimpoche a Tibetan monk once said, “pretend that the person is dying and you may begin to love him.” In her last days, even her detractors prayed for her, hoped for the best for her and generally wished her well. But she succumbed to death in the end. Presidents and Prime Ministers have sent condolence messages, from Bill Clinton to Barak Obama, the newly sworn-in Truss, and many others.

Even so, there are a few who insist that, as the head of an institution responsible for colonization and slavery and economic exploitation, she stands condemned. Since gone viral on social media, a Nigerian professor in an American university fired the first salvo. “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating,” Professor Uju Anya twitted. “If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and the consequences of which those alive are still trying to overcome, you can keep wishing upon a star.”

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has responded to Anya’s tweet. “This is someone supposedly working to make the world better? I don’t think so. Wow.”

Bashir Ahmed, aide to PMB, also called out the professor. “Don’t know that Uju Anya until I saw some of her tweets for the first time on my timeline this evening. Her tweets about the late Queen Elizabeth 11 were so unfortunately unnecessary.”

Long before her demise, another royal had taken a subtle dig at Queen Elizabeth, describing her unusual longevity on the throne as a punishment to long-suffering Prince Charles. Charles, King Juan Carlos of Spain mused when he abdicated that Charles was “suffering” and he wouldn’t want his own son to suffer the same fate. With Elizabeth’s death, Charles is at last King Charles. 111. All hail the king.