Sunday, February 06, 2011

Pop History Moment: The Accession of Elizabeth II


Over time the story has taken on all the elements of a fairytale; a beautiful young Princess leaves her cold, damp Kingdom behind in the depths of winter to fulfill the duties her ailing father cannot. In warm, sunny Kenya, in a treetop (indeed, at a resort hotel called Treetops) she learns of her father's early death. Because he died in his sleep, the exact moment of his death is unknown; because she was out of the country and not by his side when it happened, she can never know exactly the moment she became Queen.

Yet she has set off for Australia fully expecting to never see him again; his haggard appearance of late had given a far more deferential chattering class than we are used to today reason to whisper amongst themselves that the King was unwell. A heavy smoker, George VI had already foregone the use of his left lung due to surgical pneumonectomy; despite removal of the malignant tumour the cancer has worked its way through him. Not that the public (or, in fact, the King himself) knew any of this; all they knew is what they saw, and what they saw at the airport on the last day of January as he gamely waved her off had worried them as much as the unusually chilly weather, coal shortages, and continued post-war rationing.

The new Queen flew directly back to London, her staff having sensibly packed mourning dress in anticipation, and she approached the sad duties ahead of her as she would so many others to come: stoically, and with a dignity rare in one of her years.
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