Today, Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's longest reigning monarchs casket has arrived in London from Edinburgh, Scotland. Two weeks ago, I was in both locations. The idea of her passing crossed my mind more than once, and like all ideas that are going to come to pass, when it happened, I had forgotten that I had wondered about it. Now as I watch the proceedings, I marvel at the fortune that put me on the path her cortege has been following.
Returning to Scotland for our family, came through the generosity of University of Glasgow's intention to hold full graduation ceremonies for students who missed the ceremony during the world-wide pandemic. Our grad student daughter said yes to the offer. In short order we were on our way. Eager to make the most of our trip we visited multiple cities and regions in the area. Including Edinburgh where the Queens body most recently lay in state and London where the world will say its final farewell to Elizabeth Regina.
Much of Edinburgh was closed when I last visited in August of 2020. Two years later it is bustling with crowds. Edinburgh is both modern and medieval. Plagues in the cobblestones list the names of people beheaded or burned at the stake, back in the day. While present day tourists and locals joyfully eat at the pub right next to the street plague.
Before me lay the Royal Mile, St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle. Castles, cathedrals, and crooked streets beckon your everywhere. If you listen you can hear the whispers of Mary Queen of Scots or Robert Burns or Robert Louis Stevenson. While I was lost in historic and architectural bliss, life was preparing to turn the page on an era. None of us realized it.
God Save The Queen
In Edinburgh, the capstone of the summer season is the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. An outdoor concert of sorts, featuring pipes and drum corps, as well as invited military bands for a festival of music. In its 73-year history it has only been cancelled twice, in 2020 & 2021. This year it returned in full splendor. Sitting in high rise bleachers next to Edinburgh Castle, 8,000 people per night watch the bands, followed by fireworks. At the close of the evening we attended, the announcer asked that we all stand and sing the national anthem. As we all stood, a shiver ran down my spine, then tears fell, as my family and I, a trio of US tourists, got to lustily belt out, "God Save The Queen." Ironically, Her Majesty was just up the road in Balmoral.
After Edinburgh, we headed to Glasgow, a trip Queen Elizabeth didn't make with us. Yet, a week later we would reconnect with the Queen Elizabeth world when we arrived in London. With Her Majesties Platinum Jubilee still in process, though wrapping up, we found her on every corner, bus, and city street. I was an anglophile geek, snapping every photo I could. I never expected to be in London during the Jubilee of the world's longest reigning queen.
Buckingham Palace & Tea
We raced through London, as we did every other city on our trip, soon we found our way to Buckingham Palace. Our intent was to take our obligatory palace photos, then hurry on, however, my husband saw a sign inviting guests to tour 14 state rooms in the palace. That day was waning, but we were able to join the final tour. No photos were allowed. It was awe inspiring. We saw displays of her jewels, her coronation clothes, and scepters. We stood in the room where people are knighted and dignitaries dine for formal occasions. We saw where the Privy Council meets. There was even a secret door which was left intentionally ajar which led from a state room to the family's private residence. I could almost pinch myself.
As the tour wrapped up, an announcer invited us to feel free to enjoy some tea and treats in the outer garden. I nearly fell over. Throughout the years I have looked at photos of the summer garden parties that were held by the royal family for the public citizens of London, never imagining I would be sitting, sipping tea, and eating trifle while overlooking the lawn. I was way past pinching myself.
The sun was setting, we still had miles to go. As we left Buckingham Palace by way of St. James Park, we crossed under the Arch of Queen Victoria, the previous long reigning queen. If I stood sideways, I could look left and right and see them both. Victoria on one end, Elizabeth on the other.
The final stop on our tour was Westminster Abbey. I have seen many cathedrals but none hold a candle to this one. The abbey itself is somewhat dwarfed by the tombs, crypts, coffins, and memorials that fill every wall, corner, nook, and cranny of the place. For Queen Elizabeth her life was shaped in those walls. She wed her beloved one and only, Prince Phillip there. At twenty-five, the young wife and mother became queen of the realm. This week her final public act will be her funeral in its central chapel.
I was for the most part absorbed in the myriad of other lives connected to the Abbey. People such as Sir Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Mary Queen of Scots. It wasn't until we headed out the exit that Elizabeth came back to me. Towards your left, as you exit the chapel, you see, behind glass, her Coronation Chair. She wasn't my queen, but she sure felt like it me.
I would learn of Queen Elizabeth's passing, while sitting in an airport getting ready to board a plane for a new family trip. My heart split when I heard the news. Tears came within seconds of reading the text. We'd been so close and yet so far. God Saved the Queen, for more than seventy years.