Richard Griffin, a former member of the royal security detail to Queen Elizabeth II, tells a delightful story about walking with the monarch near her beloved Balmoral Castle in Scotland and meeting two American tourists. “It was clear from the moment we first stopped that they hadn’t recognized the Queen … and the American gent was telling the Queen where they came from, where they were going next, and where they’d been to in Britain. Then he asked, ‘And where do you live?’” Queen Elizabeth responded in classic British understatement, “Well, I live in London but I have a holiday home just the other side of the hills.”
When asked how often she had visited Balmoral, she told them 80 years. “Well, if you’ve been coming up here for 80 years,” said the tourist, “you must’ve met the Queen.”
“Well I haven’t,” the monarch replied, “but Dicky here meets her regularly.” Knowing he could playfully respond to their question of what she was like, Griffin said, “She can be very cantankerous at times, but she’s got a lovely sense of humor.”
Wowed by his connection to royalty, the tourists asked Queen Elizabeth to take a picture of them with Mr. Griffin. After she played photographer, they also took a picture with her. As they waved farewell to the unsuspecting tourists, the monarch mischievously said, “I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he shows those photos to his friends in America, and hopefully someone tells him who I am.”
Even for those unfamiliar with the pomp and grandeur inextricably linked to a constitutional monarchy, the royal funeral proceedings for the Queen painted an elegant portrait of a treasured monarch – a woman with unmatched dignity who died at a venerable 96 years old and served in public life for seven decades.
Queen Elizabeth lived a truly extraordinary life. She was well known for her steadfast leadership through difficult times and overseeing a post-colonial dynasty. Courteous and whipsmart, she arguably met with more international leaders during her lifetime than any other person in history.
Before she was outfitted with a crown and royal scepter, she volunteered to work in filthy coveralls as “Inductee No. 230873” in the women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II wielding a monkeywrench as she did greasy engine work on heavy transport trucks. She even trained on military motorcycles.
The Queen was famous for doting on her Corgi dogs, which she personally fed, as well as her deep passion for horse racing. She is said to have kept a racing form on her desk next to the stack of newspapers. More importantly, however, she will be remembered for her dedication to service.
“The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said in his eulogy at Westminster Abbey. “The pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignored – is that death is the door to glory.”
To a congregation of world leaders, Welby observed, “Jesus – who in our reading does not tell his disciples how to follow, but who to follow – said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ Her Late Majesty’s example was not set through her position or her ambition, but through whom she followed.”
According to Reuters, 500 of the funeral guests were presidents, prime ministers, foreign royal family members and dignitaries. “People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer,” said Welby. “But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.”
Through ceremony, hymns, Bible verses, and prayers, the guests from the four corners of the earth heard about a woman who was devoted to her faith. Welby’s on-point message about servant leadership was coupled with the Queen’s faith in Christian hope. “Christ rose from the dead and offers life to all, abundant life now and life with God in eternity,” he said. “We will all face the merciful judgement of God: we can all share the Queen’s hope which in life and death inspired her servant leadership.”
The Anglican worship service included a famous hymn written by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” He was the author of over 6,500 hymns and co-led the Methodist movement within the Church of England with his brother, John. In the grand crescendo, Wesley poetically concludes: “Changed from glory into glory/ till in heav’n we take our place/ till we cast our crowns before thee /lost in wonder, love and praise.”
Of course, Wesley’s mention of the crown was known to the Queen. Without flamboyant fanfare or posturing, she was England’s most reliable churchgoer. As a heartfelt believer, she knew that whether one lived in a palace or lived on the dole, God’s love was not restrained by title or status.
At her funeral, the Imperial State Crown – handcrafted with thousands of precious stones collected throughout history by British royalty – sat atop a pillow on the Queen’s coffin as it made its 20-mile trek from Westminster Abbey to St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. It was the unmistakable symbol of her royal office.
A few years ago, Queen Elizabeth candidly described the bejeweled crown as “unwieldly.” It literally takes agility to manage the crown’s weight. It has 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, four rubies, and 269 pearls. Thankfully for her, she only had to wear it on rare occasions.
During the service of committal at St. George’s Chapel, the crown, orb, and scepter were removed from the Queen’s casket and placed on the High Altar – deeply symbolic that they were merely on loan.
“Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed,” the Queen once shared in her Christmas address. “God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Savior, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships, and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”
In another message 30 years prior, she poignantly proclaimed: “Christ not only revealed to us the truth in his teachings. He lived by what he believed and gave us the strength to try to do the same – and, finally, on the cross, he showed the supreme example of physical and moral courage.”
For those of us who watched the proceedings, it was a grand spectacle with Scripture-laden ritual, ornate costumes, bagpipes and bells, cannons and loyal soldiers. It may have been one of the most widely-watched events in history.
Although the Queen was able to be incognito with the pair of American tourists near Balmoral Castle, the heavens produced a photogenic bright and colorful rainbow over Windsor Castle as the Union Jack was lowered to half-mast on the afternoon the Queen’s death was announced. It was truly a fitting farewell to a regal woman.
Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.