In June of 2013, my wife and I, along with three other couples, attended Royal Ascot. Ascot Racecourse is in Berkshire, six miles west of Windsor Castle. It is a circular grass track used for thoroughbred horse racing. Each of the five days of Royal Ascot (Tuesday to Saturday) begins with the Royal Procession at 2pm, when the Queen and other members of the royal family arrive in horse-drawn carriages driven down the racetrack in front of the viewing stands.
Royal Ascot is steeped in British traditions. One must adhere to its protocol which are detailed when you purchase tickets. We bought tickets to an infield hospitality tent inside the Royal Enclosure. Men are required to dress in coats and ties while women wear stylist summer dresses and hats. However, our group decided to wear the traditional Royal Ascot clothing. I rented morning clothing: black jacket with tails, black trousers with grey stripes, grey vest, white dress shirt, striped tie, and a black top hat. My wife wore a colorful dress, matching hat, and heels. On Thursday, the highlight of Royal Ascot, the Gold Cup is staged over a two-and-a-half-mile course. It is also Ladies Day where high fashion is on full display and women parade in audacious hats that attract photojournalist.
After a mid-day feast in the hospitality tent, my wife and I walked to the racetrack and waited for the Queen to arrive. Right on cue, her open carriage rode past us. She smiled and performed the royal wave to the adoring crowds. Behind her were Prince Andrew’s daughters riding in a similar carriage. Only a few security personnel walked around the track. There were no security checkpoints when we entered the racetrack which held thousands of well-dressed guests. I can’t imagine an American head-of-state arriving in a large stadium without an entourage of heavy security.
During the subsequent horse races, the Queen and her family watched from the Royal box, a glass enclosure similar to football stadium corporate boxes. I could plainly see her from where I stood on the inside rails of the racetrack. Standing at ground level, the horses flew by me during the six afternoon races. I knew nothing about the horses, so I placed minor bets based on the horse’s names. It didn’t matter whether I won or lost as our group was just having fun. The Queen’s horse won a race, and the next day’s London papers posted a picture of the Queen celebrating her win (in a royal way, of course).
After the last race, we drove to a British NHS hospital to visit a Shell colleague who was recovering from heart surgery. He was supposed to attend Royal Ascot with us, so we brought Royal Ascot to him. The hospital staff were visibly amused when we entered in our British finery. We wished him a speedy recovery and laughed together about our day at Royal Ascot. After a delicious dinner at the home of another Shell colleague, we took a late train, full of intoxicated Royal Ascot guests, back to London.
Last Thursday, the world learned of the Queen’s death. She was 96 years old and noticeably frailer this year. The pandemic and her husband’s death 17 months ago most likely hastened her death. Her job as Head of State has ended. It began in 1952 when she assumed the throne at the young age of 25, when her father, King George VI, died. She was loved by the British nation and revered by the world. People have disagreed with some of her decisions, but I never heard a negative word about her personal character during my seven years living in London. She represented the best of Great Britain: fortitude, duty, tradition, kindness, poise, and reverence.
When I first arrived in London as an ex-pat, I did not understand all the fuss over the royal family. The British tabloids were full of royal gossip and paparazzi pictures. This was during the 1990’s annus horribilis when Prince Charles and Diana were having marital problems. I just did not see the rationale for a monarchy within a modern, progressive nation. Why deal with an ancient institution that serves little purpose except performing outdated ceremonies and public events. Why can’t the royals just get a normal job, like normal people?
With time, I shifted and slowly understood the reason that the British love their monarchy. It rises above the petty politicizing and serves as continuity through the generations. The monarchy stretches beyond today’s issues and represents the history of the British people. Whether you are liberal or conservative, Catholic or Muslim, white or black, male or female, the monarchy tried to emulate the greatness of the British nation. Both British commoners and the posh cheer the Queen wherever she goes in public. They look to her as a beacon of hope when their world gets darker. Her Christmas message during the pandemic is just one of many examples of rallying the British nation during trying times.
Many Americans probably do not know that Queen Elizabeth is the Head of the Church of England. She appointed archbishops and made many important decisions relating to church polity. During her 1953 coronation, the archbishop anointed her with holy oil by making the sign of the cross on the palms of her hands, her forehead, and upper chest. Elizabeth stated that the anointing “sanctified her before God to serve her people.” For over 70 years, she served. Christians are baptized to serve their neighbors with love. Only a few are born into royalty, but all Christians are born in the Spirit.
Queen Elizabeth II is now in the Church Triumphant surrounded by the saints who died before her. She loved and was loved. A double rainbow appeared over Buckingham Palace just before her death was announced. God’s pleasure was on display in the sky. Well done good and faithful servant. Thanks be to God for the life of Queen Elizabeth II.