The death of the much-loved British monarch, who served for an incredible 70 years, truly marks the end of an era.
Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch in history, died peacefully at the age of 96 on Thursday, September 8, 2022. Elizabeth’s eldest son, Prince Charles, succeeds her as sovereign of the United Kingdom. As king, he also takes her titles Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Elizabeth’s grandson Prince William and his son, Prince George, are now first and second to the throne, respectively.
For many in the world, there has never been a time when Elizabeth wasn’t the queen. Indeed, Britons awoke on Friday for the first time in 70 years to a sovereign other than Elizabeth, and to say this has been a time of rapid change in UK leadership would be an understatement. Indeed, with newly minted Prime Minister Liz Truss having taken the helm on September 6, the UK has now welcomed a new prime minister and a new monarch in just half a week’s time.
Here in Malaysia, resident expats hailing from the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries expressed their sadness at Queen Elizabeth’s passing, but also celebrated her long and extraordinary life.
AN UNEXPECTED ASCENSION
She was born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary in London on April 21, 1926, to the then-Prince Albert, Duke of York, and his wife, Elizabeth, Duchess of York. Princess Elizabeth had been third in line to the throne when her uncle became King Edward VIII in 1936, upon the death of his father and Elizabeth’s grandfather, King George V.
But Edward abdicated that year – against the urging of the British government and the Church of England – so he could marry Wallis Simpson, an American who was divorced. Elizabeth’s father was unexpectedly crowned King George VI as a consequence, and the course of her life – and British history – was altered forever.
In 1952, George, who had endured health struggles for several years, died at the age of 56, and Elizabeth, who had no brothers, became queen on February 6, 1952. She was only 25 years old. Elizabeth had married Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark less than five years earlier, and the couple had two young children, Charles and Anne, at the time.
Elizabeth’s coronation ceremony was held at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. The first televised coronation in Britain’s history – that in itself a huge controversy at the time – drew some 27 million viewers, then about three-quarters of the nation’s population, while millions more tuned in to their radios.
Here in Malaysia, of course a former Commonwealth country prior to its independence in August 1957, tributes flowed on social media and in the news. On the government’s side, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah, in a statement, described the queen as a “towering figure.”
The statement went on to pay tribute to Elizabeth’s reign and express sorrow for her passing: “Malaysia extends its sincere condolences to the monarch’s family, the people and the government of the United Kingdom on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Her Majesty was a towering figure and led a lifetime of dedication and service to the people of the UK and the Commonwealth.”
In Thailand, acting Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said in a message to UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, “I have learned with profound sadness of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. On behalf of the Royal Thai Government and the people of the Kingdom of Thailand, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to you in this time of sorrow,” he said
Prawit’s statement also said that Her Majesty’s tireless compassion and dedication to the United Kingdom and the global community throughout 70 years of Her Majesty’s reign has been praised and admired all over and will always be remembered.
In Singapore, President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sent letters of condolence to King Charles and Liz Truss, praising Her Majesty’s “grace and generosity.”
President Yacob’s letter to King Charles read in part, “Her Majesty was greatly loved by all. She was, and will forever continue to be, a wellspring of strength and inspiration not just for the British people but also for the people in the Commonwealth and beyond. She will be fondly remembered for dedicating her life to service during her long reign, overseeing a period of remarkable evolution in British society and the United Kingdom’s role in the world. Her passing is an enormous loss to us all.”
THE QUEEN IN MALAYSIA
Queen Elizabeth visited Malaysia three times. She was the first British monarch to visit Malaysia in 1972, where she was hosted by the fifth Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah. According to Bernama reports, Malaysia was the third stop of her tour of Southeast Asia at that time.
Accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, she visited a number of local attractions including the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Kuching, Sarawak.
The Queen’s visit in 1989 was part of the 11th Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, where she graced a series of events in Kuala Lumpur, including a visit to the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque in Shah Alam.
Her final visit to Malaysia was in 1998 when the country hosted the 16th Commonwealth Games.
MOURNING IN BRITAIN
Though naturally the queen – and the monarchy more broadly – have amassed no shortage of strident critics and detractors, it seems that for a time, at least, the drama and controversy that too frequently plague the royal family will be put to the side.
King Charles III has declared that a period of official royal mourning will be observed from Friday, September 9, lasting until seven days after the queen’s state funeral. (‘Royal mourning,’ as opposed to national mourning, is observed by members of the royal family, as well as staff in the royal households, and troops on ceremonial duties.)
Meanwhile, Liz Truss, in only her fourth day as prime minister, was invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the new monarch on Friday. The new prime minister will need to confirm the length of national mourning, which is expected to be a period of about 12 days, ending the day after the funeral.
The queen’s state funeral is anticipated to be held on Monday, September 19, though this has not yet been officially confirmed.
Elizabeth’s husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, preceded her in death by less than one and a half years, passing away on April 9, 2021, at the age of 99. In the midst of the Covid pandemic, the funeral was an unusually small-scale affair, and a photo of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch in history, sitting alone at the service, touched the hearts of millions for its poignancy, and became for many an indelible symbol of the loneliness and grief of losing a loved one during the pandemic and having to mourn in isolated solitude.
A QUEEN UNTIL THE END
In 1947, as a 21-year-old princess, Elizabeth delivered a speech to the Commonwealth in which she promised that her “whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
She remained true to her word until the end, refusing to abdicate even as other monarchs in Europe chose to do so. (Her long reign made her son Charles the longest-waiting heir apparent in history.)
Even into her late 80s and early 90s, Elizabeth maintained an active schedule and was a patron of hundreds of charities and organisations. She continued to draw massive crowds wherever she went.
“When you’re in the presence of the queen, you’re keyed up,” British historian Robert Lacey remarked in the 2012 BBC documentary The Diamond Queen. “You want to be your best. You want the occasion to be something you can talk to everybody about afterwards.”
He continued, “That, of course, is the magic of what she is wherever she goes – the real human exchange that happens there is not a facsimile, and it’s not drummed up by the press. It’s something about the best of us.”
Reporting from The Guardian, Huffpost, CNN, Bernama, and the BBC contributed to this article.
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