Queen Elizabeth II
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II stands on the Balcony of Buckingham Palace as the troops march past during the Queen's Birthday Parade, the Trooping the Colour, as part of Queen Elizabeth II's platinum jubilee celebrations, in London on June 2, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

This is the last jubilee.

Even if he makes it to a milestone anniversary on the throne, Prince Charles has a better chance of slaying a host of fiery dragons and recapturing the Empire than he does of being feted the way Britons and people around the world are celebrating the record-long reign of Queen Elizabeth II this week.

If it is possible for a city to be a love letter, London has become an urban avatar of affection for the queen, marked by Union Jacks fluttering over streets, outsize floral arrangements of crowns and corgis, and shop windows crammed with more than the usual tea and cookie tins commemorating her 70 years on the throne.

It is, for many, a moment to celebrate being British. Conversations, even among strangers in crowds and shops, touch on gratitude and respect for how “she just gets on with it.” This is the thank-you for a lifetime of service carried out without complaint or faux pas — in contrast to politicians and some members of her family.

There’s the joy of gathering en masse in the pandemic era two years after the queen promised that “we will meet again.” There’s history, too: recognition that no previous British monarch has celebrated such a lengthy stretch on the throne — nor is likely to do so again. With the next three heirs all male, Elizabeth is expected to be the last sovereign queen for a century or more.

And that is how to best understand this moment: Elizabeth II was born before Scotch tape and the yo-yo. She served, as a teenager, in World War II. Her reign has spanned 14 prime ministers; the creation of social media; Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community (the precursor to the European Union) and, four-plus decades later, its Brexit.

She has been on the throne longer than most people in the world have been alive — a reliable, behatted constant amid unforgiving social, geopolitical and technological change. It is inevitable that the monarchy will be different when she is gone.

And though no one wants to talk about what comes next, change is coming. If earlier jubilees anticipated the monarch carrying on to her next milestone, the queen, now 96, has herself been making references to the future. Mentions of “evolution” dot media coverage and conversation. Her withdrawal from major public appearances in recent months, including the state opening of Parliament, has underscored that these festivities are likely to be the last big celebration — making it all the more tempting to toast her while she is here to enjoy it.

No one seems to mind that she is now more selective about when and where she appears. As Platinum Jubilee events kicked off Thursday with the annual military parade, the queen, for the first time in 70 years, did not review the troops herself. Instead, she waved from the balcony at Buckingham Palace. Thousands packed along the parade route near the palace roared their approval at her appearance.

When news broke a few hours later that she would not attend a thanksgiving service Friday at St. Paul’s Cathedral — having experienced “discomfort” at Thursday’s events (which she otherwise greatly enjoyed, a statement took care to note) — BBC commentators suggested that going forward, rare public appearances by the queen might feel more “special.”

In the run-up to official events and private street parties — all tempting the exquisite meteorological moment that is England in June — questions swirled around the Windsors: Will her popularity transfer to future generations? In the moment, however, speculation gave way to an appreciation for the queen’s grit and grace.

Underneath the pomp and pageantry, streams of media coverage, and messages from global leaders, there is an affection rooted in familiarity. At St. Paul’s Cathedral on Friday, the protocol and speakers shifted a bit to reflect the queen’s last-minute absence from the service. But her presence was still felt.

In his homily, the Archbishop of York, aware that the queen was likely watching on television with many others, mentioned her well-known love of horses as he spoke more broadly of her commitment to her role. “We are so glad,” he said, “you are still in the saddle.”

Washington Post

Autumn Brewington is a former royal blogger