Elizabeth II (1926-2022) R.I.P.

The main story of the week is of course the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Waugh commented little about the monarchy,  but some of the papers found relevant references in his works.

–Dominic Green writing in the Wall Street Journal managed to find a relevant quote in a letter. Here’s an extract of his story:

…In her, the monarchy outlived the system it symbolized. Through her, the monarchy assured its survival by refusing to change, except when it changed utterly. The origins of reality television lie in “Royal Family,” the 1969 BBC documentary that was watched by an estimated 350 million people. The origins of the current media war of the Windsors between her grandson Prince Harry and the rest of his family, lie in Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s public airing of their unhappy marriage in 1995. As Harry has said, monarchy is now a “mixture between ‘The Truman Show’ and being in a zoo.”

We never really knew what Elizabeth II thought about the collapse of deference and the rise of the royal cabaret. She was an accomplished performer who delivered the Christmas Day message every year and never broke the magician’s oath. The smoothness of her delivery belied the scale of her achievement and the extent of the transformation over which she presided. “When George VI died in 1952, Evelyn Waugh wrote that his reign “will go into history as the most disastrous my unhappy country has known since Matilda and Stephen.” Those medieval monarchs laid waste to England through civil war; the modern English had done the right thing in the world wars, but their exchequer was empty, their cities were in rubble, and the empire, with the loss of India in 1947, was over.

Yet the long and melancholy withdrawal from empire was drowned out by the rise of a new England, less class-ridden, cold and repressed, and more musical, multiracial and fashionable. As everything changed, Elizabeth was what T.S. Eliot, who took British citizenship just after her first birthday, called “the still point in the turning world.”

The queen, whose duties were planned down to the last detail, planned her death and her obsequies. Each member of the family has a plan and a code name. Philip, her husband of 73 years, whose death last year was a premonition of her mortality, was “Forth Bridge.” She was “London Bridge.” London Bridge has fallen now. We shall not see her like again. The world that made her, and of which she was the last and grandest echo, departs with her. The queen is dead. Long live the king. (Letters, 369)

The Waugh quote is from a letter to Nancy Mitford dated 15 February 1952 in connection with the death of George VI. Waugh began the topic by criticizing a speech made by Winston Churchill on the occasion, with particular reference to the new Queen who, like Elizabeth I, Churchill said had not grown up “in expectation of the crown.” Waugh was not an admirer of Elizabeth I whom he described as “the vilest of her sex.” After the quoted remark in the WSJ, Waugh wrote “One interesting point stands out. The King died at the moment when Princess Elizabeth first put on a pair of ‘slacks’–within a matter of minutes anyway. The Duke of Windsor lost his throne by his beret more than his adultery.” (Letters, 368-69. Somehow, I can’t think this is correct, since Princess Elizabeth may well have worn slacks during her WWII duties as an ATS mechanic.

–There was also this from the Guardian sports pages on what was otherwise a slow news day:

Not that the Queen had any obvious fondness for sport. “I have often observed in women of her type a tendency to regard all athletics as inferior forms of fox-hunting,” Evelyn Waugh wrote of Lady Circumference in Decline And Fall. Does that sound about right? The Queen did love the horses. She seemed to quite like going to cricket. One of her first non-ceremonial appearances was to meet the touring Indian team of Vijay Hazare at Lord’s in 1952. She met Don Bradman’s Australians at Balmoral and her sister stood very near Keith Miller looking pleased.

The headline reads: “Reign stops play for Queen.”

–The Evening Standard’s coverage extended to its food page where the columnist considered the Queen’s favorite restaurants. Here’s the top of the list:

It’s said that the Queen enjoyed going out, in part because of the simple novelty of ordering. Used to having her kitchens prepare food 24 hours in advance, deciding what to have in the moment was thought to be something of a boon. The Queen may have rarely had the opportunity to dine for pleasure, but she did occasionally. Here’s where.

Bellamy’s

The Queen is reported to have visited Bellamy’s at least twice. She visited first for her 80th birthday, returning a decade later with Princess Anne and Princess Alexandra, her cousin. Owner Gavin Rankin took the name from the gentlemen’s club in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, and accordingly dubs it “a club without a sub”. A French brasserie, it specialises in comfort, in the kind of lunches and suppers that can stretch on for hours. Her Majesty is said to have ordered the smoked eel mousse, caviar and roast quail, while elsewhere the menu includes Dover sole, said to be another favourite. The wine list is very proper, which is to say French entirely, and the Martinis are particularly good. Despite its pedigree, there is a set menu for £27 for two courses, £33 for three.

The restaurant has been mentioned frequently in previous posts. What Waugh himself might have thought of it is a question never broached.

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