THE Queen Mother lies at rest in Windsor; the captains and the kings have departed; the pageantry is over. But its implications have still to be digested. There are some interesting conclusions to be drawn from Queen Elizabeth’s obsequies.
Over the past few years, some anti-monarchical assumptions had been spreading. An increasing number of commentators had come to believe that the monarchy would somehow wither away over the next generation. Though they were always vague about the exact circumstances in which the royal house would disappear, they argued that it would gradually crumble under the combined weight of public indifference and its own outdatedness.
After 11 days of ceremony and mourning, there is only one retort: what indifference, what outdatedness? It is not the monarchists but the carpers and facile modernisers who have been shown to be out of touch, as indeed were some courtiers who ought to have known better.
There has been one desirable procedural reform in recent years. If the Queen Mother had died in Scotland, she would have lain in state in St Giles’ for at least a day before the final journey to London. The same would happen if, in the long fullness, any other senior member of the Royal Family were to die north of the Border.
Other possible changes would have owed more to a loss of nerve at court. The batterings of recent years had persuaded some of the royal entourage that the monarchy’s best hope of survival lay in a pre-emptive appeasement of its critics, especially by the abandonment of long-established forms.
It is fortunate, indeed, that the Queen Mother organised her own funeral service. Had that task been left to the more timid courtiers, the service might not have been so traditional - or so moving and inspiring. As it was, the public enjoyed what they saw, and revered it.
If anything, the appetite for grandeur was unslaked. It would have been better, for example, if the coffin had left the abbey on the gun carriage and only been transferred to the hearse outside Buckingham Palace.
But that is a minor detail. Thursday’s events had the monarchy at the centre, and in charge. Before the Princess of Wales’s funeral, there was virtually a battle over the coffin between Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street, and Tony Blair succeeded in insisting on his right to read a lesson. He was determined to turn the People’s Princess into a New Labour icon. But he could not catch her grandmother-in-law. This time, the Prime Minister was merely another mourning dignitary.
So what of the future? The Queen herself has nothing to fear; the depth of respect and affection for her mother also envelops her. Equally, Prince William is by all accounts an excellent young man who has been toughened but not scarred by the turbulent years, and who can be at ease while bearing the weight of his future responsibilities. A more tortured character, the Prince of Wales has never found it easy to be at ease. It may be, however, that he will now take comfort from the way in which the British public responded to his beloved grandmother: comfort, and self-confidence.
What the monarchy now needs is a period of quiet; with the various princes going about their duties without shocks or scandal. In Prince Charles’s case, his advisers ought to find a way of interesting the public in his many serious activities. The Prince’s Trust, for instance, has an outstanding record in bringing hope, work and self-respect to inner-city youngsters neglected by their schools and their families. It has been far more successful - and certainly far more cost-effective - than most of the state-run social services.
But the principal question concerning the Prince of Wales is inevitably his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles: will they marry? It may be that recent events will smooth their path. It is apparent that they are man and wife in everything but name, and most contemporary Christians would find it easy to applaud their wish to regularise matters by seeking a blessing in Church.
Assuming that the Jubilee is a huge success - which now seems certain - the bonds between the people and the monarchy will have been further strengthened by the end of the year, and this makes it more likely that the public would respond to the Prince of Wales’s remarriage in a generous spirit.
After the funeral, the prince and Mrs Parker Bowles went to Birkhall. They may have been thinking of the future, as well as the past - and they may well have been justified in deciding that their own future was now less complicated than it had been.