Queen Elizabeth II’s extraordinary life and extraordinary 70-year reign have come to an end. Elizabeth died on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. May God rest her soul and save her people.
Tributes abound, from Jordan Peterson to Sebastian Milbank to Edward Pentin to Carl Trueman to Yuan Yi Zhu. And Peggy Noonan writes:
“Now I am imagining the royal funeral, the procession, the carriages of state going slowly down the mall, the deep crowds on each side. The old will come in their chairs and the crowd will kindly put them in front, the best view, to wave goodbye to their friend, with whom they had experienced such history together.”
I know that some Americans find it puzzling that we should be moved by the goings-on of a monarchy in a country from which we long ago declared independence. I think there are a few reasons why we should care, and why the monarchy is in fact owed our prayer for its continued flourishing.
First, despite American independence we should be able to look across the Atlantic and see the obvious: the reason that the United States and United Kingdom have been described as having a “special relationship” is because our peoples are related. We’re cousins, and have the chance to retain bonds like those of family should we choose.
Second, with the time of kings and kingdoms apparently past, the persistence of the English monarchy nevertheless reminds us that there are some things in the cultural and political life of our nation we that do not simply make but that we inherit. In this way, the monarchy can remain a symbol even for Americans. The strength and success of our constitutional system relies in powerful part on the same virtues of gratitude, responsibility, filial piety, and frankly awe for those good and lasting aspects of our public order that we did not create and can only hope to pass along to the future.
Finally, the Commonwealth of Nations, whose members now recognize King Charles III as their head, consists of some 2.5 billion people. That is a remarkable association of peoples that seems worth paying attention to.
I also have ancestral and familial reasons for my Anglophilia, for my gratitude to England and hope for her wellbeing. Genetically, I’m 92.8% British and Irish and 5.1% French and German.
Michael Shakley (1735-1817), meanwhile, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1754 from a town today known as Walzbachtal in the German Rhine Valley. In 1763, Michael was naturalized at the Pennsylvania State House—what we now know as Independence Hall. Nicholas Alleman, another early ancestor, was born in French Alsace and fought in the War of Independence. It’s thanks to Nicholas that I am a life member of the Sons of the American Revolution. Nicholas’s daughter Elizabeth would marry Michael’s son, and the family grew from there. We owe our lives and the life of our family, in a very real sense, to what the British built in Pennsylvania—both to what encouraged Michael to come from the old world to the new and what led Nicholas to fight in the War for Independence.
(Truly, although we often talk about the “American Revolution” it’s far more precise and sheds far more light to call it the War for Independence. Our American ancestors, whether ancestors by blood or spirit, did not fight for a “revolutionary” system of government—most fought for their independence for the sake of attaining in America the rights and liberties they felt the crown was wrongly denying them in practice. “We claim nothing but the liberty and privileges of Englishmen in the same degree,” declared Virginia’s George Mason, a founder and later father of the Bill of Rights, “as if we had continued among our brethren in Great Britain.” The cause of independence was unifying because it sought to secure for Americans the rights and responsibilities they understood as their English inheritance. There was, in this sense, no “revolutionary” change, but rather an attempt through independence to more firmly root an ancient inheritance in a new way.)
In any event, knowing the story of my family—both those who emigrated to Pennsylvania and those who were already colonists—and the reasons for separation from Britain are reminders for me to be grateful for those who came before and who built so much of the world as we know it. We have many challenges, just as we have much to be grateful for. It would be wrong to deny the gift of the “liberty and privileges” for which all Americans today rightly give thanks. I think we owe thanks to God for all that we enjoy and, yes, to the peoples across the Atlantic who were the original architects of so much of the American order.
As an aside, my grandfather John Shakely spent much of the decade after he graduated from Penn State sailing and working overseas. He happened to be in Nassau, The Bahamas in the days leading up to Elizabeth II’s coronation in June 1953 and took these photos:
That’s the Bahamian Parliament in the first photo, and my 26-year old grandfather with his bike in Nassau in the second photo.