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The end of the second Elizabethan era

The souvenir brochure for the coronation. Getty

The Queen’s death marks the end of the “second Elizabethan era”, says Helen Lewis in The Atlantic. Over the course of 70 years, she steered the monarchy from the world of “aristocracy and deference” in which she was born, through the social liberation of the swinging 1960s and the “bitter divisions” of the 1980s and onward into a new millennium. The same queen who gamely carried out royal duties over Zoom during the pandemic was also a deep link to the “unreachable past”.

She was “six weeks older than Marilyn Monroe”, three years older than Anne Frank, nine years older than Elvis Presley. She was older than nylon, Scotch tape and The Hobbit. She reigned so long that even her voice changed. The “aristocratic vowels” of the early 20th century – “lawst” for “lost,” “femileh” for “family” – gave way to a “softer, less ostentatious” accent. The souvenir brochure from her coronation in 1953 is a “snapshot of a lost world”. Its opening page is stamped with gold and bears the coats of arms of Commonwealth countries, many of which no longer exist: Aden (now part of Yemen), Bechuanaland (Botswana), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Basutoland (Lesotho).

It might sound a strange thing to say about a 96-year-old “whose ancestors have held the throne since the 9th century”, but more than anything Elizabeth II was a moderniser. In 1992, she volunteered to start paying income tax. She repeatedly trimmed the Civil List to support fewer princelings and dukes who were not core members of The Firm. And where Elizabeth’s sister was once prevented from marrying the man she loved because he had been married before, Britain will now have “a previously divorced king married to a previously divorced wife”. The world must now discover, after a reign that lasted seven decades, “what England, and Britain, is without her”.