*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Paul Vallely: The Queen lived deep in the nation’s psyche

16 September 2022

The bond between monarch and subjects is more than symbolic, argues Paul Vallely

Alamy

Members of the public pay their respects as the vigil begins around the coffin of the late Queen in Westminster Hall, on Wednesday

Members of the public pay their respects as the vigil begins around the coffin of the late Queen in Westminster Hall, on Wednesday

PEOPLE who appear stoic and strong at the funeral of a loved one can break down uncontrollably months later at the funeral of a mere acquaintance. It’s something to do with transference. When we cry, for whom are we crying?

When Andrew Marr announced the death of the Queen live on his LBC programme, he began to cry. “Why am I so emotional?” he thought, and later realised that “it was because I was thinking of my own father’s death two years ago.” Many have reflected on how the Queen’s death reminded them of the death of their own mother.

Others called her the “mother of the nation”, in a metaphor that sees the nation as a huge extended family. Here, the Royal Family is a symbolic projection of our own family; with its virtues and flaws, it epitomises what our country stands for. It made people feel that they really knew the Queen, even as they also understood that they did not.

Walter Bagehot, the Victorian who tried to write down our unwritten constitution, spoke of its dignified and efficient parts. The wielding of power by the Government and the making of law by Parliament were the efficient parts. The monarchy embodied the dignified aspect that made government “intelligible” to ordinary citizens.

This goes beyond symbolic representation. Bagehot speaks of a transcendent attraction which “aspires to elevate men by an interest higher, deeper, wider than that of ordinary life”. He even suggests that a “mystic reverence” is intrinsic “to a true monarchy”. Ask the Queen’s subjects — he was talking of Victoria — by what right she rules, and they do not speak of Parliament or law. Instead, they say, she rules by “God’s grace”, as if it were a kind of “mystic enchantment”.

Interestingly, our late Queen spoke several times of the most sacred element in her Coronation — the only one that, aptly, was hidden from the view of the television cameras. At the invocation of the Holy Spirit, with the anointing of her head, hands, and heart with chrism, she said, she was overcome with a great peace. It was a moment that was more than symbolic: it was sacramental.

Perhaps, too, all this has an added potency when the monarch is a queen. The female archetype has a profound place in the collective psyche, which is why the magnetic pull of the Virgin Mary — or our Lady, as all would have called her before the Reformation — for so long troubled those Protestants for whom sacraments had become mere symbols.

Fifty years ago, Brian Masters published his classic study Dreams About H.M. the Queen, which suggested that a third of the population dreamt about the monarch coming to tea and declaring: “You don’t know what a relief it is to talk to somebody normal and ordinary like you.”

These dreams of intimacy, reassurance, and “magical specialness” underscore that the Queen was not merely a focus of national identity, but lived deep in the nation’s psyche. They perhaps also explain why anti-monarchy protesters this week have been roughly handled by members of the public, even when their protests have been only mild.

When we cry, for whom are we crying? I think we may be crying for ourselves.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

 

Church Times/RSCM: 

Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available

 

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available

 

 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)