The death of Queen Elizabeth II and the growing cult of disenchantment

The Queen was a steward of rich traditions and a symbol of unity, knowing that no authority she held (however constitutionally limited these days) was worth anything unless she bent the knee herself.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II -- seen arriving at the State Opening of Parliament with Prince Charles in London Oct. 14, 2019 -- died Sept. 8, 2022, at the age of 96. The prince, her successor, will be known as King Charles III. (CNS photo/Toby Melville, pool via Reuters)

I was supposed to be in England for a conference and other work-related events this week, but twenty-four hours before we were set to fly, Queen Elizabeth II died. For a variety of good reasons, the trip was postponed. But, I admit, I was disappointed. It would have been my first time back in England since my three-year sojourn there came to an end in the early 2000s, an exciting time in the U.K. that included the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, as well as the grand, affecting spectacles that followed the deaths of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother in close succession.

With Queen Elizabeth II’s death, much more has changed besides my travel plans and the look of British currency. After seventy years on the throne, bridging the divide between an earlier age and the modern world, Her Majesty went to her reward peacefully at Balmoral Castle on September 8. During her reign, she appointed fifteen Prime Ministers, met five Popes, presided over the dissolution of the world’s most expansive empire. She was a wife and mother of four children, a grandmotherly standard-bearer for a rightly ordered society at home and abroad.

The Queen was a steward of rich traditions and a symbol of unity, knowing that no authority she held (however constitutionally limited these days) was worth anything unless she bent the knee herself. The king of kings (and queens) was her Lord.

The Queen’s long, faithful life – and, more importantly, her long reign – should remind us how rare and precious are the gifts of longevity and stability. Accordingly, it should sadden us to realize how little we appreciate such treasures when they are gone. Reflecting on the significance of the Queen’s death, I have been remembering so clearly how I felt when my paternal grandfather died just a few days short of his 104th birthday in 2014. My Gramps had long enjoyed a role in our family as something of a king. He was involved in countless decisions in my life, and where he was ignorant or absent, I always wondered whether he would approve if he knew my plans or actions. He scared me a bit, and he inspired me a lot. Although I loved my grandfather dearly, during the last few years of his life, I began imagining the world after he finally died, and in fact, I admit I strangely looked forward to it. “The old order changeth, yielding way to new,” wrote Tennyson.

When the end finally came for my grandfather, however, I felt ashamed of myself for secretly thinking it would be better for him to shuffle off to Heaven sooner rather than later. He could not go on forever, but how wonderful it would have been for my children to know him just a little longer, benefiting from his long experience. After all, how many people raised in our globalist technocracy get to spend time with someone who travelled to church in a horse-drawn wagon in the rural Midwest in 1915? How many people around us can contextualize any of our modern woes with anecdotes from the sacrifices of World War II, let alone the Great Depression? When Gramps died, I was determined not to let the best things he represented and the lessons he had learned die with him.

Queen Elizabeth was, undoubtedly, happy to never have to see her own children and grandchildren take shelter from bombs as she did as a young woman. But her experience of having endured both the hardships and the simple pleasures of a slightly younger world ought not to be left with her body in the tomb. King Charles III has waited almost his entire life to become king, and now the crown is finally his (God save him!). Like the entire Baby Boomer generation in the West, King Charles has enjoyed the spoils of his ancestors’ sacrifices, like no group in history.

And as even casual observers of the Royal Family know, Charles’ service to his country has included countless charitable activities, but he has also come across to the world as selfish in ways his mother never did. The depiction of him in the hit Netflix series The Crown may be a bit of a caricature, but it leaves the viewer with a familiar-enough portrait of a man whose generation has set itself back over the years with more than a few own-goals.

As Prince of Wales, Charles may have embodied the Oscar Wilde quip, “The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork,” but he is not alone among the elites of recent times. Something about the world is different now than it used to be.

My worry now with the British monarchy, as with the hierarchy of the Church, is not that all the old-fashioned trappings and arcane rituals will suddenly seem irrelevant to modern people unless a truly admirable leader happens to be in charge. Rather, the risk grows every day that the monarchy will go the way of all institutions, whose trust has been eroded by too much — not too little —  orientation to the world’s latest fads, movements, and obsessions. With Elizabeth on the throne, a razor-thin line of trust remained taut, connecting our increasingly self-absorbed and self-constructed age with a nobler template for life beyond the utilitarian ethics of paychecks and calories and computer code.

With her gone, I wonder: Will we continue to allow the kind of other-worldly pageantry in the future that we expect to see at the Queen’s funeral, or is her death the moment when the cult of disenchantment fully takes over?

When I get back to England, sooner or later, I will pay my respects to Queen Elizabeth II. I do not wish to idealize her out of proportion, but I suspect she may be the last of something special – not perfect, but precious. The world without her is a strange novelty, and we can only hope to do our part to steward the values by which she, my grandparents, and so many of their generation attempted to live and lead. It won’t be easy, but no one ever said it would be, least of all her late Majesty.

Maybe it begins with bending the knee where Elizabeth always did, at the throne of Christ’s grace.


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About Andrew Petiprin 24 Articles
Andrew Petiprin is a columnist at Catholic World Report and host of the Ignatius Press Podcast, as well as Founder and Editor at the Spe Salvi Institute. He is co-author of the book Popcorn with the Pope: A Guide to the Vatican Film List, and author of Truth Matters: Knowing God and Yourself. Andrew was a British Marshall Scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford from 2001-2003, and also holds an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. A former Episcopal priest, Andrew and his family came into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2019. From 2020-2023, Andrew was Fellow of Popular Culture at the Word on Fire Institute, where he created the YouTube series "Watch With Me" and wrote the introduction to the Book of Acts for the Word on Fire Bible. Andrew has written regularly for Catholic Answers, as well as various publications including The Catholic Herald, The Lamp, The European Conservative, The American Conservative, and Evangelization & Culture. Andrew and his family live in Plano, Texas. Follow him on X @andrewpetiprin.

9 Comments

  1. The Queen held her Church’s hand
    This was her sceptre to rule her land
    The hero of the day was fair play
    Honesty was the British way
    It’s not so long ago when we stood row upon row
    To cheer and respect
    But now all is retrospect
    Were her aids too slow, did they not know
    She would have to go where her church did flow
    Now, who is the hero of the day?
    It must be Dell Boy he wins every way
    Show me a scam and I am your man
    If you want to rule a culture, what do you do?
    Dissipate them through and through
    When they know not right from wrong
    Evil sings its merry song
    The Truth is a burning fire
    It looks not at man’s desire
    Popes cower before it’s denuding power
    Bishops it mocks Priests defrock
    Leaders stand in disarray
    It’s all relative they say
    But honest it is not integrity is the loss
    To look into the living flame is to know one’s shame
    The denial of goodness to make it dark is to lose one’s heart
    But to bend one’s knee is to be set free
    The spark to become a flame, in every mortal frame

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. A sign of the times. God’s prophetic word coming to fruition.

    2 Timothy 3:1-5 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

    Matthew 24:7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.

    Daniel 12:4 But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”

    1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,

    Luke 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

    Yet, for the Christian, God gives us hope and assurance.

    Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

    Psalm 46:1 To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

  3. The BBC site has a live stream of people paying their respects to the Queen. It’s very touching to watch and not a few of those passing by her coffin are making the Sign of the Cross as they pray.

  4. My personal thought had always been that when Queen Elizabeth passed the monarchy in England would soon follow her into eternity. Unfortunately, King Charles has personnel baggage and a sour public disposition that will give the anti-monarchists a leg up. His Mother had a warm dignity and smiling personality that he lacks. RIP, Elizabeth R.

    • Not that I’m coming down on one side or the other, but popular “wisdom” has been saying the monarchy is in trouble at least since the days of Victoria. To give one example, the era of Jack the Ripper highlighted the grinding poverty and hopelessness of Whitechapel, amid a background of radical political agitation and a homosexual-brothel scandal involving the English aristocracy (reportedly even a member of the royal family.) It’s nothing new. The fact that the monarchy has managed to survive to 2022 may offer no guarantee for the future, but only proof that the institution is stronger than many give it credit for being. Just a thought.

    • King Charles hasn’t been blessed with his mother’s temperament and he’s made regrettable decisions in his private life but I think he will do his best to carry on in the Queen’s footsteps.
      His grandmother was an Eastern Orthodox nun and when ISIS slaughtered all those poor men on the beach in Libya Charles sent their Orthodox bishop funds and personal letters of condolence to each bereaved family.
      British support for the monarchy is higher at the moment than it was decades ago so I hope things continue on that way. A constitutional monarchy is a good system of government and truthfully I think we’d be better off with a parliamentary system too. It would save us the presidential election circuses every 4 years and the ugly political theatre of impeachment.

          • You’re welcome.

            Upon her death in 1969 she was interred in the same crypt under St. George’s chapel at Windsor with the other royals but was moved in 1988 to the crypt beneath the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, near the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

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