Three queens, full of sorrow

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

It was one of the most widely distributed news photographs of all time; it appeared on the front page of every newspaper in Britain, and many more throughout the world.

Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee got off to a smashing start in Canada, thanks to a splendid and imaginative project brought to completion on Tuesday by the Speaker of the Senate, Noel Kinsella: To mark Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne, the Senate of Canada dedicated a magnificent stained glass window above the grand staircase leading to the Senate foyer.

The "Diamond Jubilee Window" marks the Diamond Jubilee of two Queens — Victoria in 1897 and Elizabeth II in 2012. Aside from its artistic beauty, the window is a marvellous depiction of the continuity of the Crown in Canada. Victoria was the Queen of the British North America Act of 1867; Elizabeth the Queen of the Constitution Act, 1982. The original Parliament Buildings of Victoria's reign, flying the Union Jack, appear under her portrait in glass; the current Parliament Buildings, flying the Maple Leaf, appear under Elizabeth's. By the Queen's own request, both Queens are wearing the latter's favourite necklace — Victoria's diamond necklace, which Elizabeth herself wore at her coronation in 1953.

In a time when monuments, large and small — statues, stained glass, stamps, stadiums — frequently disappoint, Speaker Kinsella deserves high praise for a compelling, creative and distinctively Canadian Diamond Jubilee memorial.

I did not get a chance to ask the Speaker from whence the inspiration for the two diamond Queens came, but I wonder if it may have had its roots in another famous image of Queens — perhaps the most famous image of all. The photograph was taken by Ronald Case on February 15, 1952, at the funeral of King George VI at Windsor Castle. Known soon thereafter as "Three Queens in Mourning," it was one of the most widely distributed news photographs of all time; it appeared on the front page of every newspaper in Britain, and many more throughout the world.


The three Queens are waiting upon the arrival of King George VI's body. His mother, Queen Mary, the consort of King George V, is in the centre, a dominant figure of stoic strength, marked by long suffering, not least of which was the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936. Her crushing disappointment in her eldest son was soothed over time by her second son, George VI, becoming an able and admirable King.

To Queen Mary's left is the consort of George VI, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. She is the picture of grief, eyes closed in sorrow at the premature loss of the man who was a good King, in large part because of the great love of this good woman. She would live her long widowhood of 50 years, a figure of both grace and mirth, the beloved grandmother of the Commonwealth — an unprecedented Golden Jubilee as dowager Queen.

She is protected by the formidable Queen Mary, her grandmother, but while Queen Mary's eyes are fixed, almost in shock, in the present, Elizabeth II seems to be looking forward, to the future service she had just begun.

And then, partially hidden, as if emerging unexpectedly, determined but not yet fully ready, is King George VI's daughter, the new Queen, Elizabeth II. She is protected by the formidable Queen Mary, her grandmother, but while Queen Mary's eyes are fixed, almost in shock, in the present, Elizabeth II seems to be looking forward, to the future service she had just begun. She could not know then that 60 years later she would rededicate herself to that same service anew.

The photograph is one of great continuity — grandmother, mother, daughter — even as the Diamond Jubilee Window celebrates that same family line — great-greatgrandmother and great-great-granddaughter. There is also the indication of generational change and adaptation — Queen Mary is in full, solemn and solid black from veil to toe. The Queen Mother's dress is slightly shorter, and the Queen's a touch shorter still. Continuity and subtle change — Case's photograph captures the heart of a successful constitutional monarchy.

Then there is the feminine dimension, queenship rather than kingship. Neither the Diamond Jubilee Window, nor the Three Queens in Mourning would be nearly as evocative if they featured generations of men. Partly it is the faintly ridiculous military uniforms Kings wear on such occasions, while the simple mourning dress of the Queens is an immediate act of solidarity with women everywhere who grieve for their fathers, husbands and sons. Yet there is more to it than that; we refer to our nations using the feminine form — Canada is proud of her Queen. We do that because we aspire for the nation to be something of a family, and in every culture the heart of the family is the mother, the feminine dimension. The long-serving Queens, in the glory of diamonds, or the grief of mourning dress, exemplify the steadfast service of what ought to be known as the stronger sex.

Victoria's 64 years on the throne, Mary's 40-plus years as Queen consort and dowager Queen, the Queen Mother's astonishing 66 years being addressed as Her Majesty, and now 60 years of Queen Elizabeth gloriously reigning — all of this is an occasion for awe and gratitude, and for rededication to the eminent sensibility of constitutional monarchy, and the particular genius of the Canadian Crown.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Three queens, full of sorrow." National Post, (Canada) February 9, 2012.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2012 National Post




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