Britain has entered a period of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II that carries with it a magnificence that few people have seen alive, given the length of her reign. Churches rang their bells and dozens of gun salutes were fired. The top English football league postponed its weekend games and most of the programs on television were about her. Her funeral, scheduled for September 19, will be a national holiday.
To get a sense of what’s going on in Britain, I spoke to Mark Landler, The Times’ London bureau chief.
Claire: Mark, you and I both live in London. When I got off the Underground on Friday, the first thing I saw was a giant billboard for the Queen. I could hardly get a newspaper as they were mostly sold out. How have you seen people mourn?
Mark: There are these visible examples of grief. The Queen’s face is now on every bus shelter in London. She peers down from Piccadilly Circus and countless other places. But Brits are rather stoic. You feel it more like this sad undercurrent than this visible, dramatic display of sadness. And there’s not the demonstrative display of grief you saw after Diana’s death in 1997.
This familiarity figure for pretty much everyone in this country is gone. You hear it in shops and in post offices and on the metro: something the British took for granted is no longer there.
We’ve seen a gap in the responses from people of different ages. The Times reported that many young Britons reacted more mutedly and that some… called the monarchy irrelevant.
Part of that gap is a function of time. If you’re an older Brit, you’ll remember the Queen from when she was much more present in public life. Over the years, the monarchy has become more known for scandal than for the institution itself. When you’re young, you might think more of Harry and Meghan than the Queen when you think of the royal family.
On the night the Queen died, I was sitting in a taxi in the Camden area of London. The streets were full of children going in and out of pubs and clubs. They laughed and joked and vaped and did everything kids do. It crossed my mind: The fact that the Queen had died hours earlier didn’t seem so noticeable. And why would you expect that?
This kind of grieving process is unlike anything most of us have seen, even if it caters to Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. What should we pay attention to in the coming days?
Operation London Bridge, the name for the funeral plan, has been in the works for decades. It’s based on ancient traditions for marking the death of a monarch, some of which are woefully out of date.
A highlight will be when the Queen’s coffin returns to London. She will be laid out in Westminster Hall, where she is likely to be viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. Then, a few days later, she has a state funeral. It will be the first since Winston Churchill’s in 1965. So this is almost once in a century.
You have been a correspondent in Washington, Germany, Hong Kong and now Great Britain. I’m curious what you think of the argument that constitutional monarchies are a surprisingly effective form of government. As American author Matthew Yglesias put it last week, “It is difficult to defend the constitutional monarchy in terms of the rudiments, but the empirical track record seems good.”
Britain has gone through a rather turbulent period. There have been four prime ministers in six years and the storms of Brexit have not yet abated. The role of the monarch in this period has been important. When Britain rejected Europe, it really needed to regain a sense of national identity. The Queen delivered that. The monarch is the stabilizing anchor under a rotating cast of prime ministers and the inevitable turmoil of a democratic system.
The Queen was not only the British monarch, she was also the head of state of more than a dozen of the Commonwealth countries, including Canada, Australia and several Caribbean islands. How has the response been different in other parts of the world?
The Queen’s death raises the question of whether some countries will seize the moment to throw off the monarchy. Barbados replaced the Queen as head of state last year and Jamaica is thinking of doing that. That doesn’t happen overnight, but the general direction is pretty clear: it’s a direction away from recognizing the monarchy.
What was your reaction when you first heard the news?
I never believed that the Queen would die in my care. I just assumed, like many people, that she was some kind of eternity. When it happened, I had a moment of disbelief. And it happened on the heels of a new prime minister. The combination of news was quite overwhelming. But that’s what you live for as a journalist.
I would like to be a fly on the wall at the first private meetings between King Charles III and Liz Truss, the new Prime Minister.
Traditionally, neither side talks about those meetings. But it was probably very different from when Elizabeth and Churchill had their first official meeting. He guided and guided her. Now you have a 73-year-old king and a 47-year-old novice prime minister. He is new as king, but he has been in public life for decades. It’s almost a role reversal of what we saw when Elizabeth became queen.
Mark Landler has covered the Obama and Trump White Houses and served as Hong Kong bureau chief. He has only seen the Queen in person once, at a NATO ceremony in Portsmouth, England, when he was reporting on Donald Trump. He is originally from Vermont.
“God save the king”: A council formally confirmed Charles as king in a solemn ceremony.
Elizabeth left behind a country troubled by domestic crises and concerns about its place in the world.
From Times Opinion: Charles has spent his life in the shadow of women, writes Maureen Dowd. What will he do with the spotlight?
War in Ukraine
Ukrainian forces took the city of Izium in the east of the country from Russian forces and made more gains in other regions, the army said.
The seizure was the latest triumph in a Ukrainian advance that transformed the war in just days.
Here Russian troops are retreating in the northeast of Ukraine.
Once vociferous supporters of the Russian invasion criticized President Vladimir Putin over the retreat.
Building bridges has become a crucial, albeit low-tech, tool for both sides in the war.
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The Sunday Question: What Should Be Done with the British Monarchy Now?
It is an obsolete and corrupt feudal relic, and its abolition would make Britain a more democratic society, Polly Toynbee of The Guardian has argued. George Will of the Washington Post thinks the monarchy is a useful source of… national unity and purpose.
THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE
The ethicist: Is it OK to take a job at a law firm defending climate villains?
To eat: Spicy shrimp-and-vegetables from an Ottolenghi chef.
Read the full issue.
THE WEEK AHEAD
What to watch out for
Britain continues its mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II.
Memorials to the victims of the September 11 attacks will be held in New York and Washington today.
Sweden holds parliamentary elections today; gun violence is a top problem.
The finals of the US Open men’s singles and women’s doubles are today. The WNBA Finals begin tonight between the Connecticut Sun and the Las Vegas Aces.
The Emmy Awards are tomorrow.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Labor will announce the inflation figures for the past month.
Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island will hold primaries Tuesday.
The UN’s annual General Assembly begins on Tuesday.
London Fashion Week starts on Thursday. Some shows, such as Burberry, were canceled due to the Queen’s mourning period.