Queen Elizabeth II
from a Rhodesian perspective.
Queen Elizabeth II of England was also Queen of Rhodesia
from 1952 until 1970.
As is demonstrated elsewhere on this site, Rhodesia was one of Britain’s most loyal allies and, when the call came from the mother country, Rhodesia was never found wanting.
In 1952, Elizabeth II became Queen of Rhodesia, along with all her other realms, upon the death of her father George VI. In 1965, when Rhodesia became independent, Elizabeth II remained Queen of Rhodesia in terms of Rhodesia’s 1965 Independence Constitution – nearly all of which was unchanged from the previous 1961 Constitution. Despite every wish to retain Queen Elizabeth as head of state which was communicated directly to her, over the next five years the British government led by Harold Wilson, whose advice and edicts the Queen was required to follow, palpably prevented Elizabeth II from continuing to fulfil her role as Queen of Rhodesia. Thus, following a referendum, in which 81% of the electorate voted in favour, Rhodesia became a republic in 1970. Notwithstanding this, the Queen continued to be widely loved and respected throughout the country.
Queen Elizabeth II visited Rhodesia in 1947 as Princess Elizabeth along with her father King George VI, her mother Queen Elizabeth and her younger sister Princess Margaret.
When the King and Queen and the two Royal Princesses visited Rhodesia in April 1947, the culminating point of their tour was the State opening by His Majesty of the second session of the sixth Parliament as King of Rhodesia. The picture of the scene at the opening of Parliament will be for ever historic in the country’s archives.
During her visit the future Queen was presented with a diamond, platinum and gold brooch in the shape of Rhodesia’s national flower, the Flame Lily. The brooch contained nearly 300 diamonds and was a gift for her upcoming 21st birthday from the children of Rhodesia, more than 40 000 of whom contributed towards its cost and which was designed by Salisbury jeweller Mr Len Bell. Six of the children, representing all races in Rhodesia and led by 16 year old Moira Darby, had the honour to present the brooch to Princess Elizabeth at a reception held at Government House in Salisbury.
The future Queen Elizabeth took an instant liking to the flame lily brooch which she put on immediately. Notably, she wore the brooch upon her return to England from Kenya in 1952 shortly after becoming Queen upon the death of her father King George VI. During the course of her reign it was clearly one of her long term favourites and she wore it on a regular basis almost to the end of her life.
An interesting event during the 1947 Royal Visit occurred when the Royal party made a pilgrimage to the grave of Cecil Rhodes which is sited on a hill in the Matopos south of Bulawayo known as The World’s View (also known as Malindidzimu or the place of spirits). The then Queen Elizabeth, later the “Queen Mother”, was ascending the View of the World to Rhodes’ Grave and found the climb too steep in her high heeled shoes. Princess Elizabeth, exhibiting the good nature for which she became well known, thereupon took off her own shoes and lent them to her mother. The Princess then completed the remainder of the visit in her stockinged feet as is further described in the following extracts from an article in the Daily Telegraph of 16th September 2022:
The true reasons why the whole world wants to come to our Queen’s funeral
Elizabeth II was the last truly imperial figure, and yet no one was better able to bring a sense of unity to the post-imperial world
by CHARLES MOORE – Daily Telegraph – 16 September 2022
In the queue in Westminster Hall on Thursday, I was immediately behind two tall, dignified Sikh gentlemen. At the catafalque, they stood still. Each man brought his hands together in silent prayer and then passed on.
There is a short story by Rudyard Kipling. Its narrator is a Sikh officer in India. He tells his men how he witnessed the vigil in Westminster Hall (“a certain Temple which is near the river”) over the coffin of King Edward VII.
Four elderly Gurkhas kept the vigil, he relates, as well as British Guards officers. Gurkhas were in short supply in England, so the four men insisted on standing for a full hour, whereas the Grenadiers in their “tall, grief-declaring bearskins” did only half-hour shifts.
It was a point of honour for the Gurkhas to do this for a King who “knew every button and braid and hook of every uniform in all His armies”.
Before I reached Westminster Hall, I had visited Margaret King, formerly of Aquascutum, whom I know because she used to dress Mrs Thatcher. As a 15-year-old girl in Salisbury, Rhodesia, Margaret danced the Dashing White Sergeant with Princess Elizabeth during the royal tour of southern Africa in 1947. During that visit, the future Queen made her famous vow of service on her 21st birthday.
Margaret and her fellow teenagers had practiced Scottish reels before the Young People’s Ball for the princesses in Salisbury; but on the night one young man in the party was “fumbling and stumbling” and could not manage it.
She recalls how Princess Elizabeth spotted the problem. Tactfully pretending that she was finding it hard to dance in her long Norman Hartnell dress, the Princess stopped proceedings and restarted the group under her coordination. In a voice which was almost a song, she called the time. Now the young man could follow the steps, and they all danced happily away. “He loved her for life,” says Margaret.
Margaret’s father, Patrick Fletcher, was a minister in the Rhodesian government. It fell to him to accompany King George VI, Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) and the two princesses to climb the Matopos, the hills sacred to the Ndebele people. Their destination was the tomb of Cecil Rhodes, after whom Rhodesia was named.
Ascending the steep granite slopes, the Queen tottered on her high heels and fell. The King was at a loss how to proceed until Princess Elizabeth lent her mother her more sensible shoes and elected to walk up the mountain in her stockinged feet.
When they reached the top, the Princess, as Fletcher recorded privately, “wandered away from the smooth precincts of the tomb”. She “stood against the dipping sun” and surveyed the vast prospect of the veldt, which is called World’s View.
Her father, the King, watched her. “There stands Lilibet all alone,” he said, “She will be lonely in her life.”
I retell Kipling’s Indian fiction and Margaret’s true story from Africa because they bring out the paradoxes in Elizabeth II’s story.
The late Queen was the world’s last truly imperial figure. Her famous vow included a lifelong commitment to the “great imperial family to which we all belong”. When she came to the throne, she was Queen of all British African territories, of Pakistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka today) etc, with dominion over palm and pine.
She gave them up, but never publicly criticised that legacy. Today, Cecil Rhodes, to whose memory the young Princess accorded such respect, is often seen as an arch-villain. Attempts have been made to bring down his statue in Oxford University.
Many royal-assisted efforts to ameliorate the imperial legacy came to nought. One of the purposes of the 1947 tour had been to boost the South African prime minister, General Smuts (who had fought Britain heroically in the Boer war), against the Afrikaner-led National Party which was declaredly racist. Yet despite the huge éclat of the tour, Smuts lost the election the following year. Apartheid was then formally introduced in South Africa.
Although the Commonwealth which succeeded the Empire works as a “friendship” organisation, the democratic political institutions which the British prided themselves on bequeathing to former colonies have rarely flourished.
No previous British monarch (as opposed to earlier English ones) has had a funeral in Westminster Abbey. Theirs have usually been at far-smaller Windsor instead. Yet for Elizabeth II, it turns out, the Abbey is not nearly big enough. The world is trying to squeeze in.
Nor, on the other hand, can it be solely because of the late Queen’s personal goodness, real and constant though it was, that the world is gripped. After all, there are many, many other virtuous people, thank God, and occasionally one or two of them lead their countries.
So what is it that – to quote Kipling’s Sikh again – makes “the child, the old man; mother, virgin, harlot, trader, priest; of all colours and faiths and customs under the firmament of God” want to enter that Westminster “Temple” in person or on screens?
Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne were a queenly edition of an entire collection of universal facts about war and peace, love and loss, youth and age, prosperity and adversity – the spooling out over one long life of the great passage from Ecclesiastes which says “To everything there is a season”.
I use the word “queenly” because I think the story is more conspicuous and more touching because it tells of a woman who moved, unsullied, in a world of power ordered by men.
Perhaps if she had not been born royal, Elizabeth Windsor would have led a contented life as a respected countrywoman, wife and mother, stalwart with the church flowers and at the local point-to-point.
But her calling was different, and she understood extraordinarily early and extraordinarily well what that meant. Like Edward VII in Kipling’s account, she knew every braid and button of her armed forces, and almost equivalent details of her kingdom. We loved her for it.
But she went beyond that. Perhaps, when the young Elizabeth stood, alone and shoeless, and gazed at the World’s View, she intuited the peace and wholeness which all the world seeks. In modern parlance, one might say that she devoted her entire reign to “channelling” this in her style of leadership. As she would more likely have put it, she did her bit.
The above extracts were taken with acknowledgement from an article by Charles Moore published in the London Daily Telegraph on 16th September 2022. The full article may be read here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/09/16/true-reasons-why-whole-world-wants-come-queens-funeral/
A few days after the royal visit to Rhodesia, Princess Elizabeth made a 21st birthday broadcast to the Empire from Cape Town. This included what became a famous commitment to serve the people of the Empire; as set out below:
“On my twenty-first birthday I welcome the opportunity to speak to all the peoples of the British Commonwealth and Empire, wherever they live, whatever race they come from, and whatever language they speak.
Let me begin by saying ‘thank you’ to all the thousands of kind people who have sent me messages of good will. This is a happy day for me; but it is also one that brings serious thoughts, thoughts of life looming ahead with all its challenges and with all its opportunity.
At such a time it is a great help to know that there are multitudes of friends all round the world who are thinking of me and who wish me well. I am grateful and I am deeply moved.
As I speak to you today from Cape Town I am six thousand miles from the country where I was born. But I am certainly not six thousand miles from home. Everywhere I have travelled in these lovely lands of South Africa and Rhodesia my parents, my sister and I have been taken to the heart of their people and made to feel that we are just as much at home here as if we had lived among them all our lives.
That is the great privilege belonging to our place in the world-wide commonwealth – that there are homes ready to welcome us in every continent of the earth. Before I am much older I hope I shall come to know many of them.
Although there is none of my father’s subjects from the oldest to the youngest whom I do not wish to greet, I am thinking especially today of all the young men and women who were born about the same time as myself and have grown up like me in terrible and glorious years of the second world war.
Will you, the youth of the British family of nations, let me speak on my birthday as your representative? Now that we are coming to manhood and womanhood it is surely a great joy to us all to think that we shall be able to take some of the burden off the shoulders of our elders who have fought and worked and suffered to protect our childhood.
We must not be daunted by the anxieties and hardships that the war has left behind for every nation of our commonwealth. We know that these things are the price we cheerfully undertook to pay for the high honour of standing alone, seven years ago, in defence of the liberty of the world. Let us say with Rupert Brooke: “Now God be thanked who has matched us with this hour”.
I am sure that you will see our difficulties, in the light that I see them, as the great opportunity for you and me. Most of you have read in the history books the proud saying of William Pitt that England had saved herself by her exertions and would save Europe by her example. But in our time we may say that the British Empire has saved the world first, and has now to save itself after the battle is won.
I think that is an even finer thing than was done in the days of Pitt; and it is for us, who have grown up in these years of danger and glory, to see that it is accomplished in the long years of peace that we all hope stretch ahead.
If we all go forward together with an unwavering faith, a high courage, and a quiet heart, we shall be able to make of this ancient commonwealth, which we all love so dearly, an even grander thing – more free, more prosperous, more happy and a more powerful influence for good in the world – than it has been in the greatest days of our forefathers.
To accomplish that we must give nothing less than the whole of ourselves. There is a motto which has been borne by many of my ancestors – a noble motto, “I serve”. Those words were an inspiration to many bygone heirs to the Throne when they made their knightly dedication as they came to manhood. I cannot do quite as they did.
But through the inventions of science I can do what was not possible for any of them. I can make my solemn act of dedication with a whole Empire listening. I should like to make that dedication now. It is very simple.
I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.
But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”
Queen Elizabeth II, who was much loved and admired throughout the world, died on 8th September 2022 aged 96.