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“Carry on to the end”

New season of The Crown reminds us of the virtue of tenacious longevity

Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II, left, and Jonathan Pryce as Prince Phillip in a scene from "The Crown." Netflix via Associated Press

“Carry on to the end”
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As season five of The Crown launches this week on Netflix, viewers will see Queen Elizabeth confront the hardest years of her reign, including Charles and Diana’s very public difficulties, then divorce. One scene even shows Charles pushing the queen to abdicate, in order to allow him to take the throne. It was hardly the only time in her life when she faced such pressure.

Just 21 years old, then-Princess Elizabeth marked this milestone birthday with a profound pledge to her fellow countrymen in a nationwide radio address: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.” Only a few short years later, elevated to Queen Elizabeth, she reiterated that promise in her coronation address: “Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.” It was a principle she carried on with—when one of her more recent archbishops of Canterbury retired, she told him quietly, “That’s something I can’t do. I’m going to carry on to the end.”

Yet as the decades wore on, as jubilees came and went, there was pressure for her to abdicate, and it wasn’t coming only from the heir to the throne. At times the press and the public both suggested that she should abdicate in favor of her son Charles, and some even suggested that the throne go straight to the popular Prince William, her eldest grandson.

In May of this year, the Washington Post carried a column under the headline: “If Queen Elizabeth can’t do her job, she should abdicate.” It was a popular drumbeat last year, as Britain celebrated her 70 years on the throne. The London editor for the Irish Times characterized it as “cruel to hold somebody to a promise they made when they were 21 to keep serving and never to give up when they’re 96 and nobody expected her to live that long.”

How wrong they all were. As recently as 2019, a new report indicated she read her red box every single day except Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. These dispatch boxes arrived daily to her desk, carrying papers and briefings for her to review and approve from the various ministries of her government. Fans of The Crown will recall the scene in which her father, King George VI, advises his daughter always to start from the bottom of the box, as the bureaucrats hope you pay less attention to the items at the back.

Some royal observers speculate that she considered it not only her duty to remain on the throne, but a sacred pact.

Though age undoubtedly slowed her down, she never let up on her pledge to serve all the way to the end, meeting with her new prime minister just hours before peacefully passing from this world at her beloved Balmoral in Scotland. Some royal observers speculate that she considered it not only her duty to remain on the throne, but a sacred pact: “It also goes back not only to her speech in 1947 in South Africa but more specifically to the oath she took at the time of the coronation. She is a committed Christian. That’s the contract she made with God, and I think something she feels can’t be broken.”

Her incredible devotion to duty, and her refusal to back down from her pledge, offers an important lesson. As Morton Blackwell says often of politics, you owe it to your ideas to win. A corollary might be that you owe it to your ideas to serve as long as you uphold those ideas. At the queen’s death, many remarked on the queen’s incredible commitment to the United States, to Israel and the Jewish people, and to her Christian faith. It is expected that Charles will emphasize different priorities on the throne.

The alternative is seen most starkly when contrasted with the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to abdicate the papacy in February 2013, the first pope to resign under such circumstances in history. He remains alive today, spending most of his time in prayer, but still engaged. A recent visitor remarked that he “still retains a formidable mental clarity” and has “a really remarkable memory and capacity to connect for his age.”

There are times when circumstances give us no choice but to resign or retire. There are times when retirement paves the way for a younger, more energetic champion for the same ideals. But when pressure comes on conservative Supreme Court justices or others to end their tenures early, Queen Elizabeth’s example reminds us of the virtue of lifelong service. Please, dear justices, stay as long as you possibly can.

Daniel R. Suhr

Daniel R. Suhr is an attorney who fights for freedom in courts across America. He has worked as a senior adviser for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as a law clerk for Judge Diane Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and at the national headquarters of the Federalist Society. He is a member of Christ Church Mequon. He is an Eagle Scout, and he loves spending time with his wife Anna and their two sons, Will and Graham, at their home near Milwaukee.

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