Memories of a Queen

Maybe it’s having been named Victoria, but the history and doings of the British royal family have always fascinated me—not the scandals so much as, in the present day, the Queen herself. Like her predecessor, Elizabeth I, she took on a tremendous responsibility at the age of 25 and bore it with grace during good times and bad (Victoria was 18).

I have never seen any of the royals up close—except once. In May 1985, we were visiting the town of Reims, with its famous cathedral, in the heart of France’s champagne region—reason enough to stop over there. Reims is also the town where Colonel General Alfred Jodl signed Germany’s unconditional surrender at the end of World War II. Coincidentally, we were there the day before the fortieth anniversary of the signing, a bit proud that General Eisenhower declined to attend the signing. Not only did he outrank Jodl, but he’d seen the camps. He knew what had been done.

As we wandered the cathedral aisles, practically the only visitors, one aisle to our right I saw a smiling elderly woman wearing a pale blue suit and matching hat. A few well-dressed men orbited in her vicinity. “Look! It’s the Queen Mum!” I whispered. My husband, knowing how poor I am at recognizing people, took a closer look. “Oh, my god, it IS!” I discreetly took a couple of pictures, now rather faded, and the headline from the newspaper the next day confirms the presence of the “reine-mère.”

In 2012, we again stumbled into royal doings, when we visited London to take in the special exhibits for the 200th birthday of favorite author Charles Dickens. They were quite fun. The photo is of the writing retreat he used, probably to escape the clamor of his many children. Coincidentally, again, we arrived right at the time of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee—her 60th year on the throne. We saw a great deal of Jubilee-related pageantry, a Royal Air Force flyover, and thousands of cheering Britons. I saw a dress I liked too.

Dickens’s writing retreat in Rochester, England (photo: vweisfeld)

4 thoughts on “Memories of a Queen

  1. I knew the president of Magdalen College at Oxford from his trips to Columbia University (also was head of the British Film Institute). Quite by chance I met him walking across campus on my UK trip a number of years ago. Prince Charles had an architecture scholarship program at the college and I was invited to observe and be introduced. In a beautifully appointed classroom I saw Prince Charles talk to student after student, asking questions of creative vision and commenting. I was so struck by how he focused on the students’ vision and architectural drawings. Very down to earth and taking time with each student, so much so I had to leave before any introduction. For all the criticisms of him I’ve read through the years, I always remember and am gratified for that brief glimpse into who he also is.

  2. Interesting recollection on seeing the Queen in the church. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that those famous people are really individuals just like us and it’s stunning when we happen upon them in regular situations. I’ve known a few Brits and always found them pleasant people. I was shocked and disgusted at the vicious attack that one idiot posted about the Queen’s passing. She was quite a lady.

  3. I was six going on 7 when Elizabeth was crowned. Television had not made its way to Texas, or at least not to a small town in deep East Texas. I was allowed to
    go to the movies once a week on Saturday afternoon, giving my mom a free afternoon. I watched her coronation in two episodes of Movie News, a special feature of small town theaters. I was thrilled to see it on the “big” screen.

    • How fun! I remember Margaret’s wedding, but not the coronation. Saw pix of the coronation in color for the first time in the recent remembrances. V

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