Across the pond, Queen is mourned by those who were never her subjects

Across the pond, Queen is mourned by those who were never her subjects

The mourners began pouring in to Myers of Keswick, a small British grocery store in the New York borough of Manhattan, on Thursday morning even before Queen Elizabeth II’s death, on the hunt for tea towels, royal memorabilia, Cornish pasties and other small tokens of Britishness to mark a moment in history.

But when the news that she had died finally arrived via telephone, Irene Donnolly, a shopkeeper, knew just what to do: After listening to “God Save the Queen” in the shop’s tiny kitchen, she pulled a framed portrait of the queen off the wall and placed it carefully in the window, nestled in Union Jack bunting.

“It’s the end of an era,” said Donnolly, who has worked at the shop since she moved to New York from Ireland two decades ago. “I can’t even speak.”

England’s longest-reigning monarch was mourned across the world Thursday as an unrivaled source of constancy, whose reign helped shape the modern world order and Britain’s colonial legacy. But in few places outside the United Kingdom was the outpouring so striking as in the United States, a faraway former British colony she never ruled and only occasionally visited but still managed to transfix, in one way or another, for generations.

From Independence Hall in Philadelphia to the seaside California home of Prince Harry, the queen’s grandson, Americans crowed about the “special relationship” between the two nations (a favorite term of American and British politicians), gawked at the rarefied world of wealth and celebrity that surrounded her (tens of millions of Americans tuned in for Harry’s wedding to American actor Meghan Markle) and marveled at her sheer longevity.

Though the queen was never actually a part of it, few people were firmer fixtures in American life for longer. In 70 years on the job, Elizabeth served alongside 14 American presidents going back to Harry Truman, sitting on the throne across the Atlantic for almost one-third of the history of the United States as an independent nation.

Queen Elizabeth II Elena Saldana fixes the window display at ‘Myers of Keswick’ on the day the Queen of England died, in New York on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. (Evelyn Freja/The New York Times)

“Americans have a craving for celebrity, an admiration for wealth and an interest, I think, in figures who step out of politics,” said Maya Jasanoff, a Harvard historian who studies the British Empire, noting that the queen largely remained above the passing political fray. “The royal family has managed to fill that yearning for Americans through decades.”

“Let it not be forgotten that early in the history of the American republic, there were some conversations about whether George Washington ought to be a monarch,” she added in an interview.

In modern Washington, where partisan forces are once again testing the foundations of the American republican experiment, Republicans and Democrats briefly set aside white-hot domestic disputes to share their admiration. One of them, President Joe Biden, who first met the queen in 1982, called her “a stateswoman of unmatched dignity and constancy.” Another, former President Donald Trump, took a more personal view: “What a grand and beautiful lady she was,” he said.

Both parties promised friendship and support for her son and successor, King Charles III, whose government has been working with the Biden administration to orchestrate an international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the marble Capitol, which still bears scars from British ransacking during the War of 1812, the House of Representatives lowered flags to half-staff and planned to pass a bereavement resolution Tuesday, then adjourn to honor the queen’s memory, as it did after the death of her father, George VI, in 1952. Elizabeth was the first and only British monarch to address a joint meeting of Congress in 1991.

Miles away, outside the British Embassy, tributes were left in words and flowers Thursday afternoon.

Meg Massey, 36, a nonfiction writer who stopped by, said the monarchy’s “colonialist history” was fair game for criticism. But as an American long fascinated by the royal family, she said, “we get to watch the drama without having to pay for it.”

She said that Elizabeth had promised as a young woman to serve her country for the rest of her life, and she did. “You can also honor and celebrate that,” she added.

Queen Elizabeth II People lay flowers outside the British Embassy following death of Queen Elizabeth, in Washington on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

That service did not inspire solely admiration. Though she ruled through the gradual shrinking of the British Empire and the independence of former colonies, for some Americans, Elizabeth remained the symbol of British imperialism. Many other Americans see the monarchy as an anachronistic and costly institution.

“I have no reason to cast aspersions on the queen herself as a person, but the institution was increasingly one that was bound up in the 19th and into the 20th centuries with consolidation of empire,” Jasanoff said.

Tributes poured forth from unexpected corners of the country — some that felt worlds away from the stately confines of Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where the queen spent her final days.

The University of Maryland Terrapins shared an image of a commemorative program from October 1957, when Elizabeth attended an American football game in College Park on her first state visit to the United States.

At Madame Tussauds, the wax museum in New York’s Times Square modeled after the London original, the ninth-floor display where visitors can usually “sip tea” with the queen was replaced with a wooden table and guest book for condolences.

A British-themed pub in downtown Philadelphia planned to serve the queen’s favorite chocolate dessert. Nearby, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, David Lubin, a guide escorting tourists from Israel, pointed to her endurance and adherence to the rules.

“She was a strong woman,” said Lubin, 64. “She kept the tradition, and she didn’t bend, but she respected the democracy.”



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