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The Ladies' College


Back 12.09.22

Principal's Senior School Assembly


On Friday 9th September, Principal Daniele Harford-Fox gave a speech to the Senior School following the sad news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

You can read the whole speech below:

Good morning everyone.

As you will now know, yesterday Queen Elizabeth II has sadly died. She was the longest serving Monarch in British history and today you are living through a historic moment of change. You are now part of history. The way that you read history books and look back on pictures of key events will be the way future generations will look back on today, trying to understand how this moment shaped and changed the direction of our nation.

And we won’t know yet, living in the moment, what ripples it will bring. But what we can do is mark this occasion by thinking about one of the most quietly powerful women who has ever lived. And I’m not sure we often think of her that way, but I suspect it is how history will see her.

So, I wanted to briefly share this morning, two things I particularly admire about Queen Elizabeth II.

The first is her constancy and determination. There must have been enormous pressure for her to be the beautiful, gentle unassuming female head of state and as she got older to be the mother figure, soothing and warm. But she didn’t bend or present herself to fulfil those traditional concepts of femininity, she held true to who she was. Someone serious. Someone with a calm but determined will. Someone who refused to be controlled and paraded, but equally refused to be goaded or pulled into disputes. Someone who knew the path she wanted to tread and trod it through her own choice, her own direction.

I think often about what have must have been like for her, acceding to the throne as a woman who was born only seven years after women were even allowed to vote, and just seven years after the end of World War II, with rationing still in place in Britain. To have met weekly with these much older experienced male Prime Ministers, titans of history, and in that space to have held her own. She had to navigate the undercurrents, the immense pressures for her to conform and smile sweetly, and, through sheer force of will, she carved out space for herself to lead with autonomy and dignity in a world that had little space for women to lead at all.

The second thing I think she represented is an entirely different approach to how to live a good life.

We are now an individualistic society. We are a society that thinks about what we want, what we are going to pursue, what we should get out of something and what we are owed. Elizabeth II was somebody who saw duty as more important than individuality.

I was listening to Andrew Marr speaking about her yesterday and he said that unlike any other head of a state, you never knew the Queen’s opinion on something, She never let her own thoughts about a Prime minister, or about the countries decision or direction be known. However strongly she felt about something, her position was never public knowledge. And that was deliberate because she felt that her duty was the lead the country without bias. To represent the British Isles and the Commonwealth without her own thoughts and feelings clouding that role. Imagine that. Imagine in her weekly meetings with the Prime Ministers being told they were going to take actions that she may have found appalling or deeply disagreed with. Imagine having to read out the Queens speech, which is predominantly written by Downing Street and having to say words set by others in a calm and dignified way even if you disagreed with the direction of the state. She did it because that was her role. If the Crown starts to disagree with Parliament, then the whole system of democracy can become fraught and so, she put aside her feelings and her beliefs, to serve the people of the nation.

I’m not sure I could do it. I’m not sure I could put aside my feelings and desires. I’m not sure I could serve, relentlessly for 70 years without fury that my life, my autonomy, had been given over to others by an accident of birth. And she did it with dignity. With compassion. With huge investment of heart and will.

And so, whether you are a deeply committed monarchist or someone who believes in the independence of Parliament, I doubt there are many without a deep respect for this woman who rose through history, who navigated wars and conflict, deep social change and unrest, with a calm assurance, an absolute authenticity and a drive to serve that was so profound it was never questioned.

Many people seek power. They seek it because they want it for themselves. She did not seek power. And thus, perhaps, was the very person to be trusted with it.