When Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952, there was no James Bond and no Paddington Bear – both of whom appeared with her to help promote events, the first being the Olympics opening in 2012, the second the Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier this year.
There were no cash machines, skinheads, mobile phones, gastropubs, genetically modified plants, bendy buses, miniskirts, Boeing 747s, CDs, rock bands, devolved assemblies or plastic bags. Food rationing hadn’t ended.
There was no Match of the Day, Russell Group of Universities, ITV, Gatwick Airport, oral contraception on sale, Human Rights Act, M4, European Union, punk, or Rwanda. Man had not yet walked on the moon.
You would have to be 80 or so to have any real memory of the world in which Queen Elizabeth was raised but, strange and remote though it is for most of us, many of us have known people raised in it, and have a sense of its ethos and outlook.
The films of the era convey the flavour of it: less demonstrative, more conformist, less squeamish, more deferential, less travelled, more culturally Christian – and scarred by the violence of two World Wars.
One hesitates to say that Queen Elizabeth’s sense of duty is a product of the period – after all, her sister, Princess Margaret, was a very different kettle of fish.
But that instinct for service, that blend of nature and nurture, was there from the start, as far as we can tell. Though perhaps neither duty nor service is quite the right word. Vocation, perhaps.
Much has been written about Queen Elizabeth’s Christianity – and rightly, because it was part of the very stuff of her. But it was Christianity with a particular, personal twist.
She will have believed all her life that God had called her to the throne. Put that way, it sounds disconcerting, even alarming – potentially maniacal.
Words from her broadcast on her twenty-first birthday, in which she declared that “all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service” are sometimes cited as capturing her essence.
But her Coronation Oath will have been more significant to her: “I will to the utmost of my power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel”, in the Protestant and Anglican context within which the oath was framed.
When she said it she will have meant it. She will also have known that some monarchs who preceded her were dragged to destruction by a combination of belief in their divine calling and how they sought to effect it.
By contrast, Queen Elizabeth’s judgement was as sound as her character was strong, and she scarcely put a foot wrong during her 70 years of service.
The one occasion when a section of the public thought that she had was after the death of Princess Diana – when, for a few days, the old culture of self-restraint and a stiff upper lip clashed with the new one of self-expression and letting it all hang out.
If the Princess was like a flash of lightning – dazzling to view but then suddenly gone – the Queen was more like sunshine, a presence so familiar with that it’s bewildering, as well as deeply sad, to be plunged suddenly into the dark.
Perhaps the figure of speech is not quite right because, just as the sun always rises, so there is always a monarch. When we say “The Queen is dead, long live the King”, we’re not simply wishing King Charles well.
We’re expressing a constitutional fact – namely that, even if the coronation is months away (as it is), there is always a monarch – just as, to be trivial about it, there’s always a Dr Who, however different he may look and be from the last one.
This is a harder truth for modern Britain to understand than it was for previous generations, because we get impatient with this amalgamation of person and the office. If the first behaves badly, than the second must go.
A vicar is found to have molested children? Get the clergy out of public life – and the Church too. The Supreme Court makes a controversial ruling. Put the judges through confirmatory hearings.
An MP is found with his hand in the till. Vote out his party in the Commons – better still, scrap it and bring in a Citizens’ Assembly, as urged by the Extinction Rebellion members who recently glued themselves around the Speaker’s Chair.
Now, there is a case for disestablishment, just as there is for judicial reform, and recasting the NHS – which is sometimes classed as an institution though, unlike the armed forces, it is a relatively recent arrival.
But the Citizens’ Assembly example gives pause for thought. Chosen by whom and, more importantly, advised and guided by whom?
What’s the point of having a new one if we elect one already – the very one that the protestors were stopping carrying out the work it was elected to do?
This is a conservative website and Queen Elizabeth wasn’t a conservative, because she wasn’t anything: that was the point of her. But she understood how institutions can build up a legitimacy greater than those who represent them.
Queen Elizabeth made her part in sustaining the monarchy look so easy that one could believe it was simple to do. Far from it: the marriages of three of her children didn’t work out, which will have been painful for her.
The public role she occupied was so all-encompassing that one can almost forget that she will have felt this pain no less intensely than any other mother and grandmother – and that the King, like so many of the rest us, now mourns his mother.
But there was a special dimension to the divorce of the Prince of Wales, as he was, or the fall from grace of Prince Andrew. Roy Jenkins once likened a Labour leader to a man carrying a precious Ming vase across a polished floor.
Maybe that better describes the lot of the monarch. At any moment, you yourself, or your family, can make a mistake, or rather a series of them, that ends up terminating your reign. Think Juan Carlos of Spain or, more terminally, Nicholas II of Russia.
It is a measure of how securely Queen Elizabeth held the vase that she must count as among the most successful monarchs in our history.
Who else competes? Queen Victoria, perhaps, whose reign saw constitutional and social progress? But she was unpopular for a time, which Queen Elizabeth never was.
Elizabeth I, maybe, who governed a country on the rise – then the “Young Country” that Tony Blair mistakenly once described Britain now as being?
King George, Queen Elizabeth’s father, was a popular monarch, not least because he wasn’t born to rule. But it is striking that such a large proportion of our most impactful rulers have been women.
We mourn with King Charles this morning but also welcome him gladly, because he is in place to succeed his mother, and the monarchy continues. Now he must put aside being a man with views and become a man with none.
That may not be easy but he will know it is required, because he will have seen his mother work out her calling as he must now work out his. And you can’t have vocation without sacrifice. King Charles no more chose his destiny than his mother chose hers, and he will need from us, during the years ahead, the love that so many feel for her. God save the King!