Eras and Ends

The fall of the Berlin Wall and even more so the collapse of the 1991 coup in the Soviet Union. The death of Elizabeth II. The fall of Constantinople in 1453. 9/11. The coronation of Charlemagne. The first three all inspired people to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and say or think, “It’s the end of an era.” September 11, 2001 was sort of the end of an era for most people, not so much for those who had been paying attention to world events since the First Gulf War. The coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor was the start of a new historical period, at least according to historians. We use it as an easy start point for the Middle Ages. The fall of Constantinople is either the start of the Early Modern, or of the Renaissance, or both, depending on what you are looking at. I’d argue that it makes a better “Early Modern Era” touchstone, but I’m not a cultural historian.

Some events are so big that people at the time knew, when they heard about them, that something had shifted. Others took a while, or are just useful pegs upon which to hang names and dividing points. Until 9/11, the Challenger explosion was what a lot of people thought would be the touchstone event, the world changer for my generation. It wasn’t, not was the Columbia disaster, either, although that marked the end of the Space Shuttle program – NASA version. Pearl Harbor was a shock, but not a surprise, based on what I’ve read in newspapers from 1939-1940. By the end of ’40, I get the sense that Americans assumed the war would grow, and we would be dragged into it at some point.

For my age group, September 11, 2001 was a point of mental shift, I suspect. Again, not for people who in the business, or for those who had been watching Al Quaeda and other groups. I know one gent (and I wish I could remember who) said that when the Northern Lion was assassinated, he the academic knew that something big was about to happen. But he didn’t know what until the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I knew as soon as I turned on the radio and listened for a few minutes that the world had shifted. I strongly suspect that there were a few people in Europe for whom learning about the final fall of Constantinople to Mehmed II and the Ottomans was a world-shifting moment. The center of the Greek Christian world, the second Rome, was gone. Constantine’s city and one of the great holy sites of Christianity now vanished behind the green wall of Islam, and what could stop the Ottoman advance?

Queen Elizabeth II reigned for all of my life, and a goodly chunk of my parents’ lives. My great aunt, who had a TV, let my mother come over and watch Elizabeth’s coronation. I remember my aunt talking about it. Sort of like I got up terribly early to watch Diana marry Charles (loved the pomp. Not so sure about the 1980s shoulder poofs, but styles change.) Her passing is the loss of a touchstone, of a living link to a very different world. In some ways, it was a better world, in many ways it was a poorer world, but that connection no longer sits on the British throne. I admired her for sticking to her duty, for not following the latest fads and styles of dress or decorum. She maintained a decent reserve, and by decent I mean proper and fitting. She had a good sense of humor, kept her cool during interesting moments, and understood the big picture of priorities. She was a WWII veteran, serving her country and Commonwealth as best she saw.

And era has passed. The world has changed. Just like 21 years ago, just like in 1453, and at other times for other people.

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14 thoughts on “Eras and Ends

  1. Maybe Queen Elizabeth’s death was the end of the 20th century, like the journey of Legolas from the Grey Havens.

  2. Eh, she just became the only good kind of monarch.
    She was part of a repugnant institution. She’s gone, good riddance.
    Unfortunately, the institution survives.

    (Yes, I’m rather put out that I’m being pressured to care.)

    • She was part of a repugnant institution.

      An institution that is under the control of politicians is a “repugnant institution”?

      Modern Monarchs are in the main under the control of their nations’ Parliaments not “rulers” with major power.

      I more pity the members of Royal Families especially the “reigning” Monarchs than “hate”.

      They are puppets not rulers.

      They have all this “wealth” but are strictly bonded by the “expectations” of the Politicians on “how to behave”.

      No supporters of the British Monarchy have really explained to me what Real Role (besides a puppet) the Monarch (and the Royal Family) plays in the British government.

      • Are politicians not repugnant?

        In general, I’m more inclined to be sympathetic towards someone who gained unconscionable power over their fellowman through an accident of birth, than someone who deliberately sought it (especially by fraud or force)..

        • Perhaps, but I’m not convinced that any modern King/Queen has “unconscionable power over their fellowman”.

      • Our constitutional monarch is the institutional and constitutional memory of the UK government, he or she has the right to be consulted, the right to advise, and (theoretically) the right to veto – although that is very much an instrument more effective when not exercised. The monarch is not only the visible Head of State for the Nation, but sees (and reads and understands) every state paper and knows what his or her elected government is doing at all times – and every one of HM’s Prime Ministers has commented on the immense value of knowing you have ONE knowledgeable and trustworthy colleague with whom you can discuss anything, and need not hide state secrets from, and know that you are not sharpening a political knife for your own back. That continuity of knowledge and experience across both ends of the political spectrum cannot be bought and cannot be matched by an elected head of state who must de facto be the poster-child for his or her party. Some historians have said that it was his unwillingness to step up and perform the duties of his role responsibly as much as his relationship with Mrs Simpson that led to the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 – a very British sort of coup….

        • You’ve made the only good defense of the British Monarchy that I’ve heard.

          Hopefully Charles III can do half as well as his mother. 😀

    • I disagree with you about Elizabeth Windsor, but I agree that being “pressured to care” has gotten excessive, to put it nicely. The “you must emote or else!” strain in modern culture has gotten far too strong for my taste.

      Whatever one thinks of the idea of monarchy, British, Japanese, Dutch, or otherwise, the death of the second-longest reigning monarch will serve as a historical era marker for a number of individuals, and perhaps eventually for historians. Time alone will tell on the latter.

  3. There is something about a monarchy that (ostensibly) goes back to Alfred The Great that gives a sense of permanence and history that lasts beyond the last election. Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 69 of my 71 years, so I don’t remember any other monarch. I’m not exactly a fan of the monarchy (kind of a not my monkey, not my circus attitude), but it is worth noting the passing of an era, much as Victoria’s death marked the end of an era at the beginning of the last century.

    • The struggles between Monarch, nobles, and Parliament gave us the separation of powers that we treasure. If you’d preserve the battlefield at Gettysburg, you should respect what the English Monarchy has evolved into.

  4. Each generation is ‘marked’ by some event… Sadly, my generation has seen a number of those ‘events’, and none of them have been positive. Re 9/11, you’re right. We knew ‘immediately’ that it was not accidental.

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