The news on Thursday that Queen Elizabeth II, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, had died began to reverberate through the world quickly, and had reached Maine less than an hour after the palace officially announced her passing.
Bernard Hope, an Ellsworth resident and native of Bedfordshire, England, who moved to Maine in 2005, said it would be strange to soon hear news reports referring to King Charles. He said he’s never known Britain to have anything but a queen.
“Time is measured over there by whomever is the sovereign, and I’ve never heard anyone refer to a King. She’s been Queen longer than I’ve been alive,” Hope said. “She’s the last remaining public figure that’s a link to the past and World War II, and I think that’s something that still resonates with a lot of people.”
Jay Paulus was scrambling on Thursday to erect a small memorial to Queen Elizabeth II and to respond to customers’ requests for the Union Jack flag at Bridgham & Cook in Freeport, the British goods store that he manages.
Customers were eager to reminisce about their travels to and connections with Britain, and express condolences and solidarity with the people of the country. Even though Paulus knew the death of the queen was coming, he said he still wasn’t ready for it, given how much she lived through during seven decades on the throne.
“We’ve lost a piece of the British monarchy,” Paulus said. “We’re all trying to process this. It’s more about the customers coming in who are dealing with it as well.”
Paulus said he recalled a similar feeling when Princess Diana died in 1997.
“We went through this with Princess Di’s passing, which was much more horrific,” he said. “We almost ended up being a sounding board for folks to come in, so that’s what I’m expecting.”
Robert Ballingall, a political science professor at UMaine who is originally from Canada, said the Queen’s death comes amid a period of incredible political instability both in the U.K. and internationally.
“The monarchy has always been a symbolic anchor and provides a source of legitimacy for those who believe in it,” Ballingall said. “In some ways, the timing couldn’t be worse. In other ways, it may actually stabilize things, as people may rally around the flag.”
As a native of a Commonwealth country, Ballingall said many people who are residents of countries that were formerly part of the British empire tend to have complicated feelings about the monarchy — though others look on it fondly.
“There’s a tremendous sense of nostalgia for this supposed golden age of the monarchy, and yet there’s major critiques of it as well,” said Ballingall, who grew up in British Columbia. “It’s a complicated thing for anyone from a Commonwealth country.”
Hope said that even though he has happily resided stateside for more than 15 years, the news of the Queen’s passing still made him feel a bit sad.
“Whatever your politics are, she was a nice old lady and it’s very sad for her family, and hearing this news makes me feel a bit homesick,” he said. “I’d be willing to bet that most Brits, even if they aren’t all shedding a tear, are certainly feeling something. It’s certainly the end of an era.”