We carried her in our pockets and purses, jangled her and handed her over, put her in slot machines and bought soft drinks with her. The first image of Queen Elizabeth II that I can remember looking at was her profile on the new decimal coinage we were shown in infant school. The face on her coins was ineffable and timeless, and dominated our age.

The monarch’s face on a coin is a guarantee of value that connects the Queen with Roman emperors, with King Offa; modern British money carries on it an icon of rule as old as coinage itself. The power and authority of the Queen in her depictions, from cash to art, from films to photographs, from paintings to novels, was as charismatic as that of any historical king, queen, tsar or khan.

In real life, Elizabeth II was the model of a constitutional ruler, standing apart from her governments, respecting to the letter the limits of her role in a democracy. In our imaginations, however, she was absolute.

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