The Queen is Dead: Long live the King! Is it that British royalty will live on, trying to preserve tradition while making slight concessions to the challenges of modernity? The pomp, ceremony, showmanship of royalty, military and state was something to behold as the funeral of Elizabeth ii attracted a global audience.
A quarter of a million people joined mile long queues, some waiting for more than twelve hours to pass by her covered coffin as she lay in state to pay tribute to the only monarch most would have known. Was it a passion for monarchy or a genuine tribute to a woman who was to them a symbol of national unity? As a constitutional monarch she interacted with about fifteen Prime Ministers, two days before her death inviting, the last, Liz Truss, to form government.
Elizabeth’s role was ceremonial and symbolic. Her silence on matters political and issues that could have created divisions in the nation stood out. As someone stated she kept her views close to her chest. One detected that she differed with Margaret Thatcher on her views on apartheid. She took warmly to Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison and even went against protocol by inviting him to the Heads of Commonwealth Conference in Zimbabwe in 1991 after his 1990 release from prison. During Mandela’s state visit to the UK in 1996 he travelled with the Queen in a horse drawn carriage through the streets of London. Elizabeth visited Ghana earlier in 1961, five years after that country’s independence and danced at a state function with Kwame Kkrumah, president of the Republic of Ghana.
I have always had difficulty understanding the deep love, it appears, of the British people for royalty. Recently about 68 percent wanted the monarchy to remain. The English national anthem has always befuddled me. Why do we today have an anthem paying tribute not to the people but to a hereditary monarch: “God Save the King/Queen; Long to reign over us, God save the King/Queen”! It was even more annoying when we as colonies were forced to sing asking God to allow “him/her” to reign for long over us.
Charles has had a long period of learning the traditions of the monarchy. He, It will appear, might have difficulty keeping his views close to his chest as his mother did. How will the monarchy fear under him with all the challenges of today? His mother was able to get over the ‘missteps’ that came with Princess Diana’s death. Her delayed reaction as it was described was considered a ‘royal snub’. The Harry/Meghan strained relationship with the family still stands to be resolved. How the King deals with it might indeed impact on his reign. Following Brexit and Britain’s withdrawal from Europe, the Commonwealth seemed to have become a focus of attention. The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, James Marape considered Elizabeth ii as the “anchor that held our country within the Commonwealth.” Can the same be said of others? Even before the death of Queen Elizabeth, other countries within the Caribbean had been signalling their desire to move on and become Republican States, some, if not all, might do so. They can still remain members of the Commonwealth, but Britain’s status might be reduced with only few of the member states having the monarch as Sovereign head.
Then there is the question of its terrible colonial past, a past in our part of the world associated with slavery and genocide of the native people. In our case, the majority were banished, and their lands sold to British planters. Caribbean leaders and people have been calling for an official apology from the British state and for reparations. At the ceremony that ushered in Barbadian Republican status, the then Prince Charles acknowledged the atrocity of slavery “which forever stains our history.” He however emphasized the trusted and close partnership between Barbados and the UK as vital members of the Commonwealth. The monarchy in Britain will continue but the constitutional monarchy as it currently exists might be subjected to changes unimagined. The big challenge will remain with the Commonwealth and British response to the legacies of colonialism and to the call for reparations. King Charles cannot be silent on this especially when more members move to Republican status. Let us not forget too, that members of the Royal family had been intimately involved in the slave trade and slavery. The monarchy, of course, sanctioned British involvement in slavery and the slave trade. The sun has for long been setting on the British empire.
A constitutional monarchy without the Commonwealth might be a different kind of beast as more of its traditions and pomp and remnants of empire disappear. The sun will certainly set everywhere!
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian