The passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II after 70 years on the throne has created a deep emotional rift within British society and the international community as a whole. It has felt like living in two distinct countries since the official announcement was made, moving between a place of impending political, economic, and social disarray into one united nation gripped and mourning the loss of their longest reigning monarch.
On hearing the news my initial reaction was, understandably, sadness. She was a beloved mother, grandmother, and friend to many, and that void to those special people in her life will be irreplaceable. Bar a few difficult moments, notably her annus horribilis, she had 96 years wonderful years of life which one must be grateful for. Emotionally that’s as far as I’ve ventured into, so it’s been interesting to observe just how profound an impact her passing has had on millions of people, particularly those who have travelled considerable distances and camped overnight in London to share their condolences and be part of the collective mourning period.
It’s easy to criticise people for their ‘hysteria’ in their emotional overdrive to be part of a grief to a woman they had never met. I thought it must have been a disconcerting moment for Prince William and Harry having to comfort members of the public, who were visibly emotional at the gates of Buckingham Palace, for the loss of their own grandmother. Whilst I personally cannot relate to that particular expression of emotion, I can understand where it comes from; the comforting stability that Elizabeth II brought to Britain. Through economic uncertainty and social change, through crises and resets, through hell and high water, she has been an unwavering presence in the lives of British people in a unique way. She hasn’t been occupying the stage though the cult of personality, but rather in a discrete and formalised position. No one knew what she thought or believed or wished for, and that’s what made her necessarily universal to bring relative peace to a country in the midst of rebuilding itself and reinventing its global image.
So what now for the monarchy after the passing of their most famous and loved monarch? As time starts to heal the nation’s wounds, important conversations about the Royal Family’s status in conjunction with the aims of modern Britain will need to be had. The role of the British Monarchy in upholding the Empire and advancing imperialism is indisputable, and that gruesome legacy still lingers potently today. The apparent utility of bankrolling an expensive ‘chosen’ family in the midst of a cost of living crisis that threatens the lives and livelihoods of many people. The increasingly diminishing influence as Heads of State as more former colonies choose to adopt republics and free themselves from a historical partnership that did not benefit them in the long term.
The tabling of these questions feels like the slow unraveling of the tightly-wrapped cotton wool that has been coddling and pacifying the country from addressing deep-rooted structural problems. In the same week that the Queen passed, unarmed 24 year old Chris Kaba was killed by a Met Police Officer during a traffic stop. The juxtaposition between the quiet formality of the proclamation of King Charles III’s accession and the senseless racist violence that still grips the country today should remind us that we could strive to usher in a new dawn in which we do not require the comfort of a King to feel proud and safe in the country we are citizens of.