In 70 years of reign, Elizabeth II went through many crises both internationally and nationally. Increasingly contested in Scotland and certain Commonwealth countries, can the British monarchy survive without the Queen?
Elizabeth II, who has been hailed as a star during the four-day celebrations in London since Thursday, has dedicated her life to the monarchy. Since the Queen’s coronation in 1953, the institution has undergone many upheavals, adapting and evolving while embodying unity and stability. Seventy years particularly marked by the gradual disintegration of the British Empire.
Elizabeth II still rules over 15 countries, remnants of the old empire, where she retains the status of head of state: Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a dozen island nations located mostly in the Pacific and Caribbean. She is also the symbolic head of all Commonwealth nations, 54 states in all, almost all former British colonies.
The map of the realms and nations of the Commonwealth. [Géopolitis – RTS]
There is a real crisis within the Commonwealth.
In recent decades, several of these former colonies have severed ties with the Crown, such as Pakistan in 1956 and South Africa in 1961. Most recently, Barbados began transitioning to republican rule last year. “Of the 15 kingdoms of the Commonwealth, 6 want to become republics,” stresses inNaïma Maggetti, specialist in the British Empire at the University of Geneva. “There is a real crisis in the Commonwealth. We could see it with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s recent trip to the Caribbean. This trip was planned as a charm offensive, but it ended in a public relations disaster,” adds the historian.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge greet residents of Kingston through fences. [CHRIS JACKSON / POOL / GETTY IMAGES – Reuters]In Jamaica, protesters have demanded that the royal family apologize for their role in the slave trade during the colonial era. A series of photos showing the royal couple greeting Kingston residents through fences has also sparked controversy. “Because it evokes that divide between colonizers and colonized of the former British Empire,” continues Naïma Maggetti. In Belize, the couple even had to cancel a visit due to hostility from some locals.
Prince Charles’ Canada tour was hardly more triumphant. Where the Crown craze is at its lowest.
Popularity at half mast in the UK too
Elizabeth II remains popular, but heir to the throne, Prince Charles, doesn’t inspire nearly the same enthusiasm as his mother. According to a recent study, the monarchy as a whole can still count on the support of 60% of Britons. However, “in Scotland in particular, the monarchy is losing popularity, where only 45% of respondents want to keep this institution”, specifies Naïma Maggetti. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, this support even shrinks to 40%. Northern Ireland’s and Scotland’s desire for independence also threatens the unity of the kingdom.
The successive scandals also tarnish the image of the institution. And the recent cases aren’t the most anecdotal. Prince Andrew, who has been accused of sexually assaulting a minor, has been stripped of all his titles and official roles. Prince Harry and his wife Meghan left the country and royal company, accusing some family members of racism.
“The Windsors are a white, privileged family who are not keeping up with society’s new paradigms that promote diversity and equality,” said Naïma Maggetti. “I think the monarchy has to make a real effort to modernize to survive,” she says. She names several ongoing projects. In particular, the downsizing for the royal family and a reform of communication policy, which gradually distances itself from the famous motto of the Queen “Never jammer, never explain” (Never complain, never explain yourself).
“Charles and William must show that the monarchy is a unifying force,” continues Naïma Maggetti. “They should also promote a policy to include ethnic minorities in leadership positions in the royal household. And I think there should also be a review of the honor system to remove the link that still exists with the heritage of the British Empire.”
Nevertheless, the historian does not predict the end of the British monarchy anytime soon. “It won’t happen overnight. It is something that will produce a huge parliamentary process. It would truly unravel thousands of years of history.”
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