Queen Elizabeth II was loved. The monarchy is not. What does this mean for King Charles III? – Grid News

The other day, during a conversation about Britain’s economic crisis and new British Prime Minister Liz Truss, the subject of Queen Elizabeth came up – in the form of a sensitive question about her age and fragile health. In a sense, the question was a left turn, given that it was a discussion of the Europe-wide energy crisis, inflation in the UK and various policy prescriptions to deal with these problems. British monarchs are notoriously agnostic – at least publicly – when it comes to policy-making. But the question has resurfaced because for the first time in seven decades of rule, the Queen had welcomed the new Prime Minister somewhere other than Buckingham Palace (Balmoral Castle), with his health given as the reason. And that prompted the question: in the sea of ​​crises currently afflicting Britain, would the queen’s departure from the stage add to all these traumas?

The man who answered turned out to be Professor Anand Menon of King’s College London, the son of Indian immigrants to Britain and, by his own admission, hardly someone with great reverence for the monarchy. And yet Menon did not hesitate in his response.

“This feels like a moment of deep fragility in the history of our country,” Menon said. “The only obvious source of continuity and stability is in the person of Queen Elizabeth. So I suspect that even for people who don’t necessarily approve of the monarchy or who don’t really care who succeeds him on the throne, there will be a degree to which his passing will be deeply troubling to the British people.

And then – as if anticipating the follow-up question, Menon added, “I’m surprised to hear myself say that, in a way. I just think, given where we are as a country, if that were to happen relatively soon, it would be troubling.

When the news came

A day later it happened. The Royal Family announced the Queen’s death just 24 hours after Menon uttered those words. Just two days after Liz Truss bowed in the presence of the Queen at Balmoral Castle. And nearly 26,000 days after Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne in 1952.

To use Menon’s word, the news will almost certainly be “troubling”, and not just because of the current crises rocking the British Isles.

In some ways, that doesn’t make sense. The idea of ​​monarchs and monarchies seems quaint and dated and almost absurd in the third decade of the 21st century; respect for the monarchy may seem doubly true. Yes, Britain is a society renowned for its class consciousness, but anyone who has spent time in England knows that there is also a rambling and brash quality to the culture and way of life that seems totally at odds with pageantry, wealth and trappings of royalty. . And the royal family itself has been battered by unpleasant drama over the years – Charles and Diana, Charles and Camilla, Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein – we’ll spare readers the full list, but suffice it to say that the family Royal has kept tabloids in business for decades.

Besides the royal scandal, there were reams of newsprint and even a feature film (“The Queen”) devoted to the Queen’s inability to grasp the moment following the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and to connect more intimately with his subjects. And anyone who’s watched the Netflix series “The Crown” will have seen an ample and detailed treatment of the not-so-pretty inner workings of the royal family themselves.

Why, then, are millions of British citizens – young and old and in between – shedding tears, joining vigils and laying flowers at the gates of Buckingham Palace?

The simple answer may be that it is about the monarch, not the monarchy.

“As if Big Ben had disappeared”

On the one hand, Queen Elizabeth has been a fixture, in every sense of the word.

“It’s strange,” Louise Roberts, 19, a student at the University of Essex, told Grid on Thursday. “She’s always been there, you know, and now I don’t know how to think she’s not there.” It’s not because I want a royal family there, but it was there before I was even born. Maybe even before my parents were born.

“It’s almost as if Big Ben has disappeared,” Grid deputy editor Nikhil Kumar said, speaking from London on Thursday. “His passing almost feels like a national monument has been taken down.”

If that sounds like hyperbole, consider how long that particular “benchmark” has been in place. As a princess, Elizabeth walked the streets of London during the German bombardment of the country. She ascended to the throne when Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister and Harry Truman was President of the United States. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong led the Soviet Union and China. A “fixed” – as in the fact that the stamps and currency of the kingdom bear the image of the queen. “You bow down to your monarch, and yet you hold his head in your hand and use it to pay for potatoes,” The Economist reminded readers on Thursday, in a memorable sentence.

‘Fixture’ – as in, as turmoil came and went, for her country and her family alike, Queen Elizabeth II opted for steady, calm stoicism. A few words if needed. If the crisis of the moment seemed daunting, the Queen could (and often did) tell her subjects that the nation had been through worse. On the occasions she chose to address the nation – after the July 2005 terrorist attacks in London and at the start of the covid-19 pandemic, to cite just two relatively recent examples – that was her message. “We will come to the other side.” That, and a royal take on the British staple: ‘Keep calm and carry on’, the phrase that was first used on posters as war approached in 1939. The Queen had been through it all .

On the 50th, 60th and this year the 70th anniversary of his reign, crowds filled the celebrations. Yes, they may have come for entertainment – this year Alicia Keys, Diana Ross and Queen – but they also came in her honor.

The empire was gone – the number of ‘Queen’s subjects’ had dwindled – and Britain itself was in many ways a totally different place from where she had become queen. For one thing, the country is now much more diverse and multicultural — three of the top ministers in Truss’s new cabinet are people of color. But while members of these communities might not cheer for the monarchy, many will mourn the Queen.

This was the response on Thursday from Sathnam Sanghera, a 46-year-old author born to Indian parents who immigrated to the UK in 1968: “People outside of Britain might have trouble understanding the following here“, he tweeted after hearing the news. “I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it’s about the fact that in a time of divisiveness, in a time when politicians thrive on dividing us, we have lost someone who was consistent. Someone who really tried to unite.

What happens after

Polls show that more than 6 in 10 Britons support keeping the monarchy. It’s not a strong majority, and the trajectory is not good, given that polls have shown – perhaps unsurprisingly – less support among the younger generation.

One particular former member of the younger generation – Truss, the new prime minister – once proclaimed herself a skeptic of the monarchy, in remarks she no doubt wishes she had never made. In a statement made in 1994, when she was in her late teens, Truss said, “I’m personally not against any of them. I am against the idea that people can be born to rule. That people, because of the family they were born into, should be able to be the head of state of our country. I think it’s shameful.

The clip went viral during the campaign for the leadership of the British Conservative Party. Then there she is at Balmoral Castle on Tuesday, bowing to the Queen.

The queen was not only popular at home; Gallup noted on Thursday that no other woman had approached so many appearances on their annual list of the World’s Most Admired Women. Queen Elizabeth landed in the top 10 52 times between 1948 and 2020. And looking ahead, it doesn’t help that the Queen has consistently outranked her son Charles – as of Thursday, King Charles III – in the polls on the monarchy and the royal family.

A survey by Ipsos just ahead of this year’s celebrations of her 70th birthday on the throne found that when asked to name her favorite member of the royal family, Queen Elizabeth was a runaway winner. The Ipsos summary cited high marks for the Queen “as a good representative of Britain on the world stage…someone who unites people across Britain…and someone who has good judgment”. In virtually every category, Ipsos said: “She has a stronger image than other members of the royal family.” Only 14% of respondents said Charles was their favorite king.

The issue of monarch and monarchy reminded me of another much revered ruler, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who occupied the throne for 70 years and 126 days, just months before Elizabeth’s historic reign. Bhumipol was adored by his subjects, his portraits hung in homes, and his birthday celebrated by members of all walks of Thai political life. His death in 2016 raised concerns about the Thai monarchy which, though rarely addressed publicly in this country, still simmers below the surface. There are of course many differences between the two nations, and the rulers in question; perhaps the common thread running through both was that the monarchs themselves were responsible for degrees of reverence.

What will all of this mean for Charles? It’s far too early to tell, other than the obvious fact that Queen Elizabeth’s reign will be an almost impossible act to follow. The Economist’s obituary on Thursday noted that ‘his death robs Britain of a thread that has woven the nation together and bound it to its past. In the hours and days ahead, the Royal Family will do what they do best and mask the uncertainty and emotion with ritual and pageantry. There will be flags at half mast; the ceremonies will take place; the bells will ring. But for now, there is unease.

Malaise – because of all these internal troubles that the country feels; because of the political upheaval; and unease, perhaps, because it’s hard to imagine the image of King Charles III on a British stamp or pound note.

For now, there will be the long days of mourning, funerals and an outpouring of tributes that might come as a surprise to many outside Britain. Some have suggested the moment could bring the country together – and perhaps even help the new king in that regard.

Meanwhile, as they reflect and look forward, those who mourn can take comfort: Big Ben is still standing.

Thanks to Alicia Benjamin for writing this article.

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