We lost Queen Elizabeth II recently, and after 10 days of national mourning she was laid to rest last night. The BBC is reporting that 5.1 billion people tuned in to watch her state funeral in London, that’s roughly 63.2 percent of the world’s population and the largest single event watched or streamed in history.
You might wonder why this would impact an American so much. The truth is I’m an Anglophile — and I come by it honestly as I’m half-Scottish by birth. Anyone who is under the age of 70 has only ever known a world with Queen Elizabeth II in full presence, one of the most powerful and impactful women on the planet.
When she took the throne in 1952, it’s my understanding that she was sovereign of over 25 percent of the world’s population in terms of the countries within the commonwealth. That was of course controversial relative to colonialism, and would only become more so as the years passed. Be that as it may, this was an inspiring woman I held in very high regard for many reasons.
My earliest memories of the Queen were based on my mom’s love of England and all things British. My mom spent time studying at Oxford when she was pregnant with my twin sister and me. Later on, when I was just a kid (say 8–9 years old) I was a stamp collector, and the way I learned about the world was through stamps from different countries — many of which featured the Queen prominently.
I was always enthralled with the whole royal family; I guess because we didn’t have one of our own here in the U.S. I was glued to the TV for the marriage of Charles and Diana, and had a crush on Prince Andrew when I was a teenager. I wrote him a letter and he actually wrote me back, which was of course thrilling at the time (I still have the letter, but these days that’s a dubious distinction!).
Think of the situation from a Brit’s point of view (or any of the countries within the commonwealth for decades); the Queen was on all the stamps, all the money, on every postbox, and so much more. She’s been synonymous with British culture forever, indelibly so. Most importantly, she took an oath when she took the crown that she would dedicate her life in service to the people of England and the whole commonwealth. She took that oath very seriously and honored it faithfully throughout the 70 years of her reign.
She went through all manner of upheaval in the globe and within her own family. And through it all she was rock steady, reliable, composed, the picture of grace. Though she gave the appearance of being tied to tradition and fairly conservative, she had a wonderful sense of humor — witness her recent exchange with Paddington the bear around their shared love of marmalade sandwiches, and a decade ago at the London Olympics with James Bond. She was quite simply universally beloved and respected.
But with the Queen’s passing, the future of the monarchy is being questioned by many. What happens now? Certainly King Charles is well-positioned to handle the transition seamlessly as he’s been groomed for this role throughout his entire life. According to The Times, the king may choose to downsize the monarchy for many reasons, not least of which a smaller group of royals would save the country money as fewer people would be funded by the sovereign grant, public funds that support the working royals. The “Institution” would also have greater control over the messaging that goes out to the public on behalf of the royal family.
Personally, I predict that Harry and Meghan will be welcomed back as working royals with King Charles at the helm should they so choose at some point. But I imagine Prince Andrew will be forever shunned.
There are also growing signs of discontent among the post-imperial Commonwealth of nations that the Queen has presided over as head of state. Now that she’s gone, how many will choose to separate themselves from the crown and become independent republics? And within Britain itself, will the monarchy (which is a symbol of hierarchy, privilege and inherited status) be held up and supported by its citizens, many of whom question use of their tax dollars to pay for royal trappings and traditions.
Time will tell how things evolve, but one thing’s for sure; a grand lady who left a major dent in the universe has passed, and a new era has begun.