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British monarchical tradition and the place of Queen Elizabeth II

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
18 September 2022   |   3:49 am
As senior Royal family members lead the late Queen Elizabeth II with her late husband Prince Philip to her final resting place in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, tomorrow evening...

As senior Royal family members lead the late Queen Elizabeth II with her late husband Prince Philip to her final resting place in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, tomorrow evening, September 19, 2022, the Latin word, Veni, vidi, vici are going to be in the mouths of palace biographers and historians expected to pay their last respects to the woman, who redefined British monarchy.

Following the Queen’s coffin will be the King, Anne, Andrew and Edward. Behind them will be the Queen’s grandsons, Peter Phillips, the Duke of Sussex and the Prince of Wales.

As The Queen’s son-in-law, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, her cousin the Duke of Gloucester and her nephew the Earl of Snowdon will follow them.

The procession, led by massed Pipes & Drums of Scottish and Irish Regiments, the Brigade of Gurkhas, and the Royal Air Force and numbering 200 musicians, will arrive at 10.52 a.m. and the coffin will be carried into the Abbey for the service.

The doors to Westminster Abbey will have opened at 8.00 am to allow the general congregation to take their seats, with a total of 2,000 people expected to gather for the funeral of the Queen who came, saw and conquered.

Queen Elizabeth (left) and British Prime Minister Liz Truss during an audience at Balmoral in Scotland… yesterday. PHOTO: YAHOO

British Monarchy
The British monarchy, which Elizabeth II represented, traces its origins to the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England and early medieval Scotland. This consolidated into the kingdoms of England and Scotland by the 10th century. The Normans conquered England in 1066, after which Wales also gradually came under the control of Anglo-Normans.

Egbert 827 – 839 was the first monarch to establish a stable and extensive rule over all of Anglo-Saxon England.

Following his conquest of Mercia in 827, he controlled all of England south of the Humber. After further victories in Northumberland and North Wales, he is recognised by the title Bretwalda (Anglo-Saxon, “ruler of the British”). A year before he died aged almost 70, he defeated a combined force of Danes and Cornish at Hingston Down in Cornwall.

He was buried at Winchester in Hampshire.

Before all of this, the modern area of England was part of the Roman Empire, so, the ruler was whoever happened to be the Emperor.

Queen Elizabeth II… end of an era

The Kingdom of England came into existence in 927CE, when King Ethelstan of Wessex conquered the last Danes (or vikings) in York and became the first ruler of all of England. Wessex, also known as the Kingdom of the West Saxons, was a large and extremely influential Anglo-Saxon kingdom from 519 to 927AD.

Before Ethelstan, the area now known as England was split into many warring kingdoms. There were seven major kingdoms commonly simplified into ‘the heptarchy’.

The famous seven kingdoms were Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex, East Anglia, Kent, Essex and Sussex, but many of these kingdoms incorporated smaller sub-kingdoms and large areas of land that swapped hands due to war and diplomacy.

There were of course areas of modern England that were not English, they were still Brittonic and had their own kings — modern Devon and Cornwall — were the Kingdom of Dumnonia. The area of modern Cumbria was part of the Brittonic Kingdom of Rheged.

All of these places had their own kings but were not considered countries in the modern sense. They all basically started as tribes with chieftains, which over time, through conquest, war and diplomacy, coalesced into larger and more powerful entities and the chieftains started thinking of themselves as kings.

Of course, there were also Vikings who took over large areas in the north and east which became known as the Danelaw. Those chieftains also started considering themselves kings.

James VI of Scotland became also James I of England in 1603. Upon accession to the English throne, he styled himself ‘King of Great Britain’ and was so proclaimed.

Though the office of King was formally abolished on February 7, 1649, there were confrontations between the monarchy and Parliament over the definitions of the powers of the monarchy and Parliament’s authority.

The English royal house bore the German name ‘House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’ until 1917. This was because the British Queen Victoria, who belonged to the House of Windsor, had married the German Prince Albert from the noble family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in the 19th century.

At its height, the British Empire extended over something like a third of the world but was already in recession when the Queen came to the throne. India had been the ‘Jewel in the Crown but had proceeded to a violently partitioned independence involving the creation of predominantly Muslim Pakistan in 1947.

Burma (now Myanmar) went in 1948. There were still other territories in Asia, notably Malaya, odd outposts in Latin America and various islands in Oceania. And there was still Africa. These territories included: four territories in west Africa, four in east Africa (inclusive of Zanzibar, then still separate from Tanganyika), the two Rhodesias (Zambia and Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi), the three High Commission Territories in southern Africa (Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland), the island of Mauritius, and the Dominion of South Africa.

Queen Elizabeth II: She Came, She Saw, She Conquered

BORN Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on April 21, 1926, in London, to Prince Albert, Duke of York (later known as King George VI), she remained the most significant monarch of the 20th and 21st centuries. She brought glamour and panache to the throne. Queen Elizabeth II was not just a monarch, she represented a global brand. And for the past seven decades, this brand has to some extent defined and promoted the British nation around the world.

She became the world’s oldest monarch on January 23, 2015, aged 88 years 277 days, following the death of His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Saudi Arabia), who died at the age of 90.

From the period of her emergence, there had been 61 monarchs of England and Britain spread over a period of approximately 1200 years.

The queen, who appointed her 15th British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, on September 6 —just two days before her death— never expected to reign. Her father, King George VI, assumed the throne after his brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated because of his decision to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson.

Elizabeth was only 25 when she assumed the British throne, following the death of her father in 1952.

She inherited a monarchy, which politica lanalysts said, power had been, steadily, ebbing away since the 18th century, “but whose role in the public life of the nation seemed, if anything, to have grown ever more important.”

Monarchs in the 20th century were expected to perform both ceremonial duties with appropriate gravity and to lighten up enough to share and enjoy the tastes and interests of ordinary people. Her elaborate coronation in 1953 achieved a balance of both these roles.

The ancient ceremony could be traced to the monarchy’s Saxon origins, while her decision to allow it to be televised brought it into the living rooms of ordinary people with the latest modern technology.

Royal ceremonial was henceforth to be democratically visible, ironically becoming much better choreographed and more formal than it had ever been before.

In being restricted, largely, to pleasantries and pantomime (while at the same time participating in approximately 300 public events a year), as Vanessa Friedman pointed out in Queen Elizabeth II and the Shape of 20th-Century Power Dressing, “she keenly understood that imagery could nonetheless speak volumes — and that she was dressing not only for her people but also for posterity. More than the sparkling evening dresses she wore as a young queen, which offered a dose of fairy dust and glamour after World War II but were of a piece with royal fantasies that had come before, that was her singular contribution. Her skill was in breaking new ground while convincing the world that she was dutifully doing her job, upholding tradition.”

Her reign spanned from the period following World War II to the era of decolonisation and rebuilding of Britain through Brexit.

Controversy in the early 1990s about the Queen’s exemption from income tax forced the Crown to change its financial arrangements so it paid like everyone else. Gossip and scandal surrounding the younger royals turned into divorces for Prince Andrew, Princess Anne and – most damagingly of all – Prince Charles. The Queen referred to 1992 – the height of the scandals – as her ‘annus horribilis’.

The revelations about the misery Princess Diana had endured in her marriage presented the public with a much harder, less sympathetic image of the royal family, which seemed vindicated when the Queen uncharacteristically miscalculated the public mood after Diana’s death in 1997.

Her instinct was to follow protocol and precedent, staying at Balmoral and keeping her grandchildren with her. This seemed hard and uncaring to a public hungry for open displays of emotion that would have been unthinkable in the Queen’s younger days. “Where is our Queen?” demanded The Sun, while the Daily Express called on her to “Show us you care!” insisting that she break with protocol and fly the Union Jack at half-mast over Buckingham Palace. Never since the abdication had the popularity of the monarchy sunk so low.

Caught briefly on the back foot by this remarkable change in British public behaviour, the Queen soon regained the initiative, addressing the nation on television and bowing her head to Diana’s funeral cortege during a cleverly conceived and choreographed televised service.

The extent to which she quickly regained public support was shown by the enormous if unexpected, success of her 2002 Golden Jubilee, which was ushered in by the extraordinary sight of Brian May performing a guitar solo on the roof of Buckingham Palace.

By the time London hosted the Olympics in 2012 she was sufficiently confident of her position to agree to appear in a memorable tongue-in-cheek cameo in the opening ceremony when she appeared to parachute down into the arena from a helicopter in the company of James Bond.

Queen Elizabeth kept the crown above party politics, but she was always fully engaged with the political world.

THE pain of the Sussexes’ estrangement from the royal family was heavily compounded by the disgrace soon afterwards of Prince Andrew, her second and, it was often suggested, her favourite son. His close involvement with the convicted American paedophile, Jeffrey Epstein, led to the unedifying spectacle of a senior member of the royal family being accused in an American court of underage sex; he made his own position immeasurably worse by agreeing to a disastrous interview on the BBC current affairs programme Newsnight.

The Queen responded to the scandal with remarkable decisiveness: she stripped her son of all his royal and military titles, including the cherished “HRH”, and reduced him, in effect, to the status of a private citizen. Even her closest family were not to be allowed to undermine all she had done to protect and preserve the monarchy..

Republican critics of monarchy had long given up demanding its immediate abolition and accepted that the Queen’s personal popularity rendered their aim impracticable while she was still alive.

Her wisdom and unceasing sense of duty meant she was widely viewed with a combination of respect, esteem, awe and affection, which transcended nations, classes and generations. She was immensely proud of Britain and its people, yet in the end, she belonged to the world, and the world will mourn her passing.

BRITAIN’S relationships with its former African colonies are now those of trade, aid and diplomacy. The Queen herself remains highly respected and acknowledged as the head of the Commonwealth.

Even when her own prime ministers had long lost faith in it, as its head she mediated in disputes between member states and provided support and guidance even to Commonwealth leaders who were strongly opposed to her own UK government.

Her prime ministers often paid tribute to her political wisdom and knowledge. These were the result both of her years of experience and of her diligence in reading state papers. Harold Wilson remarked that to attend the weekly audience unprepared was like being caught at school not having done your homework. It was widely believed that she found relations with Margaret Thatcher difficult.

Only very occasionally and briefly did the Queen allow her own political views to surface. On a visit to the London Stock Exchange after the 2008 financial crash she asked sharply why nobody had seen it coming.

In his What would King Charles mean for the monarchy, Australia and the republican movement? Ben Wellings, the Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Monash University, wrote across the Commonwealth, that the monarch plays a crucial role in legitimatising systems of government.

“Queen Elizabeth II has come to represent the stability and longevity of the British monarchy. This is not to say the monarchy is “above politics”, as is often claimed.

“The emphasis on political stability and historical continuity puts it, as an institution, firmly in the conservative camp.”

FOR historians, Queen Elizabeth carried on her reign with the same panache as Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria. So, However, one thing is certain: Serious crimes happened on the queen’s imperial watch. King Charles III seems well-aware of global demands for a British colonial reckoning based on protests and appeals from former colonial peoples, as well as the abundance of recent evidence unearthed by historians. He will need to abandon his paternalistic ways, breaking from the tradition his mother held so dear and revising the “unique history” of imperial benevolence that she cultivated and affirmed for seventy years. The alternative—to simply carry on—will only hasten the monarchy’s demise.

However, according to Caroline Elkins, a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor of history at Harvard University and author of the recently-released, Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire, the queen’s legacy is already fraught with controversy, is a deeply imperial one. “No sooner had the queen drawn her final breath, then fault lines split, exposing further a world deeply divided over questions of whether the British Empire was a force of good or one of violent subjugation and exploitation.”

When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952, she was constitutionally responsible for hundreds of millions of colonial subjects spread across some 70 colonies, territories, and mandates. Britain’s economy was in tatters and independence demands were exploding.

Elkins said: “The nation’s postwar recovery, however, and Big Three (with the U.S. and the Soviet Union) status hinged on the exploitation of colonised subjects across the globe. Conservative and Labour governments alike would not concede to urgent calls for freedom, instead sacrificing wartime guarantees of self-determination on the altar of national self-interest.

“Recurring, brutal end-of-empire conflicts thus marred the first thirty years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Beginning in Malaya, then in Kenya, Cyprus, Nyasaland, Aden, and Northern Ireland, British security forces moved through the empire and acted in the Queen’s name, unleashing wide-scale detention without trial and illegal deportations.

In Malaya and Kenya, they forcibly relocated hundreds of thousands of subjects into barbed-wire villages where forced labour and starvation were forms of colonial control. In each conflict, killing squads were deployed and populations were terrorized. In Cyprus, journalists called interrogators HMTs, Her Majesty’s Torturers.”

At the time, successive governments denied allegations of systemic violence, claiming any instance of brutality was isolated, the fault of individual colonial officials, so-called bad apples.

“What we know now, however, reveals a much different reality. Beginning with her first prime minister Winston Churchill, the queen’s ministers not only knew of systematic British-directed violence in the empire, they also participated in its crafting, diffusion, and cover-up, which was as routinised as the violence itself. They repeatedly lied to Parliament and the media and, when decolonization was imminent, ordered the widespread removal and burning of incriminating evidence,”Elkins surmised.

Roger Southall, Professor of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, in his, Queen Elizabeth II: a reign that saw the end of the British empire in Africa, said, “there were a lot of political and social change during her 70 years on the throne. None less than in what was once her African empire.”

Britain effectively scuttled in the face of early nationalist stirrings (Ghana); the expense in blood, money and prestige of confronting armed struggle and violence (Malaya and Kenya); the increasing cost of demands for “development” in the colonies; the foreign policy disaster of Suez; and London’s developing sense that it should reorient its trade to a uniting Europe.

Elizabeth II, whose 70-year reign makes her the longest reigning monarch in British history, leaves her successor, King Charles III, Southall said, “with a sort of British monarchical republic, in which the proportions of its ingredients of mystique, ceremony, populism and openness have been constantly changed to keep it essentially the same. It has long been acknowledged by political leaders and commentators all over the world that the Queen handled her often difficult and delicate constitutional role with grace and remarkable, even formidable, political skill.”

For Priya Satia, a Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History at Stanford University and the author of Time’s Monster: How History Makes History Pakistan, “the advent of a new king is an opportunity for the Crown to find legitimacy in moral rather than imperial capital by doing the decent thing: returning loot, delivering reparative words and actions, and affirming the greater majesty of the natural world.”