(LONDON) — The death of Queen Elizabeth II after 70 years of reign and the accession to the throne of King Charles III mark the end of an era.
With the passing of Britain’s longest-serving sovereign in a period that has seen tectonic shifts in geopolitics and social norms, as well as a royal family rocked by scandal, many are now wondering: what’s next? for the British monarchy?
Criticism, in particular, of the monarchy’s connection to colonialism and the enduring injustices it perpetuated – and dwindling support from young Britons, according to a YouGov poll – has rekindled tough questions about the future of the monarchy. and its purpose in modern times.
“You can’t think of British nationalism, you have to think of British imperial nationalism. And at the center of that is the monarchy,” said Caroline Elkins, a Harvard University professor and author of “Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire.”
At the height of the empire around 1921, the British colonized about a quarter of the Earth’s land, leading to a description of the empire as an empire on which the sun never sets.
When Queen Elizabeth II became queen in 1952, Britain ruled over more than 70 territories – many of which would lose or give up in independence struggles, including deadly conflicts.
One of the atrocities which scholars detailed – and which critics re-emphasized following the death of Queen Elizabeth II – was the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya for independence from British rule in the late 1900s. 1950s.
Some historians estimate that there may have been as many as 100,000 people killed in detention camps during clashes between the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, known as the Mau Mau, and British authorities, according to the book. ‘Elkin, “Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya.
According to a class action lawsuit against the British government settled in 2013, thousands of Kenyans filed complaints of torture, imprisonment and rape by British colonial forces in concentration camps during the uprising.
“Successive prime ministers – from Churchill to our descendants – lied to Parliament, lied to the public, covered it all up,” Elkins said, noting that the monarchy likely had a glimpse of systematic torture under its imperialism.
“That said, what was the role of the monarch in perpetuating an image of imperial benevolence? said Elkins. “Pretty huge.”
Many former colonies gained independence from the British Empire not in the distant past, but in the 20th century.
India gained independence in 1947, Kenya in 1963 and Nigeria in 1960. Several countries experienced civil strife after their struggle for independence due to British interference which reportedly left thousands dead, according to historians.
“Europe came and divided Africa without taking into consideration the identity, values, differences and commonalities of different communities, ethnic entities, etc.,” said Mohamed S. Camara, professor of African Studies at Howard University. He also cited examples of this in India. “And we have the repercussions of that today.”
For some people in these former colonies, the reign of Queen Elizabeth II is associated with oppression.
“Whether it’s Africa or Southeast Asia…people whose countries have gone through this won’t forget and would love to see some serious change happen,” Camara said.
“I don’t think there is any other form of human rights violation in history that can amount to slavery,” he added, “the transformation of a human being into a property of another man, not to mention the transformation of an entire people”. in the property of another people or another state.
Ahead of a trip by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the Caribbean and Central America in March this year to celebrate the Queen, some Jamaican leaders demanded reparations for slavery and local opposition in Belize forced them to cancel a trip.
Some of the countries that make up the Commonwealth have also signaled that they want to give up the monarchy as head of state to achieve true independence from British rule, which Jamaica is heading towards.
They can still be part of the Commonwealth without the British monarchy at the helm.
“I want to make it clear, as I have said before, that the constitutional arrangement of each member, whether as a republic or a monarchy, is solely for the decision of each member country,” Prince Charles said of the time at the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. “The benefit of long life brings me the experience that arrangements like these can change, calmly and without hard feelings.”
Although there have been few apologies from the Royal Family, the Queen has often ‘reached out’ to opponents of the monarchy, such as in Ireland when she shook hands with a former commander of the Irish Republican Army, Elkins said.
The IRA fought British rule and was responsible for the death of the Queen’s cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten.
With King Charles III now on the throne, historians say the monarchy has the potential to make a fresh start in seeking atonement for past injustices and mark a new era for the royal family.
“There is no doubt that [the monarchy has] benefited financially from the slave trade. And there is no doubt that as an institution they have benefited enormously from the prestige of the empire,” Elkins said.
“You are the monarch of a multicultural nation that must come to terms with the past,” she noted of the task ahead of King Charles III. “And if you really have any hope for the future of the monarchy, you have to solve this problem.”
Myko Clelland, a royal expert and genealogist who has worked closely with the Royal Household on the release of their digitized records, says that although King Charles III enters at a very different time to his mother, the role of the monarchy remains an apolitical exterior. a.
“The constitutional role of the monarchy is separate from politics,” Clelland said.
King Charles III highlighted the changing times in his first speech as king: “When the Queen came to the throne, Britain and the world were still facing the hardships and aftermath of the Second World War. , and still lived by the conventions of the past. time.”
He continued, “Over the past 70 years, we have seen our society become one of many cultures and many religions. State institutions have changed in turn.
King Charles III has been outspoken about politics in a way that previous rulers of the monarchy did not. He has made comments over the years taking a stand against climate injustice, strict immigration policy, slavery and more.
However, Clelland predicts that King Charles III will not necessarily change the monarch’s role as a figurehead destined to be “the heart and soul of Britain, not the apparatus, not the machinery or the levers. power”.
“People fear he is trying to interfere in government, but this royal prerogative says these powers have slipped into history and keeping the monarchy above politics is a way to safeguard their survival. “Clelland said.
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