The news of Queen Elizabeth’s death was not entirely unexpected. She lived to the great age of 96 years. After enjoying remarkably good health for so long, the longest-serving monarch in British history had been more frail of late. Not surprisingly, she had become a more reserved woman since the death of her husband, Prince Philip, last year, cutting back on her public appearances and taking on lighter duties. Everyone in the UK knew this moment was coming.
However, his passing comes as a national shock, and also as a shared moment of reflection, and the beginning of a new and unwritten chapter for the British monarchy and the country itself. The queen’s death is a personal loss for those close to her, and she too had been a constant presence in millions of lives. The longest reign in British history, more than 70 years, is over. But the records are less important than the widely shared sense that what is now gone will never come back.
The queen’s life spanned the entire history of the modern United Kingdom. She was born when the UK ruled a global empire of some 600 million people. She died when the UK was a mid-sized northern European country with an uncertain future. She came into the world before all British adults had a vote. At age 10, she witnessed her uncle’s abdication which made her heir to the throne. At 14, she lived through the existential threat posed to the country by the fall of France in World War II. As monarch, her first prime minister was Winston Churchill, who had participated in a cavalry charge in Omdurman, Sudan, in 1898. But when the current prime minister, Liz Truss, was born, her 15th, the queen had already been in power for 23 years. throne.
She was crowned queen at the first televised coronation in 1953. In the early years of her reign there was talk that the UK would enter a new “Elizabethan era”. This never came to pass, and in retrospect the idea can be seen as characteristic post-imperial conceit. She adapted, cautiously and pragmatically, to the change. She managed to combine in her person the remote sacramental dimension of the British monarchy with a realistic acceptance that her position rested on more secular foundations. In this sense, she provided an undeniable source of stability as the country underwent epochal changes at home and in the world during her lifetime.
The consequence of this usually skilful approach is that her long reign was only rarely characterized by what she herself did in the public sphere. There were exceptions. One of them was his visit to Ireland in 2011, which played a fundamental role in the historical reconciliations of that time. Another was the unbiased care and affection, often in contrast to the indifference of some politicians, that he showed towards the nations of the UK, embodied in particular in his love for Scotland.
Even more enduring was his significant formal involvement in the empire’s retreat. This had started with her father, when India became free in 1947. But from 1957, when Ghana became independent, many of what in the UK were called “possessions” that the queen had sworn to rule in his coronation oath became autonomous, although most remained within the commonwealth. The post-imperial grouping mattered to the queen and it is unclear how she will survive her death.
His was a reign marked much more by private milestones and, later, by private traumas. There were many notable family events. The births of his four children, their marriages, the investiture of his heir, Charles, as Prince of Wales in 1969, the deaths of his uncle the Duke of Windsor in 1972 and his mother at age 101 in 2002, as well as their own jubilees: silver in 1977, gold in 2002, diamond in 2012 and sapphire in 2017 (the first for a British monarch). He has died just a few months after his platinum jubilee, something unprecedented. In 1969, the queen allowed the BBC to make a documentary about her family life, but when the family’s problems increased, she did not consider a sequel. In her absence, television turned to fantasy dramas, particularly The Crown (where the late queen comes off very well). However, from the 1990s there was a growing public questioning of the monarchy, its cost and its place in British life.
These questions began in the 1950s, especially because of Princess Margaret’s desire to marry a divorcee. But they intensified in the 1980s and 1990s with the divorces of three of the queen’s children and the “horrible year” of 1992, peaking after Princess Diana’s death in 1997. Much was made of it at the time. that the monarchy was hopelessly out of the game and there was a new and rare increase in the republican defense. The royals stabilized in the early 21st century, before new challenges were raised by the sensational treatment of Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle and Prince Andrew’s association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Isabel II leaves a space that will hardly be filled. The monarchy of the future will not be the same. Much and careful thought must be given to the reform of the finances of the monarchy and the civil list [el dinero que aporta el Parlamento a la Casa Real], and Parliament must be properly consulted and has the right to give its final consent. The most immediate thing is to discuss the coronation, a unique religious ceremony among European monarchies.
King Carlos III comes to the throne at the age of 73 and is both the first university student and the first divorcee to reign in modern times. His character and his weaknesses are well known. He may prove a more transitory figure than seemed likely had he come to the throne at a younger age. As the holder of what is now essentially a formal and ceremonial head of state, he would be wise, at this stage in his life and with the country so fragile in so many other respects, not to see himself as a reformist or “useful” king. . Similarly, post-Diana concern in some quarters about whether Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall should become queen now seems more short-lived and forced. Let’s let it be.
The monarchy, built on a system of hereditary privileges, is an anachronism in the modern age. However, the day of the queen’s death is not the right one for a controversial reflection on the place that the monarchy continues to occupy, if at all. That will come, and should come, soon. For now let us acknowledge, in the midst of national commotion, first of all, that the late queen did her job for so long with enormous dedication and that she deserved the respect and national affection that she is receiving in her death. And secondly, let us be sensible enough, as a changed and changing nation, to recognize that the monarchy will also change and must change. These will be days of solemnity. But the time will soon be right to discuss these issues seriously, without ruling anything out and, if possible, without the hypnotic self-delusion that has so often surrounded the subject.