In a constitutional monarchy, it is a fact that the sovereign monarch has the role of Head of State, a position that is inherited from generation to generation. There are inherent contradictions of such a hereditary monarchy existing in our modern society that many democrats and libertarians constantly find fault with. To combat these reservations, the royal family must be, for the most part, non-political, serving as simply a symbol, a blank canvas that could be painted with the many colors of her people. That is exactly what Queen Elizabeth II did. She is remembered as a great monarch not because of her own individuality, but because she consistently provided the royal family with their greatest strength, namely the ability to be anything the citizenry wanted her to be. However, it is this same blinding neutrality that facilitates the separation of the royal family from its colonial history, allowing some to mourn the loss of a sensation, while others are unable to—seeing the Queen as a symbol of a legacy of theft and oppression.
In an era where everyone has an opinion, where everyone is burning to publicly proclaim their hardships, views, and grievances, Queen Elizabeth II didn’t. Though she was surrounded by the spectacle that is royal weddings, gossip, and scandals of the royal family, we never truly knew where she stood. So much so that TV and media producers have been able to associate her with whichever beliefs they please and with no one the wiser. In Lifetime’s miniature franchise of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle films, the Queen is a firm ally to her grandson and the often-ostracized, mixed-race Markle. Conversely, in her interview with Oprah Winfrey, Markle had no problem disclosing that members of “The Firm,” an unofficial nickname for the British royal family and its staff, were guilty of mistreatment due to her status and race, and this anti-Markle party is quick to align Queen Elizabeth II with their ideals. In The Crown, a historical drama series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, screenwriter Peter Morgan imagines the Queen to be more distraught when faced with the scandals of the royal family, but of course, always idolized. Queen Elizabeth II symbolized something necessary, but in short supply in the West: unity. She was not a part of any party or sector, neither left nor right, so in theory, she could be anything, both left and right, both partisan and impartial. For a hereditary monarchy to function in our modern world, the British citizenry must be willing to accept what seems almost to be fiction: the idea that one family, one monarch, can represent a whole nation and its ideals. However, Queen Elizabeth II was the epitome of just that.
But it was not only her neutrality that made her a great monarch but the stability she provided to British territories—and many others—as a constant throughout an era of change. She reigned over the last years of the British empire. She lived through the Cold War, the labor shortages of the 1970s, the birth of the internet, 9/11, Covid-19, and fourteen prime ministers. Decade after decade, whether it be an elected Conservative government or a Labor government, the first act of every prime minister was to see the queen; her ceremonial invitation embodied the ironic-but-necessary principle that dueling parties can serve the same nation. In this, it is not simply Queen Elizabeth II that has died, but her identity as the Queen, the very thread that bound British people together—not by geography or belief, but by both past and current tradition.
The Queen was Head of State because she just so happened to be in the line of succession. But she was accepted as Head of State, a symbol of her nation, because over several decades she saw her country through ups and downs, from empire to a democracy. She signifies the endurance of the British community and much of its history. But history is written by the winners, and just as Queen Elizabeth II acts as what seems like an unwavering and essential bridge between the past and the present that many can’t live without, it is that same history that she represents which prevents others from mourning her death.
Though presidents and prime ministers of Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, and other former British colonies have displayed their condolences for and praise toward the royal family, residents do not share the same sentiment. For many, just as the Queen represented both the British Empire and its transition to the Commonwealth, she was also the monarch of a nation that ruthlessly conquered and subjugated, a symbol of colonialism and its aftereffects. It is a common misconception in the West that colonialism is an event in our past, confined to our history books, wrapped up in a neat little bow. However, in many African countries, colonialism heavily burdens their society—it has simply adapted to modern times, simply taken on modern names. In South Africa, poverty is largely split down racial lines, where it is the citizens descended from previous British settlers that control the majority of the country’s profitable mines. The same can be said about South Asia and other African countries, where many are now demanding that the royal family return the riches that were taken from their lands so many years ago.
Elizabeth II was a great monarch because she was impartial and detached. This is true. And unlike the first Elizabeth, she had no true power over the affairs of the state. But it is long past the time when the world should pretend that due to this lack of involvement in political decisions, British monarchs are faultless. They, too, bear the cross that is the history of their nation and its reverberations.