I believe monarchies in general, and those that promoted and profited from colonialism in particular, are awful relics that should be abolished.
So why was I, like much of the rest of the world, glued to my television Thursday for hours after news broke that the day could be Queen Elizabeth II’s last?
In a nutshell, I somehow fell victim to the strange charm offensive of the queen and the soap opera-style narratives playing out in the lives of her relatives. Still, it’s clear now that the time has come for the royal spectacle to come to its finale and for the monarchy to take its final bow. There could be no better tribute to Elizabeth: making her reign one of Britain’s last.
It’s understandable how folks like me, despite understanding the brutal history of Britain’s royal regime, could have become so fascinated by the only monarch from that nation that the vast majority of the world’s population has ever known. Even those who did not support them could not look away from them — right up to the final moments of Elizabeth’s life.
I admit to being dazzled as a child watching televised coverage of Princess Diana walking down the aisle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in that ginormous dress. I followed the ensuing drama as her marriage to the now king fell apart. I cried after that horrible Paris car crash. I sacrificed sleep to watch Prince William wed Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey, just as I did to watch Diana’s funeral at the same venue 14 years earlier. I was enraged on behalf of Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, and their children after that Oprah interview. And yes, I will binge season 5 of the Netflix series “The Crown” when it drops.
The only reason that the royal family has been able to sustain, let alone have any level of popularity, was Queen Elizabeth. She was a singular figure not only because her reign began when Winston Churchill was prime minister but because she figured out how, better than nearly anyone in world history, to use charm as a tool of survival.
She cultivated it with her signature hand wave and the dangle of her Launer handbag, which she also used to send bat signals to her staff. From her intentionally controversial dance with then-President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana to her graciousness when then-President Donald Trump committed a royal gaffe by walking in front of her at Windsor Castle, the Queen was a master at public perception. Even as anti-colonial movements grew throughout her time on the throne and despite her family’s serious controversies — like allegations of racism among the royals and the sexual assault claims against her son Prince Andrew — Elizabeth remained popular. Even after public sentiment briefly turned against her when she took a beat too long to publicly express her grief after Diana died, she managed to rebound. For seven decades, as the British empire declined, the queen kept the monarchy alive largely by the sheer force of personality.
Neither King Charles III nor his progeny, who are far less popular and far more scandal ridden, will ever be able to pull that off. Nor should they try. Instead, they should take a different tack by making it their job to wind the monarchy down and finally usher England into the modern era.
After all, nations within the realm have steadily left the monarchy behind. Barbados broke ties last year, making it clear that Rihanna holds more power and esteem with its people than the royals.
On the African continent, Elizabeth’s legacy is complicated. President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya called her “a towering icon of selfless service” despite that country’s brutal history of colonialism.
A statement from the South African Economic Freedom Fighters party was quite different.
“We do not mourn the death of Elizabeth,” read the statement. During the queen’s reign, it continued, “native people of this land have never known peace, nor have they ever enjoyed the fruits of the riches of this land, riches which were and still are utilized for the enrichment of the British royal family and those who look like them.”
So let royals, during this period of mourning, give Elizabeth her due. But then King Charles III and his family should make a change. The charming spell, at long last, has been broken.