On Thursday, September 8th, at the age of 96, Queen Elizabeth II of England passed away at Balmoral, her estate in Scotland, where she had spent the majority of her summer. After ruling Great Britain for 70 years, her reign was the longest in the country’s history. She will be succeeded by her son, now King Charles III.
The queen’s death marks the end of the second Elizabethan era, a period that saw great technological and social progress in England and the rest of the world; however, the queen’s influence on the political events of the last seven decades should not be overstated. Dr. Carolyn Harris, an author and royal historian, says that “there have been too many historical events in the late 20th and early 21st centuries that overshadowed the queen’s influence.” Many argue that the position of the queen is no longer to create new changes in society but rather to represent the values and traditions of the country while remaining outside of politics. “The queen remained a widely respected and admired figure,” says Harris. “At a time when there are fewer reigning houses in the world than ever before, her biggest legacy may well be ushering the monarchy into the 21st century.”
The queen’s death also creates problems for the royal family as a concept. While the majority of Brits support the monarchy, King Charles is a significantly more controversial figure than his mother. In addition to his allegedly disastrous marriage to Diana, the “people’s princess,” and his admission to a number of affairs, he has been unable to escape the royal family’s connection to some of the more unsavory figures in the elite underground. Charles’ brother, Prince Andrew, the grand old Duke of York, had at one point had close ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the notorious sex trafficker who was arrested in 2019. Virginia Giuffre, a victim of the Epstein trafficking ring, named Prince Andrew as one of her abusers, saying that she was paid $15,000 by Jeffrey Epstein to have sex with him in London. She was 17 at the time. Later, she alleges that Prince Andrew was at Little Saint James, Epstein’s private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Andrew’s ex-wife Sarah has also alleged that Epstein paid off £15,000 of her own personal debt, further cementing the relationship between the two. Even though Andrew renounced all of his duties and responsibilities, the situation shed a bad light on parts of the royal family. Even throughout the scandal, Charles showed support for his brother, which some had taken as a dismissal of his possible wrongdoing and doesn’t put him in the best light either.
Back in April, nearly half of Britons thought that then-Prince Charles should relinquish his duties to his son, Prince William. His approval rating has always been around 30%, which, compared to the queen’s approval rating of over 80%, is well below the standard.
In the wake of the queen’s death, some are calling for the abolition of the monarchy. While support for abolition in England remains low, around 20% to 30% depending on the poll, the former British colonies across the world have demonstrated increasing support for abolition movements. The Wall Street Journal predicts that the death of the queen will kick these movements into overdrive in “Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.” That said, many of the Caribbean nations left the commonwealth during her reign, so it may be less connected than many think. Even so, much to the chagrin of monarchists and anti-monarchists alike, when given the option to abstain from the question, most people overseas just don’t care.
Despite the controversy, Charles is taking the new position in stride. On Friday, he gave his first speech as King. He gave his regards to his mother, saying that “in her life of service, we saw that abiding love of tradition together with that fearless embrace of progress which makes us great as nations.” Additionally, he commented on the changes that have come to Britain during the queen’s rule, while expressing his respect for traditions. “We have seen our society become one of many cultures and many faiths,” he said, “the institutions of the state have changed in turn. But, through all changes and challenges, our nation and the wider family of realms — of whose talents, traditions and achievements I am so inexpressibly proud — have prospered and flourished. Our values have remained, and must remain, constant.” His old title, the Prince of Wales, will be transferred to his son, William, the current Prince of Cambridge.
As for William’s brother Harry, Charles gave him a mention in his first speech as King of England, saying “I want also to express my love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas.” The speech marks a shift in attitudes towards the pair, as the tensions between them and the rest of the royal family have been high in the last few years, especially between Meghan Markle and Queen Elizabeth herself. After it was announced that the queen’s health was failing, Harry and Meghan were on their way immediately, but shortly afterward they announced that only Harry would be traveling to the UK, with Meghan staying behind in the United States. It is unknown whether this was her decision or at the request of the royal family. This came before the news of the queen’s death; however, at the moment it seems that Meghan will likely attend the queen’s funeral.
In case anyone was worried about her famous corgis, Muick and Sandy, Prince Andrew and his ex-wife have offered to care for them for the remainder of their lives.