Understanding Queen Elizabeth II’s Reign and What Comes Next

Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-serving monarch, died at Balmoral Castle on Sept. 8, 2022, at age 96, after ruling for seventy years. Following her death, thousands worldwide paid tribute in an elaborate ten-day mourning sequence called Operation London Bridge. King Charles III now inherits a pandemic-torn nation fraught with inflation. What comes next for Britain? Who was Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, and what legacy did she leave behind?

FIGUREHEAD OF THE UNITED KINGDOM

Remembered as an emblem of stability in an evolving time, Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne shortly after World War II in 1952. While lacking formal political power, she helped reconcile relations between Britain and Germany through her state visit in 1965. Her acclaimed trip to the Irish Republic in May 2011 released tension from the violent history of territorial disputes. Despite wielding soft power, Queen Elizabeth II established a sense of continuity that unified the Union and Commonwealth. 

Through her travels and media presence, she engaged citizens and eased the gradual decline of the British empire. Queen Elizabeth II visited every Commonwealth nation as the empire unwound – except Rwanda and Cameroon. She deftly navigated the complex relationship with Scotland by spending summer months at Balmoral Castle.  Other than traveling, as the first monarch in a technological age, more than 20 million watched her coronation on television. The queen kept up public access through her social media presence and regular appearances. Her death will likely sever emotional ties to the monarchy, increasing pushes toward republicanism. 

REVIVAL OF ANTI-MONARCHISTS

Queen Elizabeth II’s death could drive Scotland and Northern Ireland to renew pushes for independence. Her Scottish background and deft public presence established a sense of loyalty with both nations. In a testament to how much relations have improved, even the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein paid tribute to the queen in Belfast. Many believe Charles will struggle to recreate the same bonds.

At the moment, British anti-monarchist groups like the Republic are staying low-profile and allowing the nation to mourn to avoid offending potential followers. Younger generations in Britain, however, expressed apathy toward her passing. According to a YouGov survey, 41% of respondents aged 18 to 24 prefer an elected head of state to a monarch. In the United States and former colonies, the queen’s death is prompting conversations surrounding British colonialism.

LEGACY OF COLONIALISM

The death of Queen Elizabeth II reinvigorated the debate surrounding the history of racism and colonization of the monarchy. American academics and those with ties to Britain’s colonial past took to social media to discuss the violent legacy of the British monarchy and what it owes former colonies.

During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II ruled over more than 30 countries. Particularly in Africa, her death served as a reminder of the brutality of colonial rule, namely the suppression of the anticolonial Mau Mau uprising that led to the tens of thousands of deaths. Whether through the community radio or the internet, people are reevaluating British colonial history and demanding reparations. 

FUTURE OF THE MONARCHY

Britain now looks to 73-year-old King Charles III for the next stage of the monarchy. According to a YouGov survey, public opinion of Charles III remains high, as 63% of respondents envision him as a good king. Some have already begun looking toward Prince William and his wife Catherine as the monarchy’s future.

As for the recent future, with rumors of him wanting to move out of Buckingham Palace, King Charles III will likely make his mark by dismantling the strict traditions associated with the royal family. While he has prepared for the role since birth, the king faces constant comparison with Queen Elizabeth II, who rarely shared political views with the public. The fate of the monarchy rests on whether Charles can steer the United Kingdom in the right direction. 

Lilac Lin is a freshman majoring in International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She is from Scarsdale, New York, and is a member of the Editorial Team of the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs.

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