An outpouring of grief engulfed the United Kingdom on Sept. 8 as Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, passed away after a 70 year-long reign. To many of the native Britons, she represented stability, grace and duty. To others, her legacy, and that of the British monarchy, is far more complicated. No one can deny the popularity of Queen Elizabeth II, owing in part to her well-cultivated benevolent image. However, with her passing, and a significant growing bloc of young people growing disillusioned with the royal system, the British monarchy will need a historical reckoning and wide-ranging reforms to remain the heart of the United Kingdom.
Despite the nostalgia and sorrow emanating from a majority of Britons, the royal family has not been without controversy. Remove the rose-tinted glasses, and one will find the family was more often than not mired in it. The modern monarchy’s tainted history reels back nearly a century, when the queen’s uncle, Edward VII, visited Nazi Germany in 1937. Ostensibly visiting to inspect the working conditions of the nation, he used the opportunity to share tea with Adolf Hitler and offer the Nazi salute to a doting crowd of onlookers. The world’s order has since radically changed, yet the monarchy’s scandals have remained an unmoving presence.
More recently, headlines flooded the media after an interview with Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, conducted by television host Oprah Winfrey. The couple, noted for their retirement from royal duties and move to the United States, described the large role racism played in their exile and the royal family’s concern over the color of their child’s skin color. This episode, however, pales in enormity to the most recent royal scandal, being the connections between Prince Andrew and infamous American financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. After a lengthy court battle with his key accuser Virginia Giuffre, in which Prince Andrew’s defense was funded by Elizabeth herself, he was ordered to pay approximately $16,000,000 USD to Giuffre and her victim’s charity. This, too, was bankrolled significantly by the Queen.
Beyond domestic controversies, there’s no love lost from former territories of the British Empire. The queen herself has remained a relatively beloved figure, but the darker history of the British Empire and the monarchy’s role as its figurehead has weighed heavily on former colonies. In Kenya, for example, many still hold a grudge against the monarchs for the then-empire’s role in the Mau-Mau rebellion. This war, engaged during the first eight years of her reign, was fought between British colonialists and a Kenyan anti-colonial army and caused the deaths of 11,000-25,000 native Kenyans. Further linking the monarchy with images of imperialism is the Koh-i-Noor diamond embedded in the center of the Queen’s crown.
The diamond, now one of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, was ceded from India to the British Empire as a spoil of war. Now, the diamond acts as a flashpoint to many Indian people arguing how the Crown Jewel was unrightfully signed away from their country, being a final plundered treasure after the British Empire bled nearly $52,000,000 from India.
These staggering figures combined with significant expenditures beg the question of where the queen’s vast wealth comes from today. In an unsurprising fashion, it’s significantly from the British taxpayers, costing them $117,000,000 over the last year. Despite it being shown the monarchy brings a net gain to the economy of the United Kingdom, it begs the question of how much of the royal family’s personal wealth is now wrested from the British people. The British royals maintain little de jure political power, but in a landscape increasingly defined by global capitalism, power arguably rests in one’s wallet.
The Commonwealth’s new monarch, King Charles III, knows this too well judging by his connections to offshore bank accounts and questionable business dealings. In a nation gripped by a slowed economy beset by rising costs and a sputtering healthcare system, Charles must walk a careful line as monarch. Tensions are high enough to cause Britons to face arrest protesting the monarchy, so it’s simply not enough to maintain an image of nobility. Instead, he must come to terms with the end of the Elizabethan era and forge a monarchy free from historical revisionism, reckless behavior and royal pomp. If not, the next generations of the Commonwealth may ensure he is their last monarch.