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“London Bridge is Down,” the Death of Queen Elizabeth and the Future of the British Royal Family

  "The rock on which modern Britain was built." This is how British Prime Minister Liz Truss portrayed Queen Elizabeth II shortly after her death on 8 September 2022. Queen Elizabeth II, who took the throne as queen in 1952 at the age of 26, reigned for 70 years and 127 days, making her the longest-ruling monarch in British history; she has fallen asleep forever. She was the symbol of London and the face of England, so her death made the world a wave of mourning. Let's look at the life of Queen Elizabeth II, which stands for modern history itself, and think about the future of the British royal family that the queen's death will change.  

 

Life of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II waved from the balcony of Buckingham Palace in 1953 after her coronation. She was Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.

  Elizabeth II had served as the monarch of 32 Commonwealth kingdoms, including Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Pakistan, since her accession in 1952 at the age of 26. Thus, as the monarch, this queen had the largest territory and population throughout her reign. Moreover, Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 70 years, beyond the authority of her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria (63 years 216 days). Elizabeth II was recorded as the longest-serving Commonwealth monarch in history. In 1945, before her accession, the Queen enlisted in the British Army's Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), where she fought in World War II. While serving as a truck driver, she changed her tires and was one of the few royalty who knew how to change spark plugs. Taking over her Commonwealth at the end of the British Empire, her mission as Queen Elizabeth II was to make a soft landing for the British royal family in modern society. Thus, although the Queen was the highest representative of the United Kingdom, she focused on respecting Parliament's decisions based on the royal tradition of "reigning but not ruling." She witnessed significant social, economic, and political changes inside and outside England during her reign as the Queen. In 1992, when it was estimated that astronomical amounts of money would be spent on restoring Windsor Castle, which was burned by the fire at the time, she gave up the royal duty-free privilege. Also, she paid income taxes in consideration of public opinion.

  Elizabeth II became the monarch who defended the end of the empire while watching the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, which marked the end of the British Empire. She was the most traveled monarch in the world, who visited more than 110 countries on six continents during her tenure while forging British friendships with countries worldwide. Her first prime minister was the famous Winston Churchill, and she made her last prime minister appointment two days before her death. Starting with Winston Churchill, she watched 15 British prime ministers, including Liz Truss, who was appointed two days before her death, and met actual figures who shook history, including Stalin of the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong of China. Since then, even during her turbulent tenure, including Scotland's vote for separation and independence in 2014 and Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, the Queen had succeeded in drawing public unity as Britain's "mental landlord." Therefore, the British have considered her as the central point of support for the Commonwealth at every historical moment and the queen of the heart.

 

2022 Platinum Jubilee: 70 Years on the Throne

Crowds gathered along the Mall in central London to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

  The British love for the Queen and the Royal Family was further pronounced at the Platinum Jubilee event. Platinum Jubilee refers to the 70th anniversary of a country's reign. It is preceded by the "Golden Jubilee," which means the 50th anniversary of a reign, and the "Diamond Jubilee," which marks the 60th anniversary of power. It is scarce to have a monarch who has fulfilled 70 years in world history. This year 2022, was the 70th year of the throne of Elizabeth II of England, so the British royal family designated a four-day memorable holiday from June 2 to 5, 2022, to mark the first platinum Jubilee in history and held a grand celebration. The Queen could not attend a thank-you service at St. Paul's Cathedral in central London, which was dedicated to the Queen for 70 years. Still commemorating the Platinum Jubilee, she said, "I am constantly inspired by the goodwill you have shown me. I hope this event will be an opportunity to reflect on the achievements made over the past 70 years and to look forward to the future with confidence and passion." In addition, when the queen, who attended the lighting event on the evening of June 2, 2022, touched the globe symbolically, the world began to shine, followed by a line of lights from Windsor Castle, where the queen lives, to Buckingham Palace. In addition, many people gathered to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Queen's accession, and thousands of lanterns were lit in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth. Some in the UK are critical of the royal family's existence or worried about the royal family's future after the queen. Still, the Platinum Jubilee has become an opportunity to unite the wounded Britons around the queen.

 

Queen Elizabeth's Funeral

  At 6:30 p.m. on September 8, 2022, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen had died peacefully at Balmoral Castle. Queen Elizabeth was the longest-serving monarch in British history (70 years), so Britain had been careful about preparing for the Queen's future death. "Operation London Bridge" was the funeral plan for Queen Elizabeth II. The plan included the announcement of her death, the period of official mourning, and the details of her state funeral. The plan was created as early as the 1960s and revised many times in the years before her death in 2022. The phrase "London Bridge is down" would be used to communicate the end of the Queen to the prime minister of the United Kingdom and critical personnel, setting the plan into motion.

  The royal family posted a statement of the Queen's death at Buckingham Palace's front door in the traditional way, and Britain had a 10-day memorial service. The Queen's funeral was the first major funeral in 57 years in Britain since the death of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1965. A procession of mourners gathered to mark the end of Queen Elizabeth II. The procession started from Westminster Hall in London, England, where the Queen's coffin was placed, to Tower Bridge along the Thames. According to the BBC, an average of 4 billion people worldwide watched the Queen's funeral. A day before the Queen's funeral, rainbows appeared in the sky of Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle, catching the eyes of British citizens mourning the Queen's death. Before the service, a bell rang 96 times – once a minute for each year of Elizabeth’s life. Then 142 Royal Navy sailors pulled the gun carriage with her coffin to London’s Westminster Abbey, where around 2,000 people gathered for the ceremony. The Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Gurkha Brigade (all the units in the British Army) led the funeral procession with bagpipes and drums, followed by immediate royal families such as King Charles III, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, Prince William, and Prince Harry. As the funeral opened, David Hoyle that was the head clergyman of Westminster Abbey, said: “Here, where Queen Elizabeth was married and crowned, we gather from across the nation, from the Commonwealth, and from the nations of the world, to mourn our loss, to remember her long life of selfless service.” The funeral ended with the bagpipe performance of the British national anthem God Save the Queen, which the Queen requested during her lifetime.

 

Waves of Mourning

  The funeral was attended by presidents, prime ministers, princes, royal families, and key figures from all over the world, stopping by Westminster Abbey, where the queen was enshrined, to conduct diplomatic condolences. So many mourners from various countries attended because of the skillful diplomacy and the contributions the queen had made to the world. U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, looked upon the Queen's coffin, drawing a sign of the cross and putting their hands on their chest as a solemn expression. Joe Biden paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth as he signed the Queen’s book of condolence at Lancaster House of London. He also said, "To all the people of England, all the people of the United Kingdom, our hearts go out to you, and you were fortunate to have her for 70 years." French President Emmanuel Macron, Mrs. Bridget Macron, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also bowed to the Queen's coffin. Not only the European royal family, including King Harald V of Norway, King Felipe VI of Spain, King Philip of Belgium, and King Margrethe II of Denmark but also monarchs from around the world, including Emperor Naruhito and King Letsie III of Lesotho, arrived to pay their respects. Unlike most Western countries where leaders attended the funeral, China's Vice President Wang Qishan, who is in the eighth-ranked protocol, participated in the funeral as a special envoy. China has followed the custom of making a difference in the protocol of condolence depending on whether it is an "old friend of the Chinese people," an official title for foreigners who are friendly to their country. Accordingly, China did not send a top envoy to the Queen’s funeral.

  Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin, isolated internationally due to the war with Ukraine, did not receive any funeral invitations. Very few countries did not receive the invitation, including Russia, Belarus, Myanmar, Syria, Venezuela, and Afghanistan. Still, Russia and Belarus were not invited due to the Ukrainian invasion, and Myanmar was not invited due to the military's massacre of civilians. In addition, only North Korea and Nicaragua ambassadors were invited to the Queen's funeral instead of the heads of state.

 

Beginning of the Reign of Charles III

  After the queen’s death, Prince Charles, the first in line to the throne, took over the throne, and the era of Charles III began. The new king, Prince Charles, said in his statement: "We profoundly mourn the passing of a cherished sovereign and a much-loved mother." He added that the loss of the queen would be deeply felt throughout the country, the realms, and the Commonwealth and by countless people worldwide. He was the oldest British king to be crowned at 73, breaking the record held by William IV, who was crowned at 64.

  Charles III faced a difficult task at the same time as he ascended the throne because he had to prove that he was a deputy of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, who served as the center of Britain during her reign of more than 70 years. The problem is that Charles III has a great deal of public dislike due to controversy over his personality and affair issues. Charles III was spotted making annoying gestures and facial expressions when he signed the coronation declaration at the enthronement ceremony on September 10, 2022. Unlike Queen Elizabeth II, who always stood in front of the people with a gentle attitude, Charles III, who showed an emotional attitude as the scene was broadcast live on CNN, was greatly criticized by the public. Charles III also earned the infamous "interference prince" nickname after the media revealed that he sent letters and memos expressing his views on various fields, such as global warming, social alienation, and architecture.

  Thus, in a poll conducted by YouGov (a British international Internet-based market research and data analytics firm) in May 2022, the approval rating of Charles III was 56%, lower than that of Elizabeth II (81%) or her son Prince William (77%). The BBC predicted that this low approval rating would challenge Charles III, and thus, Prince William would become the centerpiece of the royal family. It will also be a matter of how well Charles III can match with his new prime minister, Liz Truss, who has just started his tenure as an iconic national leader. British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who took office on 5 September 2022, was once interested in abolishing the monarchy before joining the ruling Conservative Party. In this situation, the demand for conversion to a republic is increasing in Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where the nominal head of state is the British monarch.

 

What Is the Future of the British Monarchy?

ANTI-MONARCHY PROTESTERS OUTSIDE CARDIFF CASTLE.

  Western media predicted that the death of Elizabeth II and the subsequent royal change would cause significant changes in Britain, a period of political and economic upheaval. Max Hastings, former editor-in-chief of the British Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard, said on U.S. Public Radio, NPR, "The British people have great respect and affection for the queen, but much less support for the monarchy itself. " Thus, he analyzed that it is difficult for the monarchy to transition to the next generation. Among the Commonwealth countries, Barbados has already declared a transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic in 2021. Barbados, an island nation in the Caribbean Sea in Latin America, has been under British colonial rule since 1627 but became independent in 1966 and maintained a constitutional monarchy. It also has chosen a republic with a president elected by the people's hands as its head of state since 2021. Barbados, however, decided to remain in the Commonwealth, a coalition of economic, military, and cultural exchanges with the country that belonged to the British territory even after it became a republic. Anthony Albanese, Australia's new prime minister, also established a recent post called "Secretary-General of the Republic." He tended to see the monarchy as a relic of the colonial era and not to support it.

  Many other Commonwealth countries are also trying to break with British colonial heritage. When Prince William and his wife visited their country in March 2022, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness expressed their desire to break with the British royal family and become independent as a republic. Antigua and Barbuda, the Caribbean Island nation, also decided to push for a referendum on the transformation of the republic within three years. Antigua and Barbuda's prime minister, Gaston Brown, told ITV that "the abolition of the monarchy is the final step in completing the cycle of independence." Therefore, the movement of the de-military system is becoming visible among the Commonwealth countries, including the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

  The loss of the Queen, loved and respected by people of all generations, is very difficult for the British. The death of Elizabeth II will also signal the opening of a new era and will bring many changes to British society in the future. This is because the existence that supported the royal family based on the respect of the people had disappeared, and voices for the abolition of the monarchy have been gaining strength both inside and outside the UK. Therefore, it is necessary to think about the future of the British royal family and prepare in line with changes in the international community.

최승빈  carpediem_oon@inha.edu

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