In the truest apogee of human celebratory expression, Her Imperial Majesty, Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain, Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, and most prominent global matriarch was laid to rest on Monday, 19th September 2022 at St. Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle in the outskirts of London. Reminiscent of a time when her forebears on that throne of the House of Windsor/Hanoverians, the 300-year-old ruling family of her country boasted with unrestrained pride that “Britannia rules the waves,” the entire world gathered to pay last tributes to her.
In pomp and exquisitely choreographed recital of ancient Rites of Passage which took over the global horizon, the funeral events were held in close succession.
From the lush grounds of Balmore castle in Scotland, where she died on Friday, 5th September 2022, the celebratory train moved through the other countries in the ethnically diverse pact known since 1803 as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Despite some angst over her colonial heritage, much more than any other event organized in human history, world leaders, comprising Kings and Queens, Heads of States, Heads of Governments and hundreds of most outstanding of gentry attended the final obsequies shared between London and Windsor Castle, where her late husband, Prince Philip and parents also have their final resting place. Not the least were an approximated 4 billion of the world’s 8 billion population who followed the ceremonies on television. This large viewing audience, thus dwarfed the grandeur which some previous events such as the Atlanta Olympics of 1996, the wedding of King Charles 111 to Princess Diana in 1981 (and later her unfortunate funeral in 1997) had attracted.
Looking back, several good reasons are adduced for the wide global attention which the demise and funeral of the 96 years old attracted.
The ultimate imperialist
Of easy reference is the fact that the nation of which she was ruler was perhaps one of the most expansive colonial powers ever that stretched into modern times. From Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific to the Americas (United States, Canada, Caribbeans), Queen Elizabeth inherited a throne from the long line of Kings and Queens, starting from the time of King William I in 1066. Her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria (1819-1901) consolidated most of the colonial acquisitions during her 63 years rule, which is next only to Elizabeth’s reign in terms of longevity.
By contrast Elizabeth’s reign and those of her immediate forebears, her grandfather and her father were marked by a wind of decolonisation and the accompanying loss of foreign possessions. This period also saw to the building of a new alliance, the Commonwealth of Nations as a memorabilia of an old faded empire. Not fully weaned from colonial apron-string, this body of which a Nigerian, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, became its most outstanding Scribe so far, remains a voluntary organisation of 54 like-minded former British colonies and dependencies, desirous of maintaining the bond of shared interests. Added to that, the Queen till death remained Ceremonial Head of State of several countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and five (5) others in the Caribbeans.
Related to this, the rest of Europe still under monarchy, such as Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Spain, Norway, Sweden, etc, maintained an intricate web of cross-cousin filial ties as the root of most of their families trace back to pre-medieval Europe. Those were days when Norman and Viking domination of European rulership found their roots in Normandy (France) and Nordic countries. Indeed, after the Normans in Britain, the Plantagenets Royal House which ruled the country from 1154 to 1399 also had their origin in the Anjou parts of France. Other dynasties after that, the House of Lancaster, the House of York, House of Tudor and House of Stuarts, all had French links.
Also, Queen Elizabeth’s main family roots and that of Denmark further trace back to the 15th Century when The House of Oldenburg once provided the royal heritage of both countries as well as Greece, Iceland, Norway, Austria and Sweden. The House of Windsor itself for over 200 years was known by its German name, Saxe-Coburg from Hanover German.
Of added significance, for the other countries of Europe which are largely republican, Elizabeth became the face of a nostalgic reminiscence of a lost idyllic past. So, where monarchies no longer exists, the vestigial remnants of aristocrat order of Kings and Princes who once ruled the world became personified in her. Her position as the world’s ultimate monarch therefore became undisputed, not the least by positive acquiescence of all.
The dividend of longevity
Another crucial factor was the longevity of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, three scores and ten year! She outlived in good health and spirits almost, every other key global figure. Her reign covered five (5) Catholic Popes, thirteen (13) American Presidents, fifteen (15) British Prime Ministers, seven (7) Secretary Generals of the United Nations and similar times relative to the leadership of other countries. More than that, she lived sufficiently in both the 20th and 21st centuries, becoming a silent prime-mover of some of the greatest transformational strides in the world.
For example, she witnessed the Cold War and the build-up of global nuclear geopolitics, as well as the de-escalation and collapse of the Soviet Union, bringing a sigh of relief to collective peace and security. Also, Apartheid, Racism, Racial Segregation, White Minority rule, Xenophobia and similar ethnocentric prejudices swelled and largely deflated during her reign. Of equal note, so many of the extremist political credos, such as Fascism, Communism, Socialism, Militarism, Dictatorship, prowled the countries of the world, but she saw the eventual triumph of participatory democracy in most countries. The Queen also witnessed, the gradual shift of global agenda from issues of geo-strategic thinking to what has come to be known as Soft Diplomacy.
These include Gender Issues, Rights of Vulnerable persons, Fight against Poverty, the Preservation of the Environment, etc.
It is true that the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Bill of Rights 1689 and the Act of Settlement 1701 collectively restrict the powers of British monarchs on day to day governance. However, in real life, a personality such as the Queen was moral conscience and silent influencer behind almost all these developments around the world. So, for her long reign, most world leaders queued reverently to meet her in London or host her in their capitals.
A bridge builder for inter-faith communion
Of intriguing relevance also is the fact that she was also a major religious leader and unifying figure among the world’s leading creeds. Up to the time of her ancestor King Henry VIII, there was a single Christian Church, that is Catholicism. However, due to the refusal of Pope Clement VII to grant him permission to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, who was unable to bear him a male heir to the throne, he branched off, defiantly to establish The Church of England (Anglican Church) by Act of Parliament in 1534. Above that, he made himself and by law, his successors, Head of the Church of England which today exists all over the world. In principle the Queen, like those before her, was the Chief Presbyter and “Supreme Governor” of the Anglican Church.
This notwithstanding, she understood quite amply the imperative of universal ecumenism, so connected closely with the highest echelons of other religions. This made it easy for people of all faiths and creeds in the 195 countries of the world to feel the warmth of welcome around her.
Epitome of Matriarch triumphalism
For some obvious reasons, attributable to creative essence, the true worth of womanhood and motherhood often attract the highest levels of human emotional appreciation. Queen Elizabeth represented maternal worth per excellence through all the course of her long reign. Perhaps more than any other contemporaneous female figure, she was the ultimate mother, grandmother and great grandmother.
Even her son, and heir, now King Charles III simply referred to her as “Mama”, not “Her Majesty”. In addition to her high stately duties, like most women around the world, she dealt with normal family palavers, pertaining to parenting; not the least, issues of the heart like happy and failed marriages, and the unending tide of scandals.
For many like American President Joe Biden and former Ghanaian President John Kuffour whose paths crossed those of Queen Elizabeth closely, she was described as possessing those motherly instincts suggestive of “is everything okay?” Or “are you being good?”
So, all of humanity related to her somewhat as a “Mother General”.
How will the Monarchy fare now?
The removal of the crown and sceptre as well as the orb which were atop the Queen’s casket at the final commendation service at Windsor Castle, signified the fact that it was totally over with her.
However, this in no way signifies the end of the seeming British imperial hold around the world, as dim as it may be.
Indeed, in line with the ascension protocols of her country, on the day her death was announced, her son and erstwhile Prince of Wales was affirmed as new King in her place.
Even though the state crown which is believed to contain 3,000 diamonds is yet to be placed on his head, the ceremony which will take place a year after his mother’s demise, he has since assumed office in his full plenitude. But then, many doubts continue to abound as to the tenancy and future of this long established dynastic monarchy.
No doubt that, at the age of 73 years, King Charles III is well prepared for the job; as he had the privilege to be tutored not only by his mother, by his father, Prince Philip and grandmother, Queen Mother, Mary. Furthermore, he was one of first royals ever to obtain formal university education as he graduated from the University of Cambridge and also served in the Air Force and Navy rising to very top levels.
His entire life had been a product of protocol, regimentation and confined preparations for rulership and leadership.
However, the new King is also a man of his own mind. Perhaps due to his training in history and archaeology, he has also shown great interest in the conservation of historical monuments and architecture. Even more astounding is his work on the environment as he became a global champion for conservation, biodiversity and fight against climate change and supported such non-classical interest as support for homeopathy and alternative medicine.
Despite these modernist credentials, some continue to hold the view that his role as a monarch would be obscured by his mother’s long and celebratory rule which had received the best of global appreciation.
Domestically, the royal family has its own bits of negative appreciation, particularly from so-called anti-monarchists, liberals and republicans, including many who posit that the monarchy is anachronistic and a drain to the tax payers. Besides that, the British royal family with all its enormous wealth which the Forbes Magazine places at $28 billion is exempt from payment of taxes.
But then, others argue that besides its symbolic worth which makes it the centre point of British identity, the existent of the royal family and the monarchy is a major income earner for Britain. Indeed, some argue that on the average, the royal family rakes in about £2 billion earnings from tourism annually.
Whatever be the case, Prince Charles who is known for his reformist ideas, seems to have started touching the right chords by his display of candour and leadership during the ceremonies leading to his mother’s interment. The openness and modernist twist to the hitherto ancient rites foretell a disposition towards formal modernisation of the monarchy to be in tune with what the public and the entire world wants to see in the new dawn.
Of particular note, King Charles III has to think of pragmatic strategies and personal charm to continue to keep the Commonwealth together. More importantly, maintain the titular headship of the other independent countries, especially in the Caribbean where his mother was Head of State and seem poised to follow the Barbados example, which in 2021, shook off the colonial hangover.
One major takeaway also from the entire events is the fact that such traditional structures as royal families and the ceremonial/constitutional roles which they play are quite useful as they represent a link between the past and the future.
Hence, this serves as a wakeup call for African states, some of which deprecate the value of preserving such political institutions. Besides Ethiopia where the position of the King was, until recent held in awe and respectability with a prescribed constitutional role, in most of the rest of Africa, traditional monarchy, as well as the protocol and appurtenances of pomp around them are treated with levity. In fairness to the British, their colonies had such institutions as House of Chiefs and where societies were cephalous, as was Nigeria’s South East, they unapprovingly created “Warrant Chiefs” to fill the supposed vacuum. Rightly therefore, unfolding African political structures must have a rethink on putting in place, prescribed roles for various traditional institutions both at national and sub-national levels and also preserve the prescribed institutional order that come with them.
For now, Queen Elizabeth will rest, and God, as it is prayed in the British anthem, will save the King.
.Igali, a retired Ambassador is the Pro-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA)