By Suzannah Young
Once upon a time, the British Empire ruled in all corners of the globe. As the largest empire to ever exist, it encompassed 24 percent of the world's total land area and ruled 23 percent of the world’s population at its peak in the early 20th century (vividmaps.com).
While the British no longer hold international control, on Sept. 8 the whole world felt the loss of the former empire’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
From America to China our phones chimed with notifications from Apple News, our Twitter feeds were filled with #LongLivetheQueen, and our Instagram stories showed nothing but pictures of the legendary monarch throughout her 70-year reign.
Because whether you are British or not, it goes without saying that Queen Elizabeth II was not just the Queen of England, she was THE queen.
For those who haven’t watched “The Crown,” or are not part of the seemingly large group of non-Brits who hold a secret obsession for the British monarchy, Queen Elizabeth II held the crown from February 1952 to September 2022 – making her reign the second longest in world history.
However, like any political figure, Queen Elizabeth II was both praised and ridiculed throughout the course of her ‘career.’
Some like Dr. Sarah Riva, professor of history and political science, maintain an admirable view of the former queen despite their dislike for the monarchy as an institution.
“I think for me at least, the queen kind of stands out because she oversaw the decolonization of the British empire. She did not oppose, at least publicly, the end of the British empire,” Riva said. “She went to Ghana in 1957 to celebrate their independence from the British Crown, which was quite an achievement.”
When the former princess became the queen upon her father’s death in the early ‘50s, the British empire still consisted of more than 70 overseas territories (worlatlas.com). While most of those colonies are now independent nations, 14 still fall under the British monarchy as part of the British Commonwealth.
Similar to the U.S. relationship with Puerto Rico, these ‘Crown Colonies’ operate under their own governments, but rely on the United Kingdom for foreign relations and defense.
And just like our president is Puerto Rico’s head of state, England’s queen was head of state for these 14 countries – including Jamaica, Canada, and the Cayman Islands – that remain a part of the Commonwealth.
Despite the queen’s position as former head of state, however, Riva and others think that perhaps her most significant action during her rule was the lack thereof.
“Queen Elizabeth made it very clear that the Crown does not interfere with the political system. I think it’s very important that she made them more of a symbol of the British than a powerful part of the political system,” said Riva.
But although Queen Elizabeth II maintained a fierce commitment to her apolitical stance, her death has provoked a re-evaluation of the monarchy’s larger role as an empire built on centuries of exploitation, suppression, and violence in the form of colonialism (time.com).
This critical sentiment in combination with the loss of its strongest protector has raised questions about what the British monarchy and the whole of Great Britain will look like moving forward.
Riva, for one, expects possible opposition to the monarchy from the English, but also from overseas countries that remain under the monarchy to begin leaving the British Commonwealth.
Jamaican student Tiai Sankey, a freshman majoring in communications, says that although the royals had little effect on her life growing up in Jamaica, the transfer of power to King Charles has many Jamaicans now opposing their involvement with the monarchy.
“[The royals] operate like they are a separate entity from the people,” Sankey said. “We don’t want anything to do with [King Charles] and it’s time to cut the cord.”
In the wake of the queen’s death, some like Sankey hope their countries will finally detach from the Commonwealth and leave the monarchy entirely.
Others, however, are using this time to discuss the devastating impact of British colonialism and its lasting effects. They are breaking the silence and insisting that it is time for the British empire to make reparations with formerly enslaved colonies.
"Britain made money from the dehumanization of black bodies, and it is right that black bodies demand that money back,” said award winning journalist and author Reddi Eddo-Lodge. “Some might insist that what [people] did 200 years ago is no longer relevant, but it’s naive to think that the past has nothing to do with the shape of today.”
Still, many simply want the monarchy to acknowledge their crimes.
“I don’t know about financial reparations, but I think they should contribute to the infrastructure [of the present/former colonies] as an act of goodwill,” Sankey said. “Just showing up on a ‘royal tour’ is not a show of goodwill but rather one of ignorance."