Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away this afternoon at the age of 96, leaving her son Charles as Britain’s new monarch. Although her ailing health was well-known, the Queen’s death comes as a shock given her recent meeting with Prime Minister Liz Truss on Tuesday. Many politicians including former PM Boris Johnson have thoughtfully referred to the monarch as “Elizabeth the Great”, in honour of her service to the public.
Elizabeth became the country’s longest-reigning monarch in 2015, having outlived her ancestor, Queen Victoria. Her seventy-year reign saw many changes in both Britain and the outside world, with the Queen appointing 14 Prime Ministers and meeting with 12 US presidents during her lifetime. Her Platinum Jubilee celebrations saw thousands gather in the name of the monarchy, a nod to the royal’s unwavering popularity despite recent controversies surrounding her family.
The Queen’s journey to the position of monarch was not a simple one. When her uncle King Edward VIII renounced his title in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, the charming ten-year old “Lilibet” was thrust into the position of heir-presumptive, with her father Albert being named King George VI.
In 1952 Elizabeth, then Princess of York, ascended the throne to an empire facing huge turmoil. India had declared itself independent in 1947, soon followed by Britain’s colonies in mainland Africa. What was once the world’s largest empire appeared to be heading towards imminent collapse.
Yet despite these confronting challenges, it was under the Queen’s guidance that Britain transitioned into the Commonwealth system. Beginning with a coalition of only 7 states, the association grew to 54 countries by the end of her reign, 15 of which recognise Britain’s monarch as their head of state. Through the help of the Commonwealth, Britain retains strong ties with its former colonies, with the network enhancing trade relations and interstate cooperation.
The Queen held many titles and achievements throughout her lifetime, but Elizabeth II will be remembered above all as Britain’s constant, a person which the British public looked up to in times of crisis. Many found comfort in her visit in to Aberfan in 1966, following the mining disaster that took 144 lives, and in more recent times her broadcast during the pandemic which touched those impacted by coronavirus.
From Empire to Commonwealth, From Cold War to European Union, few else have witnessed or played a role in such dramatic changes to domestic and international politics.
With her passing, the Queen leaves behind a monarchy that both stood the test of time yet faces a new series of threats. Her heir, now officially named King Charles III, holds a much lower popularity rating of 40 percent against her 69 percent. The former Prince of Wales was also the subject of racism allegations, which he continually denied, in relation to his grandson Archie born to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. His weak reputation has caused experts to suggest that he may abdicate in favour of his son, Prince William, early on in his reign.
Meanwhile, his younger brother Prince Andrew continues to face scrutiny in the fallout of accusations made against him by Virginia Giuffre. Although reaching an out of court settlement with his accuser, her details of sexual assault and battery when she was seventeen have rocked the monarchy’s credibility as an institution. The prince now holds an astonishingly low 7 percent approval rating.
But perhaps the most urgent threat of all to the monarchy in Elizabeth’s reign was the growing calls for its end. In 2021 Barbados made its way into international headlines for removing the Queen as the Head of their State, declaring itself a republic, and naming its Governor-General Sandra Mason as its first President—despite continuing to remain in the Commonwealth.
Although the Queen survived the wave of criticisms against the monarchy, wishing the new republic “happiness, peace and prosperity”, it is uncertain how the Commonwealth will move forward in the absence of its formidable leader. Whatever the future holds for Britain’s monarchy, the passing of Elizabeth II is undoubtedly a loss that will be felt for many days to come. As the Queen once remarked, “grief is the price we pay for love.”