The Queen and the Monarchy
Knowing my British roots, which are still strong, if somewhat stretched after 36 years in USA, several people have kindly offered their condolences after the Queen’s recent passing and have asked for my comments about the monarchy. That has caused me to examine my mixed feelings about the institution. Maybe writing about it and them will help.
I should declare two biases that might affect my opinion. Firstly, I think that having a monarchy (whatever my opinion of the monarchy itself) perpetuates the class structure which still permeates British life. Lords, ladies and other hereditary titles seem anachronistic in the modern world. Secondly, I cannot abide ostentatious behavior. Maybe this derives from my gentle Quaker schooling that encourages humility. However, that concern is probably misplaced in this context. The marvelous pageantry of the Queens passing was our heart-felt celebration of her, not her bragging about it.
Now to the point.
No one has, or can have, anything but praise for Queen Elizabeth’s exemplary lifelong devotion to the position that came to her unexpectedly. Without question she has been an invaluable constant during a long period of extraordinary change in Britain and the world. The unanimous outpouring of love and gratitude over the last weeks is the best testament to her. But one person does not define the monarchy nor guarantee its continuing success. The Queen was respected for her obvious lifelong probity, a quality that our now King Charles (and several family members) have failed to emulate. Can we all see him as our figurehead and example to our children?
Our second concern (I use “our” since it has been reiterated repeatedly by all commentators) is whether Charles can manage the essential “hands-off” approach enshrined in tradition? He is well known for speaking out strongly for many causes. Can he “reign” himself in now that his position has changed completely? He has said so several times, and time will tell. I recommend a marvelous 2017 movie “King Charles III” which explores the consequences if he cannot step back. And yet, do we want him to swallow his tongue completely? He has been an important voice in the climate crisis, which can use more volume. Perhaps he will have more leeway as leader of the Commonwealth – another institution about which many have mixed feelings.
Our new king is obviously highly intelligent and fully aware of the enormous challenge he faces, how to succeed the most popular public figure of the last 50 years. We wish him well, hoping that he can design and fill a successful role while loosening some coat-tails of privilege.