By Maxwell Bevington
Boston University News Service
On Sept. 8, Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, passed away at the age of 96. Following her death, tributes have flowed from across the globe honoring the life of the late monarch.
The Queen had a worldwide impact, serving as the official head of state for numerous countries within the British Commonwealth, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And while the distance between Boston and London is over 3200 miles, the Queen and her passing have affected those at Boston University.
Arianne Chernock, a history professor at BU who focuses on modern Britain, said the death of the Queen marks an important shift in how the country views the monarchy, as she was a source of nostalgia and comfort to many.
“[Queen Elizabeth] was such a source of intrigue, and comfort, and stability that there is going to be this moment of reckoning now that she finally has died,” Chernock said. “A lot of difficult conversations that Britons have been having were deferred until this moment of death.”
One of the difficult conversations Chernock mentioned is the possibility of Scotland holding an independence referendum which would result in the nation leaving the United Kingdom.
Scotland held an independence referendum in 2014 where the majority of the people voted to remain a constituent country of the U.K. Since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union in 2016, questions about Scottish independence have been rising. A poll released this year by the British think tank British Futures also revealed that 36 percent of the Scottish public think the death of the Queen should be the cue for Scotland to become a republic.
Aleks Sierz, a professor for BU’s London Study Abroad program, is a proponent of Republicanism, a movement that supports replacing the monarchy with a true republic.
While the majority of the U.K. supports the monarchy, there is also a substantial number of people who seek to abolish it, viewing it as an outdated and elitist institution.
“There is something very unfair about the huge amount of personal wealth that the crown enjoys,” Sierz wrote in an email.
While there are people in the U.K. who do not support the monarchy, Queen Elizabeth enjoyed very high approval ratings from her public with roughly 80 percent holding a positive image of her at the time of her death.
Even anti-monarchists, like Sierz, respected Queen Elizabeth for her commitment to her people and country.
“I am happy to admit to respecting the queen and her sense of duty to the country, but loathing the whole institution of the monarchy,” Sierz wrote.
While the Queen remained popular amongst the public, conversations have come up since her death about the Royal Family’s legacy in regard to colonialism and racism.
When Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952, the British Empire ruled over large chunks of Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands. And while the empire gradually dissolved throughout the Queen’s reign, some view her as a symbol of this imperial legacy.
The Economic Freedom Fighters, a Marxist political party in South Africa, released a statement after the Queen’s death reading: “We do not mourn the death of Elizabeth, because to us her death is a reminder of a very tragic period in this country and Africa’s history.”
Chernock said the monarchy needs to be more willing to recognize the controversial aspects of its past, such as profiting from the African slave trade and its colonial legacy.
“The monarchy has been silent for too long on some of the more shameful aspects of its past from which there is no question the [institution] has benefited,” Chernock said. “I would love to see some more formal apologies, or at least acknowledgment.”
Although the Queen’s death has brought up some contentious aspects of the monarchy’s history, along with her being succeeded by her less popular son, King Charles III, it looks unlikely that the monarchy will be in danger of being abolished as of now.
Overall, 62 percent of the British public supports the continuation of the monarchy, according to a YouGov poll from June 2022, and Chernock noted that, for many, the monarchy is a major part of British national identity.
“I think there is too much at stake for Britain, and its own national identity is too fragile right now, to decide they are also going to disband this over 1000-year-old institution,” Chernock said.