After Queen Elizabeth's Reign, Can The Monarchy Endure? : Consider This from NPR For many in the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth was synonymous with the monarchy. As she's laid to rest, King Charles faces a potentially "existential" challenge in convincing the British and global public that the monarchy is a force for good, according to historian Dan Jones.

That may be a difficult task in the Commonwealth, a group of 56 countries connected in part by a history of British colonial rule. Many see the monarchy as inextricably linked to the injustices of that colonial system.

Jones talks to NPR's Rachel Martin about the Queen's legacy and the shoes Charles must now fill.

Jamaican member of Parliament Lisa Hanna explains why she believes the monarchy is at a crossroads and must use this moment to correct historical wrongs committed by the British Empire against people of the Caribbean.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment to help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

Britain And Its Former Colonies Debate The Monarchy's Future After Elizabeth

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1123937530/1200109579" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

One way to understand the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign is to go back to the start of it.

BARBARA STONE: My husband and I, we just got engaged. And we were walking up Regent Street, and we saw the Union Jacks at half-mast. And we went into a jewelers, and they said that the king had just died.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: The passing of King George VI came as a sudden and most grievous shock to his people all over the world.

SUMMERS: That was seven decades ago, which means the people who remember it are in their 70s or 80s or even older.

STONE: My name is Barbara Stone (ph), 92.

SUMMERS: The year after King George's funeral came Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

STONE: My father rented a television set, and we invited the neighbors in, and we watched the queen on this television.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: On what must surely be the greatest day of her life, Queen Elizabeth flies to her coronation.

SUMMERS: Avril Shattuck (ph) is 75. Her parents hosted neighbors too. They had the only TV on the street.

AVRIL SHATTUCK: My mother hardly watched the coronation because she was too busy making sandwiches for everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Imagine if you can our young queen's feelings as she's slowly borne towards the hours-long ceremony consecrating her as queen of all the nations and all the races over which she holds sovereignty.

SHATTUCK: It was just lovely to see her walk down with this golden dress and this fantastic cloak behind her. Then there's me. I think I once tried to copy what she did as a child. My mother had her wedding dress, and I used to get in there and march up and down in it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: And so this day of days most memorable comes to an end. And with it begins a new era, the new Elizabethan age.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: When the queen took the throne, Winston Churchill was prime minister. She reigned as the British colonial empire became a commonwealth of independent countries as her nation joined and then left the European Union. And through it all, she was seen as the steady hand that held the monarchy together. Barbara Stone remembers how, even at her coronation at just 25 years old, the queen looked very calm.

STONE: I think she was extremely good. I mean, it's going to be a completely different world now.

SUMMERS: CONSIDER THIS - as Queen Elizabeth is laid to rest, citizens of Britain and the Commonwealth are deciding what they make of the monarchy without her.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: From NPR, I'm Juana Summers. It's Monday, September 19.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Nearly 2,000 people crowded into Westminster Abbey for Queen Elizabeth's funeral. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Reverend Justin Welby, spoke about her life of duty and service and a pledge she made as a young woman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUSTIN WELBY: Her late majesty famously declared on a 21st-birthday broadcast that her whole life would be dedicated to serving the nation and Commonwealth. Rarely has such a promise been so well-kept.

SUMMERS: Crowds lined the streets of London. Some camped overnight to catch a glimpse of the queen's casket along its procession route. And all across the country, people gathered in movie theaters and pubs to watch the ceremony. Megan Montgomery crowded into a public square in Newcastle on Tyne in northern England.

MEGAN MONTGOMERY: It is just nice to see it, to see how many people it impacts. And I think it's nice for it come to a close in a nice way that everyone can share it together.

SUMMERS: The queen was enormously popular. Some thought of her as their granny. For Christopher James, a former gunner with the Royal Air Force Regiment, she was his commander in chief.

CHRISTOPHER JAMES: When I joined, I gave allegiance to the queen. My allegiance still stands. It also transfers to the king. She's a great ambassador for not just the forces, but for the whole of England. I think everywhere in the world knows that.

SUMMERS: At the conclusion of the state funeral just before noon, the United Kingdom observed two minutes of silence. In the crowd outside Westminster, you could hear a pin drop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SILENCE)

SUMMERS: Then the crowd joined in their national anthem. With Charles on the throne, it's "God Save The King."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD SAVE THE KING")

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) God save the king.

SUMMERS: For many, the queen had become synonymous with the monarchy, and it remains to be seen how readily people across Britain, let alone the Commonwealth, will transfer their allegiance to King Charles.

NPR's Rachel Martin was in London for the funeral, and she spoke to British historian Dan Jones about the difficulty of filling Elizabeth's shoes.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: How would you characterize her time on the throne? What did she do well?

DAN JONES: She's lived through a period of enormous, tumultuous change and come to express her duty through being a constant face, a constant presence, a constant representative of something much longer than the span of anybody's life. And I think she did very well at that. She did very well at - and I mean this in the kindest sense possible - seeming spectacular yet quite dull. There was - the job is to avoid controversy and to maintain a sort of semimythical presence, which is an odd job to give any human being, I think, psychologically, politically, culturally. And she dealt with it in a remarkable fashion.

MARTIN: So what does that mean, then, for her eldest son, now King Charles? I mean, first of all, as you say, she was successful because, in large part, people didn't know a lot about her, that she was such a private person. And that was all by, I mean, perhaps nature, but also by design. He is so much more of a known quantity to the British...

JONES: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Public for good and for ill. What challenges will that mean for him?

JONES: It's existential. The queen has been the queen for so long that - and what happens always with a long reign of a monarch is that the separation between crown and the individual wearing it starts to disappear in people's minds. The queen was the crown for almost everybody alive in Britain today. This is, for most of them, the first time they will have seen another individual wearing that crown.

Now, is the - was the faith and support of the monarchy really faith and support for the monarchy, or was it faith and support for the queen? My instinct is that it was faith and support for the queen. And so Charles now has an incredibly difficult job. He's a middle-aged, going-on-elderly white man, and that is not sort of the easiest thing to be in a rapidly changing society. He's got to somehow either convince people that the crown itself - the institution of monarchy - is a force for positive good and something that's worth the money and worth maintaining, or he has to somehow convince people that he himself is his mother's equal as a monarch. And I think both of those are unbelievably difficult tasks which could prove existential to the monarchy.

SUMMERS: British historian Dan Jones, author of "The Templars," speaking with NPR's Rachel Martin. Of course, not everyone in the U.K. felt the same attachment to the queen. Rachel spent time at a music festival in a southeast London neighborhood called Peckham and met a musician named Anjelo Disons.

ANJELO DISONS: I'm second-generation, so my mom came over. She was from Uganda, and Uganda is part of the Commonwealth. And what she meant - like, how she unified a lot of countries - however, to me personally, I'd be telling fibs if I'm saying it meant - she meant the most to me, do you know what I mean?

SUMMERS: Most of the people at the festival who spoke to NPR felt like Anjelo.

DISONS: It's time for a new age. It's time for new, progressive thinking, and I think this is the perfect opportunity. And she was loved by many, but it means that, OK, she's now, sadly, passed away. But can certain things pass away with her?

SUMMERS: That's a sentiment you can hear outside the United Kingdom, too, particularly in the Commonwealth, a group of 56 nations connected in part by a history of British colonial rule. Many see the monarchy as inextricably linked to the injustices of that colonial system. Lisa Hanna is a member of Parliament in Jamaica. It's part of the Commonwealth, and it's also one of 14 nations that still recognize the British monarch as their head of state. She says the mood in Jamaica toward the monarchy is somewhat militant.

LISA HANNA: Jamaicans have been, for some time now, very - I think resentful is a strong word but certainly want to be architects of their own destiny. And they have not seen how them being - having the queen as a head of state has really moved our economy and our social standing forward. As a matter of fact, Jamaicans don't get automatic visas to go to England, for example. And there are still a lot of vestiges from the influence of slavery that Jamaicans still live, and the evils of slavery are still very alive and well in many aspects of our Jamaican life. I think, you know, people are reserved and respectful. Someone has died. But certainly there is very little reverence from the position of what she held.

SUMMERS: What do you think can be done immediately, or what would you like to see happen now?

HANNA: Well, the first thing that they can do is say sorry, a genuine sorry. You know, saying that it was a bad period and it was a heinous period of history is not the same as saying, sorry, and we take responsibility for that. And as a result of that, here is what we are prepared to do. They must now align themselves - urgently align themselves to correct their historical wrongs and reset their political, economic and social systems for the future generations that are coming in the Caribbean, not only Jamaica.

And you saw it with when Kate and - now Princess Kate and Prince William came to the Caribbean, how they were met. People were saying, these signs and symbols of the monarchy, we no longer have the tolerance for the signs and symbols. We want to be heard because if you read the history, the United Kingdom achieved maximum wealth creation from the wealth extraction from Caribbean colonies. And even after slavery, reparations was not paid to slaves. It was paid to plantation owners.

You can't, after years and hundreds of years of a system, expect that, all of a sudden, people - thousands of people can move forward that way if you still are an oppressive system over them. Antigua has now come out and said that they want their own head of state. Jamaica is moving to do it. Barbados has moved to do it. There are quite a few countries around the world that are saying, look; this hasn't helped us. We're moving in another direction.

SUMMERS: Earlier, you mentioned the tour of the Caribbean that the Prince and Princess of Wales took. And during that trip, Prince William expressed - and I'm quoting here - "profound sorrow" for what he called the appalling atrocity of slavery. What was your reaction upon hearing that?

HANNA: Listen; flowery words and artful symbols not only do not placate us, but words without actions also offended us. So we need the Prince of Wales and King Charles and the new Prime Minister of Britain, Prime Minister Truss, to recognize, certainly, the historic exploitation and the consequences and now start making amends. We all heard what Prince William said, but it was not enough. He needed to go a step further to say, well, this is what we are going to do to make sure that we right those historical wrongs. And I think he has a unique opportunity to align our expectations based on what their actions will do for the future.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: That's Lisa Hanna, a member of Parliament in Jamaica.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Juana Summers.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.