Texas State History Professor Discusses Queen Elizabeth II’s Legacy
Tomorrow, the state funeral of Britain’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, will take place at Westminster Abbey from 11 a.m. BST.
After a historic 70-year reign, his eldest son, the former Prince of Wales, was proclaimed the new King Charles III immediately upon his death.
Dr Caroline Ritter, associate professor in the department of history at Texas State University, who holds a doctorate in British history, agrees that the Queen’s time in service has been extraordinary, especially as she rode on the throne at the age of 25.
“When I think about it – I think about this time – it was in the early 1950s, Britain was still coming out of World War II,” Ritter said. “There had been so much destruction in the country, especially in the cities. Britain was broke, had to get loans to try to rebuild… So you have not only a young monarch, but a young monarch, with this incredible responsibility.
Ritter said the second thing on her mind at that moment in the early 1950s was the British Empire.
“Britain, still in large part, thought the Empire would last forever and the monarchy was an institution that was really so closely tied to the Empire,” Ritter said. “So there is this tension there that the Queen has had to deal with. Do you focus your attention on what is happening inside the nation, or do you look outward and think about this kind of geopolitical power shift? »
Think a little about the 20th century, Ritter suggested, particularly the role the monarchy played in the second half of the 20th century.
“The day-to-day issues, from year to year involving, say, the national economy, even involving particular foreign policy decisions, those were things that the prime minister and the prime minister’s party would deal with,” said Ritter. “At the same time, you have this tension with all this change, and there is this constant individual, who is there through it all. She had 15 different prime ministers when she was queen and met 13 different American presidents. We don’t understand a constant like that and there just seems to be such a tension between the impulse to stay the same and the impulse to change.
Ritter said the behavior and personality of the queen she projects may matter even more than her decision-making.
“You get a lot of reactions and comments now, even from people who don’t like there being a monarchy, who think it’s too expensive and too privileged. Right now they can reflect and think she brought a sense of stability,” Ritter added. “I also think that with the change of monarch, it opens up a new space for criticism. Somehow, his continual presence kind of quieted that soul-searching among Britons who were asking, “Why should we still have a monarchy?”
As for his successor, King Charles III, Ritter thinks there will be changes to the way the monarchy does its business, but not forgetting that the former Prince of Wales has been living under the umbrella of extreme privilege ever since. over 70 years old.
“He comes out of exactly the same title and privilege as Queen Elizabeth, except seventy years later. So that privilege, that title, feels more out of place than it did in the 1950s,” Ritter said. “At the same time, I feel at the start of Charles’s life, and the way most Americans knew him, he was the subject of incredible scrutiny and speculation that was really encouraged by all the new media; television, tabloid press enriched by the Internet… he is therefore no stranger – as a queen could have been 25 years before these technologies.
Ritter thinks there will be a period of nostalgia celebrating Queen Elizabeth, the person, and her longevity, that she was that steady, constant presence for nearly three-quarters of a century.
“I don’t think we’re going to see any type of radical modernization of this institution now,” Ritter said. “In a way, his longevity has kept the momentum for real change at bay. Only then can you look to the next generation. There may be steps towards change, but it will not be dramatic.
Although their life is the envy of some, it comes at a price, according to Ritter.
“It’s for life, it’s a sense of duty for life,” she said. “I don’t want to gloss over this. I think Queen Elizabeth, in her life, took some missteps. Other members of his family have very clearly committed missteps that deserve examination and criticism. But as a monarch, her life wasn’t entirely hers either.
The institution of monarchy is very much like a double-edged sword, according to Ritter, and its determination to ensure a stable presence is both good and bad.
“I think the determination to provide a steady presence was good at times,” Ritter said. “I also think that the determination to ensure a stable presence was bad because it resisted change. Resisting change can be quite negative, and it exposes defenders of the monarchy to the criticism of being out of touch.
“The second half of the 20th century saw the end of the British Empire,” Ritter added. “Britain, as part of its national narrative, now presents this as a peaceful transition to becoming a post-imperial power. But at the time, the determination to try to create a British world of British subjects was certainly felt by the millions of people under British rule, and that remained even in later iterations, some of which are still with us, like the British Commonwealth, which is now simply called the Commonwealth. It’s a remnant of the Empire.
With the Commonwealth, Ritter said there had been efforts to reframe the body as egalitarian, instead of how it had originally been imagined where Britain sat at the head of the table.
“Now they are trying to present it more as the gathering of many nations around the table, but the role of the British monarch is still the figurehead of that. They are still the official monarch of 14 other kingdoms around the world which gives them sing a hymn,” Ritter said, referring to God Save the Queen or the King. “It’s important to make sure the whole Empire story is known and not let the present moment be separated from the long history of the Empire.”
Ritter said she would be curious to know what kind of spectacle will be put on for King Charles III at his official coronation.
“With Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, which occurred several months after her accession to the throne, some coronation traditions go back 1,000 years,” she said. “But even at this coronation, there was a lot of talk about Britain as a world power with an empire. If one looked into the audience, one saw members of the aristocracy dressed in their finery and laden with jewelry intended to enhance their status and power. It is therefore permissible to wonder what conception the coronation of Charles III will take. Is it going to be a ceremony that looks a lot like the last one, it was 70 years ago? Or is it going to be a ceremony that says, ‘you know, some of these traditions should be updated?’ It will be something I envision, although the coronation will probably take place next year. »
One thing is for sure, Americans can’t seem to get enough of royal life, and Hollywood is helping to fuel that curiosity, however misguided it may be.
“I think adding pop culture really helped that for another generation,” Ritter said. “You had The Queen movie in the early 2000s. Now you have the whole The Crown series, again, trying to really flesh out and give a better look at a private person and, you know, make it a person.
“But I think a lot of it has focused on the queen and her personality, and separated her from the fact that there is this inherited rule. Americans are almost more interested in thinking about a fairy tale element and less interested in thinking about the real implications of the political institution.