Questioning the Queen’s Legacy


Thousands of people gather in Edinburgh to mourn their queen. (Source: Jamie Williamson)

TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of extreme violence and sexual assault.

With Queen Elizabeth II’s recent passing, reactions to her death have grown controversial — should the queen be celebrated or critiqued? The queen’s presence was ubiquitous in British life, as she held a prominent position in British nationalism.Though the queen was under obligations to serve the British monarchy, she should receive criticism directed toward the institution.

By stepping into her role, the queen was expected to take on the responsibility of balancing both the virtue and the drawbacks that come with her position. She did not hold herself or the monarchy accountable for countless unforgivable deeds. Up to her passing, she did not acknowledge, much less apologize for the consequences of British oppression or her part in it.

The British monarchy has a long and treacherous history of colonization and international conflict. Under the queen’s rule, British soldiers forced millions of people into concentration and detention camps, committed countless atrocities such as rape and torture and attempted to destroy official records of these events.

A prime example of this oppression is the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya that took place from 1952 to 1960. The British government castrated, killed, raped and restricted the basic freedom of tens of thousands of Kenyans. Generations later, the descendants of the colonized are still healing from the event. They should not be expected to mourn the queen as they would for families and friends.

Although the British monarchy no longer possesses the same level of governing power as it once had, the institution still commands respect and even fear. As a result, many who have suffered from the ramifications of the monarchy rightfully direct their anger and resentment toward the queen.

As the face of the monarchy for over 70 years, she has become and remains a symbol of British imperialism and its legacy for many. For others, however, it makes more sense to blame the institution of the monarchy instead, and deny the queen is at fault due to her obligations to the crown.

Boston Latin School English teacher Ms. Blake Barich remarks, “I do think there is legitimacy in people having genuine feelings of anger at Queen Elizabeth or the whole monarchy system. Clearly, it is a very negative situation that has ramifications for our world. But, I do believe she has some sense of duty to the institution, and that sometimes may mean she has to uphold values that are not acceptable.”

While Ms. Barich makes a valid point, the queen should be held accountable for pardoning unethical duties. Being a part of an institution automatically suggests that one condones and accepts its values — something the queen was well aware of. People naturally view the queen’s actions within the framework of the monarchy she represents, regardless of whether or not they were truly her own.

BLS history teacher Mr. Brian Smith says, “Nigeria just passed this law a month ago: no white faces on billboards anymore. People are shredding this imperialism, this legacy of imperialism that’s England, with the face of England as her.”

People who refuse to mourn her passing are not celebrating the death of the queen as a woman, but the death of the queen as an authoritative figure who symbolized the immense suffering they faced. While it may seem insensitive, her death marks the figurative end of nearly a century of British imperialism. It is not fair to silence the voices that have come forth by claiming they are “disrespectful.”

Mr. Smith concludes, “For statespeople, they put up public faces, I can’t judge that. But what we can do is judge you in your role as we know it. For me, that is as the Queen of England.”