The Beginning of the End of the Elizabethian Era

Queen Elizabeth II formally became the oldest person to ever serve as monarch of the United Kingdom today. Until now, Queen Victoria held the record at 81 years and 243 days, but the present Queen is now officially one day older.

All commemorations of the Queen’s achievement beg an uncomfortable, underlying question. How much longer until she dies? It’s a very morbid matter to ponder, but the monarchy is by definition a rather morbid institution, and death is a routine part of its proper functioning. The Queen’s eventual death will undoubtedly trigger enormous constitutional controversy—and possibly even crisis—across the Commonwealth, and will likely usher in an intense wave of debate on the future of the Crown. It’s therefore a perfectly reasonable eventuality to speculate about, and so speculate I will.

It’s worth noting that of course I do not eagerly anticipate the Queen’s death, and I don’t bear the Queen any personal ill will. On the contrary, I think any reasonable person, be they republican or monarchist, liberal or conservative, will readily acknowledge that Elizabeth II is one of the great figures of the 20th Century, and an enormously important symbolic persona of our era, even if her political relevance was limited and flawed. I also think, however, that history will almost certainly record her as the “last great monarch” of England, and a fitting bookend to Britain’s long era of Empire and monarchy. The Queen’s death will thus not be an orderly, formulaic, or unspectacular affair, the way the deaths of her father and grandfather were. It will instead be an enormously emotional episode, in which it will be brazenly obvious to all that a definitive era has concluded, and we are now entering an uncertain twilight period.

The irony of the Queen’s success as a constitutional monarch is that she has actually done a disservice to the long-term survival of the Crown by so successfully centralizing the entire institution in her own person. All of the royal poise, dignity, formality, and aloofness that monarchists love so much and claim are inherent values of the monarchy are really just the values that Elizabeth the individual have brought to the job. They will likely die with her. The Queen’s family, as we all know, is a highly dysfunctional and decidedly undignified brood, and in the modern era embarrassed monarchists have largely cut them out of the equation in detailing “what the monarchy is,” in favor of exclusively focusing on the elderly and delightfully out-of-touch Queen.  But as Elizabeth ages, it is Charles, Camilla, and the two playboy princes who are poised to inherit the Queen’s world, and will be thoroughly incapable of sustaining it, either on a personal or institutional level. The present Queen does not give interviews, has kept her political views largely hidden, and enjoys the admiration of a deferential media that does not dare gossip about her eccentricities, intellect, or sex life. This cannot be said of any of her successors.

Once this gang takes over, the post-Elizabeth monarchy will thus become a mundane, uninspiring, born-and-bred creature of Tabloid culture, headed by people who are depressingly ordinary and unsettlingly human. King Charles or William or whoever will be constantly compared unfavorably to the Last Great Queen, and everyone will be unhappy and worse off. The Commonwealth realms will wonder why we are bothering to enshrine a boring British man as our Head of State, and the Brits will ask the same. The late 2010’s or 20’s could see the Crown die an undignified death at its lowest moment. 

One has to resist the urge for schadenfreude. It would be nice for all involved if there could be some sort of negotiated, polite end to the British monarchy in both Britain and the Commonwealth, in which the institution could be calmly dissoveled upon the passing (or, ideally, abdication) of Elizabeth II. It could be an agreement reached by negotiation and consensus, preserving the pride of all affected parties.

She’s been around for 81 years, but Queen Elizabeth show can’t continue forever. The sooner we prepare for the post-Elizabeth period, the sooner we can ensure that the greatness of the woman is honored by a dignified conclusion to her era, rather than an arduous and muddled  mess.


27 responses to “The Beginning of the End of the Elizabethian Era

  1. How can Elizabeth’s successor be a “born-and-bred creature of Tabloid culture” about whom the tabloids “gossip about [their] eccentricities, intellect, or sex life.” and yet be “boring” “mundane” and “uninspiring”? Lacking in nobility and value as a monarch, sure… but boring?

    Apart from this nitpick, I heartily agree with your article. I’m no fan of the concept of monarchy, and will be glad to see it tactfully and respectfully retired to society gossip pages.

  2. Wait… you wish for the monarchy to be abolished in Britain, too? Isn’t that none of your business? How truly you have become the purported monster you wished to slay – desiring to dictate the constitutional arrangements of a foreign power, when (despite your feverish adolescent dreams) they do not do so for you. (i.e. Canadians are free to do what they wish, democratically).

    It’s bad enough you have laid your name on the side of the professional political class, cultural revolutionaries, and all the rest eagerly measuring the crown for themselves in Canada. But to try and reach across and do that in my country? Hands-off, sir, hands-off…

  3. “Canadians are free to do what they wish, democratically”

    You’d better read the Preamble of the Statute of Westminster 1931 (Imp), Scott. It ties the future of the monarchy by constitutional convention (albeit not by hard law) to all Commonwealth realms, should Britain make any changes to the institution. I think this is the key part of JJ’s argument – that if Britain moves to abolish the monarchy before the Queen’s realms to, we colonials have little choice but to work with the UK towards that goal.

  4. You can abolish the monarchy without forcing us to do so.

    And we will never do so. It simply won’t happen in the UK. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you cannot know Britain very well if you believe it even remotely probable that it will ever become a republic. No-one wants it. We despise the politicians we already have enough; we don’t need another one. People have reservations about Charles, but people also have great affection for him, and much of his exemplary charitable work (Prince’s Trust etc). No-one thinks of the two princes as “playboys” (possibly because they aren’t; I can’t believe anyone, except out of pure laziness or ignorance, would ever describe enrolment in the military and officer training at Sandhurst as the life of a playboy. And I doubt JJ’s student lifestyle is puritanical enough to allow him to condemn their occasionally alcohol-based hobbies). People look forward to the day when we will have William on our coins, and stamps, and throne.

    I just think it very, very sad that there are people in Canada who don’t. Thankfully they are an enjoyably laughable minority, who don’t even try to hide that it is envy and megalomania which drives them. (Make Canada the Republic of JJ, indeed; one would almost believe it satirical…)

  5. I would heartily agree that it is none of my business what Britain does with its royal family. But this is an odd and complicated matter, since, as Lewis noted, legally they are as much Canada’s royals as Britain’s. If monarchists wish to live by the sword that we’re all one giant imperial happy family, then they must be willing to die by that sword too, and deal with cross-Atlantic republicanism. If I believe the crown is bad for Canada, then I’d be a hypocrite not to argue that that same crown is also bad for Britain.

    Rather than megalomania or insanity or whatever, my views on UK republicanism have actually been influenced by UK republicans themselves, and their writings and traditions, which really have a significant and lengthy history in Britain, despite the constant instance by monarchists that they do not exist. It’s obviously an uphill battle in the UK, and I would never deny this. But British monarchists have a propensity for irrational optimism just the same. Most polls done in the UK that I’ve seen generally give very high numbers to those who believe the monarchy must be “greatly reformed,” and if you add republicans to the mix, you get a majority, or very near too it. So there is clearly some mandate here.

    Re: Psudo, I do actually consider most of the so-called royal Tabloid “scandals” to be rather dull. The dysfunction of the Windsor family is no worse in style and scope than that of countless other families of considerably less wealth or fame. And this is the problem. Such scandals remind us just how boring and ordinary the royals are, and for monarchy to work, there must be a high level of mystique and magic to the ruling dynasty. The present queen has this, but the others don’t.

  6. ” If I believe the crown is bad for Canada, then I’d be a hypocrite not to argue that that same crown is also bad for Britain.”

    Depends on what your reasons are: from what I have seen you regularly advance specifically Canadian reasons rather than universalisms. You are a million times the swine you imagine Britons are if you really wish to reach across the Atlantic and destroy the Monarchy there as well as in your own home. Many of the Commonwealth countries ditched the Queen. We didn’t have to change a thing. You can ditch the Crown too. We will keep it. I think it would be a dark and stupid day for Canadians, but that’s that.

    Incidentally – if Canada were to become a republic (basically impossible, unlike in Oz, thanks to the Provincial system), and a strong monarchist movement formed within this republic, and eventually they gathered enough momentum and forced a plebiscite and voted to Restore the Crown, would you view that as legitimate? Or do you intend that a Republic will be a permanent revolution? Surely if you can democratically alter it once, you can democratically alter it infinitely?

  7. Scott, can you promote your agenda without characterizing the opposition as “very, very sad” “swine” driven by “envy and megalomania”? Is it necessary to malign the oppositions motives and character in order to oppose their arguments and position?

  8. None of those countries came within the bounds of the Statute of Westminster 1931 Scott. Hell, most of them didn’t exist in 1931.

  9. Psudo – I can, but I don’t wish to. In the greatest and most gregarious spirit of English-speaking debates, all sides must reserve the right to compare the opposite numbers in the friendliest possible way to pork. Please try not to faint at the notion. Are you getting the vapors? Do you need to step outside? Are you truly a woman from an 18th century novel?

    Lewis – true, I hadn’t really thought of that. From what the Queen herself said at the time of the Oz referendum, though, and from my knowledge of that legislation, I don’t believe it would force reciprocal changes if Canada made alterations to their arrangements. If Britain did, that would be different, of course. (Unjustly, I would say).

  10. It depends what changes Canada makes. Certainly simply abolishing the monarchy in Canada altogether – which is near impossible under the status quo – doesn’t require any reciprocal arrangement. However should Britain seek to abolish the monarchy, that would create a number of complex issues. As I point out on my blog, if Britain amended the Regency Act 1937 to replace the Queen with a democratically elected regent, New Zealand would have to accept the British regent as our head of state.

  11. Rest easy. Britain shall not do that. Our mutual Crown shall ever reign over both our lands!

    (And besides, you could easily abolish the legislation in NZ that made that regent your h-of-s).

    P.S. Isn’t it amusing that the Crown’s republicans even work with each other! What a testimony to the unending brotherhood of the English-speaking peoples, forged in and bound by the Royal throne.

  12. P.P.S.

    Merry Christmas, Happy Christmas, Joyous Christmas to everyone here, republican and all.

  13. Scott, the coincidence of people from multiple commonwealth nations agreeing about some philosophical point (such as republicanism) doesn’t prove anything about an international brotherhood of commonwealth nations. Many Cubians and Chinese agree about Communism, but they have no cultural connection. I am not from a commonwealth nation, yet I agree with my contemporaries from Canada and New Zealand (and France and Brazil) about republicanism.

  14. If you are not from a Commonwealth nation then it is no business of yours. I would never dare to go around suggesting you run your country differently – least of all if it was led by the oldest living institution after the Papacy. Kindly don’t bother with mine, nor with that of all our ancestors who gave their blood and happiness for it.

  15. Kindly don’t tell us what we have to or may not do. If people from non-Commonwealth nations feel inclined to support republican sentiments in Commonwealth nations, they are, of course, free to do so — and of course it is their business, too. In case you hadn’t noticed, globalisation, the internet, etc. pp. mean that pretty much anything that happens anywhere on Earth is everyone’s business if they take an interest in it…

  16. No, sorry, that doesn’t wash. Get lost.

  17. Mh. Interesting.

    The instant that you encounter an argument to which you have no counter-argument, you switch to ad hominem attacks and ask for the person who dares to disagree with you to get lost?

    Well, I suppose that serves to show the argumentative quality of the monarchists’ side. 😉

  18. You can stop winking at me.

    Please point out which of your arguments I have no counter-argument for and I will happily advance one.

    Please also leave my country and its arrangements alone. It is revolting and arrogant and poisonous to civilised norms to go round poking one’s nose into anther advanced country’s operation and side with an insurgent, destructive, technically treasonous group/position.

  19. You have not advanced an argument why it shouldn’t be my business — if I’m of the conviction, and I am, that there should be no monarchies anywhere in the world, what right do you have to forbid me to support it?

    Apart from that, as I also live in the European Union, it’s even more of my business — as all of the countries of the European Union are essentially part of domestic politics for me and many other pro-Europeans.

  20. And why is it “arrogant and poisonous to poke one’s nose into another advanced country’s operation”? Does that mean that you think it would be okay to poke one’s nose into a non-advanced country’s operation? Why is that so? I’m not doing anything illegal — supporting republicanism is not a crime per se, it only is if republicans are trying to hinder the heir from succeeding after the death of the current monarch.

  21. Scott says, “I would never dare to go around suggesting you run your country differently”. Perhaps you wouldn’t, but your fellow countrymen often enough give advice to their contemporaries State-side.

    Your defensiveness would be more reasonable if I were influencing your politics in some way besides offering up a simple argument in an obscure online debate.

    I have an opinion. Your, mine, and our host’s nations all hold freedom of speech sacrosanct. What laws criminalize my statement of opinion?

    That aside, what of my argument itself? If a 15th generation citizen of England were to question ethnicity’s role in deriving philosophical beliefs, how would you then respond?

  22. I don’t know. I don’t really know what you mean on that last thing. Ethnicity has nothing to do with it: we are talking about cultural and philosophical waters we swim in, not genetic ones (though I guess they do come in with regards to all the relations we share across continents, binding the Anglosphere together in another way).

    As for freedom of speech: it is sacrosanct, you are right, which is why you should also respect my freedom to verbally bash you in the face as much as you wish to bash me.

    Happy New Year.

  23. “Race” means genetics whereas “ethnicity” means cultural origins including race. Thus, I was not commenting on genetic heritage, but cultural heritage generally.

    My statements of opinion about the Commonwealth or English issue of the monarchy are valid despite my lack of citizenship in a Commonwealth nation. Freedom of speech protects my right to comment on issues even if I cannot directly affect them nor visa-versa.

    Those points addressed, there is no longer any reason for you to avoid responding to this:

    The coincidence of people from multiple commonwealth nations agreeing about some philosophical point (such as republicanism) doesn’t prove anything about an international brotherhood of commonwealth nations.

    And I add: What does?

  24. Of course it does: men and women in countries with almost identical political traditions and systems (all bestowed by Britain); operating with cultures and rights of free speech and organisation won and bequeathed by their shared English forefathers and founders; identical (if in my view mistaken) appeals to the same values and ideals of democracy and meritocracy (appeals which would be unintelligible to many outside the Commonwealth or Western civilisation, itself largely a product in its present form of England, via, in many cases, America – e.g. most European constitutions); sober commitment to change through the political process rather than violent revolution; etc, etc.

    Their entire case – and the very fact of their case – and its very manner – rests upon the bond they deny, but which everyday of their life in the Anglosphere affirms, and which the Crown binds and strengthens and lends affection.

    Stop being silly.

  25. I agree with your fundamental concern. The monarchy is a useless waste of money.

    On the other hand, while off topic, what do you think it’d cost to change it all? I mean.. we’d have to can the Gov Gen, rewrite like EVERY bill, completely remake our currency, from the penny up… that’d cost a a lot, no? Just for fun, why don’t you make a post representing the costs of either a) Continuing the current status quo, or b) Converting to a republican, presidential style system of government.

  26. “What a testimony to the unending brotherhood of the English-speaking peoples, forged in and bound by the Royal throne.”

    I would kindly ask the English Gentlemen to remember that some of us English Speaking Folk are not bound by any Royal Throne and quiet prefer it that way.

    Otherwise, if the English want their crown and throne I say let them keep it. If the Canadians wish instead to march into Republic let them do so. As long as the individual’s rights as a human being are protected and provided for it’s of little mention how the people of a given nation choice to govern themselves in my mind.

    That said, freedom of speech and thought does mean that one is allowed to have an opinion on how others govern themselves.

  27. AMERICA WOO!!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s