The death of Queen Elizabeth II brings to an end the longest ‘reign’ of a monarch in British history. A revered symbol of service, dedication, stability and endurance to Britain and the Commonwealth, her passing marks the end of an era that spanned the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936, within her childhood memory, to the celebration of her Platinum Jubilee marking 70 years as Queen. Not yet Queen, she experienced the Second World War and the independence of India, after the Churchill’s deliberate starvation of three million Bengali Indians, the Cold War inspired anti-colonial wars in Malaya, Kenya and other colonies and later British support for US interventions in Vietnam, Grenada, Iraq and elsewhere, the colonial war against Argentina in 1982, the xenophobic rejection Britain post-colonial future as part of Europe and the threat of Scotland’s departure. She endured the scandals created by Charles and Andrew. Elizabeth became Queen in 1952 and Guyana’s constitution was suspended in 1953. Some of the PPP’s leaders, including my father, were imprisoned. Subsequent neocolonial strategies brought about reconciliation with Kenyatta and other militant leaders, but not with Cheddi Jagan and the PPP, at the US’s insistence.
How the Queen influenced events, or whether she did, or even attempted to, is a mystery, but there have been subtle hints. She warmed to Margaret Thatcher, even attending her funeral, the only time for a commoner. While this historic act not unexpectedly identified the Queen with Thatcher’s reactionary political and economic ideology, although it is suspected that she was unsympathetic to the most harmful, she opposed Thatcher’s resolute rejection of Nelson Mandela and the ANC. The Queen’s elevation of her relationship with Mandela to first name terms and by inviting him to stay at Buckingham Palace, must have been in recognition and admiration of his sacrifice for freedom.
The Queen visited Guyana in February, 1966, and in February, 1994. In 1994 she addressed the National Assembly and, in the presence of Desmond Hoyte, noted Guyana’s return to democracy. I was present and detected Mr. Hoyte’s subtle, but uncomfortable, shift in posture. The Queen probably understood that her visit would have been interpreted as a regretful acknowledgment of the treatment of Cheddi Jagan by the British since 1953. The Queen never acknowledged Britain’s crimes against humanity in its colonial past. Her undoubted and genuine devotion to the Commonwealth, comprising many former colonies where atrocities took place, signaled a new relationship of equality and mutual respect. But painful memories persist.
In the face of the enduring mystery of the Queen’s personality, character and views, one obituary in Politico by Otto English (‘The short, unhappy life of Elizabeth Windsor’) expressed the view that the Queen played a role throughout her ‘reign,’ a word no longer used by the British. It was designed to protect the Royal Family and ensure its survival for succeeding generations. The objective was the promotion of an uncontroversial, unifying, mystique by the creation of an aloofness from ordinary reality, expressing no opinions, never giving interviews or responding to no controversies, while engaging in charitable works and sympathizing with victims of disasters. The public persona that developed concealed her private persona and opinions and created the desired ’mystique’ about the Monarchy that was openly promoted.
The obituary referred to the treatment of the Queen‘s retired governess, Marion Crawford (‘Crawfie’) who wrote an approved book, ‘The Little Princesses,’ about Elizabeth and Margaret. It was a sensation but because it hinted at the King’s bad temper during the war, Crawford was banished and disappeared from Royal records. She attempted suicide twice and died unacknowledged in 1988. A similar, vengeful, fate might have befallen the popular Princess Diana were it not for the deeply sad images of young Princes William and Harry, the changed times allowing open expression of public revulsion at the Queen’s silence and retreat from public view, interpreted as uncaring, which she was persuaded by British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to abandon.
The Queen’s popularity eventually returned but some old ways persisted. Instead of directing a welcoming atmosphere to mixed race Megan Markle into the Royal Family, defending her against the tabloids and the Royal bureaucracy, and recognising the enormous goodwill she would inspire from Britain and the Black and Brown Commonwealth, Prince William questioned his brother, Prince Harry’s, haste in courting the much-liked Megan. A member of the Royal Family, reportedly Prince Charles, even privately speculated about the potential colour of their children. They all allowed Megan to be investigated for ‘bullyism,’ of employees, raising the trope of the ‘angry Black woman.’ The Queen may not have been able to prevent these acts of hostility and negativity, but her reaction of imposing the severely condign consequences at Harry’s departure betrayed a lack of consideration and empathy. Prince Harry is now estranged from the Royal Family for reminding it of its connection with the ‘r’ word – race. Slavery and the slave trade long provided that connection which reverberated in the recent visit of Prince William to this region.
The Queen was highly popular and much loved and admired in Britain, the Commonwealth and the world. King Charles III is not expected to be held in the same high esteem but, for the time being, the future of the Royal Family’s place in British life is secure.