The Coronation of King Charles III took place yesterday in London, United Kingdom, with great pomp, pageantry and fanfare. As expected, the event was a solemn but spectacular display of both temporal and spiritual dedication in colourful regalia and with priceless robes, orbs and sceptres. British people turned out in their numbers to witness the historic occasion, whih last took place in 1953 when King Charles III’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was coronated as Queen. For most people alive in the UK and in Guyana this would be the first time that an event of such spectacle is being experienced. And the British coronation is unlike any other. It has its ’majestic’ roots in the celebration of Britain’s power in its glory days as the largest and most powerful empire ever established, ruling much of the Black and Brown world and parts of the White world.
The Monarchy now has the support of only a bare majority of the British people. As expected, supporters are in a substantial majority among the older generation and a significant minority among the youth. The British Monarchy began to lose its lustre, and King Charles III, then Prince Charles, his popularity, during the public break-up of his marriage to the popular Princess Diana. Tales of his treatment of Princess Diana and revelations of Prince Charles’s extra-marital affair with the current Queen Consort, resulted in revulsion and his plummeting popularity at that time, although it has somewhat recovered. The most recent failure of the Monarchy to protect Prince Harry and, more particularly his wife, Duchess Megan Markle, from racist attacks by British tabloids, followed by revelations of ‘unconscious bias’ among the Royal Family and their leaking of information to the tabloids, have exposed a significant level of dysfunctionality. These cumulation of events have tarnished the Monarchy and have whittled away at its popularity.
Outside of the UK, the British Monarchy presides over the 54-member Commonwealth, a loose conglomeration of mainly former British colonies established in 1931 and featuring initially as members the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland and the Irish Free State. One would not be faulted for assuming that the original intention might have been to create a white Commonwealth. But with Asian and African countries gaining Independence and being admitted as members of the Commonwealth, its complexion literally changed. And in that early period the Queen remained the titular Head of State of newly Independent countries until different ideas began to emerge. From India in 1950 to Barbados in 2021, 17 countries have become Republics, with Presidents replacing the Queen as Head of State, sometimes as executive heads, as in Guyana. 14 more countries will probably join the 17 in due course, with Jamaica a certainty and Australia a possibility. Guyana did so in 1970.
The international landscape is changing and the British Monarchy no longer wields the influence that it once did. The purpose of the early visits of Queen Elizabeth II to colonies and the white Commonwealth was to flaunt imperial power. These visits were slowly transformed over the decades into efforts to drum up trade and business for Great Britain. The object of projecting British power unraveled spectacularly in the visit of Prince William in March, 2022, to the Caribbean. Some events had to be cancelled for fear of demonstrations and others were criticized for depicting the bygone era of the ‘natives’ obeisance to the Royal rulers. Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, pointedly, and in public, informed Prince William that Jamaica has on its agenda the constitutional delinking from the British Crown.
These changes in the way in which the British Monarchy is perceived outside of Britain is as a result of many factors, the main one being Britain’s decline as an economic and military power. Its displacement by India as the fifth largest economic power and Brexit, a vain grasp for the receding glory of empire, which will add to the economic dislocations caused by an economic system and a ruling class that penalizes the poor for profit, are compounded by restive former colonists seeking reparations. The drive for reparations is gaining momentum as demands grow for investigations in the Royal Family’s complicity in the slave trade and for an apology from the Royal family. While the apology is not yet forthcoming, some say because it might incur legal liability for Britain, King Charles III has agreed for a study to be undertaken as to the Royal Family’s role in the slave trade and slavery.
For generations, and even up to this time, Britain and its propagandists have portrayed Britain’s colonialism as a benevolent venture, while the destruction and robbery of India has been well known and documented. The pretty face of British rule is, however, slowly unravelling. John Newsinger in “The Blood Never Dried” 2006, 2nd ed 2013, records the brutality of British colonialism in which the Caribbean and British Guiana feature prominently. This was followed by the more detailed and scholarly study by Caroline Elkins, “Legacy of Violence, A History of the British Empire,’ published in 2022. The exposures of British colonial rule and the story of the British Monarchy are not over.