Late monarch’s ties to England’s colonial past create questions, future of international system uncertain
In the three weeks since Queen Elizabeth II’s death on Sept. 8, the Lewis & Clark community is divided on whether to grieve or criticize the late head of state. The queen, who assumed the throne 70 years ago, was the longest-reigning monarch that Britain has ever had.
While the monarchy has long prepared for the 96-year-old’s passing, David Campion, Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. associate professor of history, said that it has nonetheless left people reeling.
“In many ways, it’s the passing of an era, and of that constancy she personally provided,” Campion said.
Now that this pillar of stability is gone, Campion predicts that some countries might leave the Commonwealth, a network of mostly former British colonies symbolically led by the monarch.
“The colonial history of a place like Jamaica and Barbados is inextricably linked with economic exploitation — in the case of Barbados, the slave trade,” Campion said. “Although (people from these countries) might have been critical of the institution of the monarchy — and certainly of the unaccounted for, rather dark chapters in British colonial history — now that the queen is gone, I don’t think Charles commands quite the same affection and respect.”
Here on Palatine Hill, the queen’s death is a catalyst for conversations about who the community holds accountable for colonialism — and why.
Bella Met ’23 is wrestling with what Queen Elizabeth means to her “very British” family.
“England is very much like the United States, where people have not been taught their history, and they’ve been given propaganda about what the monarchy is,” Met said.
Met, whose uncle is Welsh, has no qualms about calling the queen a colonizer. She does, however, struggle with what she sees as a lack of empathy toward those in mourning.
“It takes conversation to change mindsets, and if you’re immediately screaming at someone, ‘You’re mourning an imperialist! You’re such a bad person!’ then you’re not able to have those conversations,” Met said.
Currently abroad in London, England, Kit Graf ’24 is navigating these conversations with those in the country.
“Someone asked the tour guide of our trip (to the Scottish Highlands) how he feels about the queen dying,” Graf said. “He said, ‘I’m not a mourning person.’ You’re expecting this epic thing and then you hear a joke about it.”
Graf clarifies that while the impact of the queen’s passing on their study abroad experience thus far is subtle, it is also omnipresent.
“Every street corner you walk by, every ad space, was a picture of the queen with the years that she lived,” Graf said. “You would never forget it.”
Just three days after the queen’s passing, Graf and other LC students on the London trip attended a service with the Church of Scotland. According to Graf, all the songs selected that Sunday encouraged the congregation to seek solace in their religious community and in the United Kingdom’s resilience.
“The last thing we sang was the national anthem, and we changed the words from queen to king for ‘God Save the King,’” Graf said. “It felt special to be a part of that moment.”
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