The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee cannot shake the ghosts of empire and colonialism

Placeholder while loading article actions

You are reading an excerpt from Today’s WorldView newsletter. Sign up to get the rest for freefeaturing news from around the world, interesting ideas and opinions you need to know, delivered to your inbox every day of the week.

When Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, it marked the height of British power on the world stage.. Six decades after her accession to the throne, Victoria, then half-blind and generally crippled, was at the top of an imperial chain that wound through every continent, binding a quarter of the globe under the suzerainty of the British crown.

This global reach was represented in the ceremonies that took place across London. A multiracial army of 25,000 troops – including detachments from India, Natal in South Africa and the remote islands of Trinidad and Malta, among others – camped in Hyde Park ahead of the Jubilee Parade, while some 3 million people traveled to London for the festivities. Regiments of turbaned Sikhs and Canadian Mounties all marched in procession with the cars of Indian princes and delegations of 11 colonial prime ministers.

“No one has ever, I believe, met with such a standing ovation as I was given while walking these 6 miles of streets,” Victoria wrote in her own diary. “The cheers were quite deafening and every face seemed filled with real joy. I was very moved and gratified.

Mark Twain, a visiting Yankee not quite at Victoria’s court, understood something deeper in the crowd’s delight. At the time, the British Parliament and its elected politicians already held greater day-to-day control over the affairs of state. But Twain saw, through all the pageantry, the almost visceral connection between the monarch and the many lands at his feet. The whole purpose of the jubilee in honor of Victoria was as an ideological spectacle, a showcase of imperial preeminence.

“It was feasible that [Victoria] was the procession itself, that all else was embroidery; that in her the public saw the English Empire itself,” Twain wrote.

The history of the royal family through their balcony photos

There is no shortage of pomp and circumstance this week as Britain commemorates Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. On Thursday, 1,400 soldiers wearing bearskin caps and an Irish wolfhound named Seamus marched past the balcony of Elizabeth’s Buckingham Palace. Seventy Royal Air Force planes made a noisy overflight. A four-day holiday weekend in Britain will see an overabundance of parties and parades.

But, as the spectacle of Victoria’s Jubilee offered a vision of the most powerful political regime in the world, the commemorations of Elizabeth’s long reign cannot hide the very weakened state of Britain.

The sun set long ago on the British Empire, save for a few windswept archipelagos scattered around the oceans. The dozens of independent states that belong to the Commonwealth are, at best, indifferent to their ties to the British crown. And at home, the tangled politics of Britain’s break from the European Union has raised the possibility of the fracture of the United Kingdom itself.

Far from possessing the era-defining power that Victoria possessed, Elizabeth and her kin now rule primarily in the realms of kitsch and gossip. They live their lives as bearers of centuries of heavy traditions in a much more mundane present. For a curious public, they are objects of curiosity and even of pity. Sometimes they serve as subjects of excellent prestige television. More often than not, they’re the source of sordid tabloid storylines, ranging from Prince Andrew’s alleged sex crimes to internal family feuds in the House of Windsor.

Few Britons look to their royal family for visions of grandeur and geopolitical power. Rather, their enduring love for the Queen – who opinion polls show is undeniably popular – is about something much more comfortable. ‘Celebrating ‘Queen and Country’ is a way for buttoned-up Britons to celebrate themselves, to wrap themselves in the sweet patriotism of the Union Jack bunting, as they move past the pain of the pandemic and the feuds without end on Brexit,” wrote my colleague William Booth.

But from the moment she came to the British throne, Elizabeth was part of an imperial history that stretched far beyond Britain’s borders. After all, she learned of the death of her father, King George VI, while at a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya, then still a British colony. In the seven decades that followed, critics say she has yet to show much awareness of the misdeeds of the empire of which she remains the ceremonial figurehead, including for the violent campaign of repression waged by the British authorities in Kenya in the 1950s during the colonial anti – Mau Mau uprising.

“To this day, she has never publicly admitted, let alone apologized, for the oppression, torture, dehumanization and dispossession suffered by the people of the colony of Kenya before and after her accession to the throne” said Patrick Gathara, a Kenyan political commentator. told the Associated Press.

In the same AP story, Jamaican academic Rosalea Hamilton explained her stance on wanting to impeach the Queen as her country’s head of state. “When I think of the Queen, I think of a sweet old lady,” she said. “It’s not about her. It is about the wealth of his family, built on the backs of our ancestors. We are grappling with the legacy of a past that has been very painful.

Earlier this year, a trip to Central America and the Caribbean by Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was marred by protests and scorn. In Jamaica, a letter addressed to the couple and signed by dozens of prominent leaders and intellectuals called for a formal apology from Britain, as well as reparations for its legacy of slavery and exploitation. colonial in the region.

“We see no reason to celebrate 70 years since your grandmother’s ascension to the British throne as her leadership and that of her predecessors perpetuated the greatest human rights tragedy in the history of the UK. humanity,” the letter read.

Prince William tells Jamaicans: Slavery ‘stains our history’

Thanks to Britain’s colonial history, Elizabeth remains the head of state of 14 countries outside the UK. But that number is certain to decline further. Jamaica and five other Caribbean countries are considering following Barbados’ example and cutting ties with the British monarchy. And republicanism simmers not far from the surface in major Western democracies like Canada and Australia.

Australia’s newly elected centre-left Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid tribute to the Queen in a speech on Thursday, saying Australians continued to hold her “in respect and affection”. But he added that his country’s relationship with Britain “isn’t what it was at the dawn of [Elizabeth’s] reign.”

Alluding to his Labor Party’s pro-republican agenda, Albanese said: “More parents and young upstarts, we’re equal.”

Scottish Greens leave Jubilee tribute; anti-monarchy activists see opening

Equality, of course, is not exactly a principle that coexists easily with a hereditary monarchy. If they feel any unease about their political arrangement, most Brits are likely to suspend judgment at least for this weekend of revelry and good cheer (although there are some notable exceptions).

Elizabeth’s advanced age and deteriorating health suggest this may be one of the last moments to celebrate her long reign. Given the unpopularity of his immediate heir and signs of growing anti-monarchism among young Britons, it could also be one of his country’s last royal jubilees.

About Nell Love

Check Also

NBA fines Mavs $100,000 for 3rd bench violation in playoffs

Dallas Mavericks players watch from the bench during the second half of …