Queen Elizabeth II was the oldest and longest-reigning monarch in British history, her reign spanning 15 prime ministers from Winston Churchill to Liz Truss. She was adored and respected by most people in Britain. 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II watches the red arrows fly over to mark her official 95th birthday at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, on June 12, 2021. Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926, but her “official birthday” was either the first, second or third Saturday in June, and was decided by the government. Chris Jackson/Pool via AP, File

Calm and reserved, she performed her ceremonial duties to dignified perfection, while conveying at the same time the sense that beneath the robes and the glitter, she was really quite down-to-earth and would much rather have been walking her dogs or mucking out the horses. 

Her Christmas Day talks were moments of surprising national intimacy as families across the country, replete with roast turkey and pudding, crammed in front of their televisions to listen – mine included. At my grandparents’ farmhouse in rural Devon, England, we would have to stand for the opening national anthem then sit very still and listen silently, forbidden from opening our presents until after Her Majesty had wished us all a Very Happy Christmas.

For millions of Britons she represented a reassuring symbol of national stability and continuity amidst the bewildering political, social and economic upheavals of the post-war era, ranging from the loss of empire up to Brexit and now COVID-19. Prime Minister Truss described her as “the rock on which modern Britain was built.” 

By remaining aloof from the turmoil of daily politics, the queen kept the monarchy as one of the most genuinely popular institutions of national life, as demonstrated by the enormous Platinum Jubilee street parties held in every village, town and city in the realm. Her immense personal popularity remained undimmed by the chaotic and often scandalous goings-on of her family, most recently Prince Andrew’s relationship with sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Glowing tributes to her are flooding in from around the globe and across the political spectrum including, remarkably, from Mary Lou McDonald, head of the Irish republican party Sinn Féin. 

Yet Queen Elizabeth’s longer-term legacy is somewhat more complicated.


Britain has made great progress in the past 70 years or so but remains riven by deep inequalities of class, race and gender. For many, the monarchy symbolizes the sort of hereditary wealth and privilege that hinders progress toward a fairer, more democratic society and makes it harder for Britain to fully confront the toxic legacies of imperialism.

Early in Elizabeth’s reign, for example, her officials shamefully negotiated exemptions from anti-discrimination laws and at one point even banned “coloured immigrants” from serving in clerical roles at Buckingham Palace. More recently, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle say they experienced subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle racism from sections of the British media and even from within the royal family

For many descendants of people who lived in Britain’s former colonies, the monarchy is just not seen in the same nostalgic light as in much of England. Calls are growing louder for both Scottish independence and the unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic. Meanwhile, rising numbers of Britons, especially young people, do not believe the monarchy is good for Britain.  These are minority voices, at least for now.

Elizabeth will be mourned and greatly missed, but she leaves behind an increasingly disunited kingdom.  

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