All around the world many people love the British Royal family… From Australia and New Zealand right through to places like Russia, France and America there are thousands of people who love, admire and adore one group of people. Wherever they go crowds will cheer them and wave little flags and give them flowers and specially knitted baby grows. Whenever a birth or a wedding is imminent the world’s media will camp outside the church or hospital… even if there is nothing to report. They’ll stand on the banks People will jump on anything they can and they travel great distances to stand outside the gates of Buckingham Palace or wander the halls of Windsor Castle… And standing right at the heart of it all is just one lady, A lady who, if she were like you or I, you would barely bat an eyelid towards. This is, of course, the queen, and she has probably been adored and admired more than any other person in history. Without a doubt she is the most recognizable woman in the world but for all she is loved and admired and worshipped she is, after all, only human (despite what the Sex Pistols and certain conspiracy theorists may tell you) and at the grand old age of 88 it is a sad fact that the day is rapidly approaching when she shall join the ranks of her predecessors and become a part of history… But then what will happen and just how might she be judged by history?
The first question we should actually ask ourselves is when will this happen? It is not a question we can definitively answer but we can at least make an educated guess and my opinion is that it will happen somewhere in the next ten years and certainly no more than the next fifteen at an extreme push. Narrowing it down further is a little trickier but I would say that it seems highly likely that the Queen and Prince Philip will both die within a very short space of time, especially if, as is likely, Prince Philip goes first. At the most extreme they will go within weeks or even days of each other but it’s more likely be anything up to a year. I say this because that sort of thing is not unusual amongst couples who’ve been together for a long time, in fact it is extremely common. And the Queen and Prince Philip have been together for the best part of seventy years, the majority of their lives by a sizeable margin. He is the only man the Queen has ever loved (since she was thirteen) and according to those closest to her she is utterly devoted to him- so devoted that I’ve seen it said the Queen could probably not carry on without him. And something similar also (possibly) happened with the Queen Mother after the death of Princess Margaret so it isn’t as if this sort of thing doesn’t have recent family precedent. It would be a likely scenario, I feel, to happen with the Queen and Prince Philip- though placing a date anywhere narrower than the next ten years is still something of a gamble.
And that moment, whenever it shall be, shall without a doubt be marked as the end of an era and the start of a new one- Just as the death of the first Queen Elizabeth marked the end of the Tudor era and the start of the Stuart era. But although we shall move into a new era the world shall hardly change, just as it hardly changed in 1603. Fashions and styles won’t change, our beliefs and principles won’t change, technology won’t change… The President of the United States will still be the same man (or woman?) and the British Prime Minister will still be whoever he happened to be the day before. We’ll still have our jobs and our lives will be no different to what they were before the previous era ended. Things will just carry on and the change of eras won’t even be noticable- even though there will be some changes that will be noticable- The slight change to the national anthem and the face on the coins and stamps and bank notes for instance- But all the actual changes to our lives will only be superfluous and merely aesthetic and not really significant on a day to day basis. We’ll just all carry on as before.
But of course, there will be one major difference to the world (though it won’t impact our lives on a day to day to basis) and that is the fact that instead of a Queen at the head of the British Royal family there will instead be a king and that King (assuming the current order of precedence remains) is going to be the current Prince Charles- Though it’s been strongly indicated that instead of becoming King Charles III he will opt to be called King George… which would make him George VII (Or if you want to be really pedantic… George V) This will probably be the most jarring of all the changes since the majority of the world’s population has known no other Monarch on the British throne. To suddenly go from having the Queen, known and loved throughout the world, to having the King will at first be a little strange. The thing is, whenever anybody mentions ‘the Queen’ in a conversation, practically anywhere in the world, it is fully understood who is being talked about- She has almost universal recognition (something which very few other people in the world can claim to have… The only others are (probably) the Pope, The Dalai Llama and The US President). I don’t think Charles will have that universal recognition… Sure, people will know who he is but he won’t be the King in the same way that the Queen is the Queen. I just don’t think people will talk about the King in the same way that they currently talk about the Queen. Of course, King George will still recognized the world over because, let’s face it, he already is, but it will take time for people to no longer see him as he is (Prince Charles) and what he will be (King George). We’re all so used to him being Prince Charles that even when he becomes King he’ll still be seen as Prince Charles for a long time afterwards because that’s what we’re all so used to. The only reason the Queen can be considered as the Queen is because she’s been on the throne for so long it’s hard to imagine that she was ever merely Princess Elizabeth of York, or even the Duchess of Edinburgh. Case in point- The Duchess of Cambridge is still recognizable as Kate Middleton (and may even be erroneously refered to by that name) and Camilla is still considered to be Camilla Parker Bowles- Just type those names into a search engine and several news articles will come up using those names in the headlines (And Camilla’s been married for nearly ten years now!) older names and titles tend to take time to seep from the public consciousness and as Prince Charles to cease being Prince Charles and become King George within the public consciousness- Maybe never in his own lifetime if he has a short reign (which, given his age, is extremely likely).
Not that we won’t all be aware that the old Queen is dead of course. It will be, when it happens, a major MAJOR! news event. In the modern age of twitter and facebook and 24 hour news media we will all know about within moments of the news being announced. Even if you’re in the cinema watching the fifty millionth Paranormal Activity or DC’s latest, feeble attempts at creating a Justice League movie, you’ll hear about it, probably from somebody who’s checking their phone rather than watching the film. The television schedules across the world will be crammed full of Queen Elizabeth memorial programmes and tributes and repeats of existing programmes and news items reiterating the same pieces of information over and over and over again for days on end. The world’s media shall converge on London and they shall record every last moment up to and well beyond the State Funeral (Which will be in either St Paul’s or Westminster, although she is certain to be buried in the George VI memorial chapel in Windsor Castle). And the grief… The grief shall be as nothing the world has ever experienced before. Some of you may recall the scenes that greeted the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and the carpets of tributes outside Kensington and Buckingham palaces- All of that will pale in comparison as to what shall come with the death of the Queen. The whole of Pall Mall and most of the area surrounding Buckingham Palace shall be flooded with flowers and tributes and cards of condolences (As will the vicinities of Sandringham, Windsor and Balmoral.) Throngs of people will crowd the streets, all dressed in black and weeping openly. They shall queue for hours, no matter the weather just to walk past the coffin of her majesty and pay their respects. In short, for a few days at least, the planet earth will let out a huge sigh of mourning, the likes of which will probably never be seen again -At least not in our life times at any rate.
And the Corgis? Well… As the remainder of the Royal Family reportedly loathe them they will, without a doubt, have their suitcases packed and be shipped away from the palace in order to start a new life with some minor royal nobody has ever heard of, probably in the country somewhere. (Or if King George is feeling particularly spiteful that day, in Battersea dog’s home.)
Then history will just take over. In years to come people will talk of her era as a golden age, a time of great social change and prosperity, a time when Britain was once more a leading light on the world stage. They’ll talk of how she ascended to the throne in the ashes of post-war Britain and a time when the empire was taking it’s final bow and they’ll talk of how she took her own curtain call in the glorious days of the twenty first century with the London Olympics and The Diamond Jubilee etc. Her reign will be seen as a time of plenty and prosperity… And this is despite the fact that a very different argument is probably a lot closer to the truth. For all the triumphs of the last sixty years there has been just as much deprivation and misery and tough times and dodgy politics as in any previous era, perhaps more so. There was the blunder of Suez and the scandalous Profumo affair. There was the rise of the EU and the three day week and the winter of discontent (and most of the seventies come to think of it.) There was the miners strike and the poll tax riots and then you have Iraq and Afghanistan and the MPs expenses scandal and phone hacking and the Murdoch empire and the whole banking crisis and who knows what else that’s going to happen over the next few years.
And this is just scratching the surface. For all the cultural and social and technological highs we have had during the reign, things haven’t exactly been as glorious as history will make them out to be. In fact, for the poorest in society, things have become worse (use of food banks is currently at an all time high and the welfare system is at breaking point.) In 1952 the lower echelons of society had something they don’t have now- and that was a recognition and a respect. They were treated like people. Today, in contrast, the working class and the poor are demonized to the extreme- granted, in the fifties they were looked down upon by some but nowhere near as much as they are today. In our current time the poor and the working class are depicted as people who are scavenging on the fringes of society and loafing around on benefits (mostly by the media). Quite often the entirety of the working class are also portrayed as Chavs and hideous examples of a cultural nadir when, actually, a Chav is a very specific type of person and not just confined to the working classes (and also on the serious decline, as a matter of fact.) A recent example of this sort of thing would be channel 4’s ‘Benefits street’ which depicted ‘life’ on a street of council housing in Birmingham (In terms of an actual depiction, however, it was limited to a narrow few who only represented a minority and not everybody who was on benefits, as it was claimed). Then you have the likes of Jeremy Kyle which takes the very worst examples of that aforementioned minority (usually the ones that are Chavs) and parades them about as if they were part of a circus freak show. And the even sadder fact is that life for the working poor probably has become tougher in some respects, particularly in the case of growing up. Youth crime and gang culture has seen an explosion in the last sixty years, especially so in more deprived areas. Of course, there were gangs and delinquents and what not around in the early fifties but I don’t think they were as prevalent or even as much of an issue. And back then I’m sure any such behaviour was stamped on with a large boot- unlike today for instance, where various police forces continually tout new ‘initiatives’ to ‘tackle the problem’ that don’t do much to solve anything.
Of course, none of these issues are the fault of the Queen (for any societal problems there are others who must take the blame) but when we actually look at the society she has presided over, it is one of extreme contrasts, a time of absolute highs and dismal lows. When people talk and write of our society in the future, they will likely give most of the attention to the triumphs and the glories and very little to the economic problems and other negative traits. The closest similar era I can approximate it to Victorian era. It is largely seen, like the reign of the current queen shall be, as a golden era of progress and prosperity whereas in reality it was only prosperous for a select minority of the middle and upper classes. The poor of the Victorian era, despite a lot of social advancements and welfare improvements things prospects were still quite as bleak for the poor of 1901 as they were for the poor of 1837. For many the era was not such a glorious time and it is only when you dig deeper, beyond the public perception and the veneer that has grown up around it, that we see the true Victorian era- A time of great social change and grand triumphs but one that had it’s very dark and occasionally disturbing underbelly, much like our own time in that respect.
But the Queen herself shall, quite rightly, be lauded. For all she began with in life (daughter of the Duke of York and never likely to get anywhere near the throne) she has done a fantastic job. Were it not for that change in the course of history during the latter months of 1936 (The abdication of Edward VIII) she would have lived quite an ordinary, normal life and would perhaps now be sitting in a country cottage somewhere in the Cotswolds, sharing tea and biscuits and gossiping with her friends about village life, but still with a beloved Corgi chewing on a little toy in the corner of the room. She has taken the monarchy through bad times and good, high and low, and she has brought it into the twenty first century looking brighter and shinier and more modern than ever. She’s left it in top condition and her successors shall have a tough job merely even living up to her standards, let alone surpassing them.
As to what those monarchs will be like and perceived to be, only time will tell. It’s a likely conclusion that Charles (or King George, as he could be), coming so soon after the Queen, will become forever lost in her shadow. The only way for him to step out into the light would be to follow Edward VII’s example and be completely different and make his era as unique and distinct from the preceeding one as the Edwardian era was from the Victorian. But alas, I don’t think he has quite the right character to pull it off. Edward VII was larger than life and a force to be reckoned with whereas Charles just doesn’t have that. In all likelihood he’ll be seen as one of the caretaker monarchs, one lost to history and left on the shelf (For a similar example see William IV). William, in the case that Charles does become King, will have a much easier ride and it could be the case that his era will become the one that defines the twenty first century, the next one that people will really talk about. There’s little doubt he’ll become a fairly competent king although it’s still possible, if he’s unlucky, that he may not make a big enough mark to be remembered (as is always the way!) He’ll have it tougher if the throne passes over Charles and goes straight to him- He shall then be the one who has to step out of the Queen’s shadow. But I think he could do a much better job of that than Charles. I think he has just enough character to create a different, distinct and unique era for himself in a very short space of time. He’s not as bold as Edward VII was (to get anywhere near we’d need Prince Harry as king) but he could do it. And as for Prince George… It’s anybodies guess but he might well turn out to be an absolute tyrant. His may be a reign of absolute terror- He might end up like that Geoffrey kid from Game of Thrones (no, I’ve never seen it either!). It’s fun to imagine how this may come about (Prince Charles get’s murdered, Camilla get’s hauled off to the tower based on falsified evidence etc.) even though at this stage anything concerning his reign can be nothing than mere fanciful speculation.
But for now all of this is somewhere in the future and for the time being we should all just revel in our current era because one day it will all end and a new one shall begin. Sure, the world will carry on to a large extent and nothing much shall change in the short term, but the sun will have risen and things will just move on, as it always does. And that’s the thing about history… It just keeps going. It never ends and just keeps absorbing more and more as it goes along. It doesn’t care and It takes no prisoners… And we just have to accept that and remember that one day we shall all become a part of it, no matter who we are…