Print of a crown

In February 1952, Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne at the youthful age of twenty-five, becoming a historic moment that captured the hearts and minds of the nation. Her reign is bejewelled with monumental records and achievements, beginning with her coronation’s televised broadcast to the general public and including her most recent accomplishment of reaching her Platinum Jubilee, having been on the throne for 70 years.

The celebration of the Platinum Jubilee will be the first of any British monarch and will entail an array of events across the country, as well as numerous international territories. The event will culminate in June, with a spectacular show promised by the BBC and an extra bank holiday to be created.

The British monarchy has been in place for over a thousand years and the Queen occupies many high-rank roles in society, from Head of the State and the Commonwealth to Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The position has developed since the days of Henry the VIII, when the king or queen led by divine rule, in a class of their own, perceived as better than their subjects with the ability to execute and punish whoever they liked. The monarchy in those days had an unrelenting and unbalanced hold over society and although there was a government, this was orchestrated and controlled by the monarch. Nowadays, the UK operates on the basis of a ‘constitutional monarchy’, where the Queen and the Royal Family is separate from the state, politically impartial with no official authority.

The Queen is still the head of many organisations, such as the armed forces and the civil service, however, her role tends to be purely ceremonial (e.g., appointing the Prime Minister, opening parliament) and she has almost zero control over goings on. In October 2020, polls recorded a total of 67% of people wanting to see the continuation of the monarchy, a number that remained consistent across social classes. Whether it is due to the monarchy potentially symbolising unity, or the tourist revenue they reportedly generate, there is no doubt that a large proportion of the British public seem to enjoy having a monarchy. Additionally, the Royal Family have obsessed the nation on several occasions, such as the love affairs with captivatingly regal characters that represent another, more glamorous, world. Diana, the Princess of Wales was even dubbed ‘The People’s Princess’, due to her continuous charity work, casual attitude, and popular image.

From a historical point of view, the monarchy is not only fascinating, but ground-breaking. Queen Elizabeth is the oldest and longest reigning monarch in British history, having overseen seven archbishops, six popes, thirteen US presidents, and fourteen UK Prime Ministers. As described by ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, the Queen has acted as a ‘permanent anchor’ throughout years of political and social instability, consistently providing an air of ‘calm and perspective’. She is a notable figurehead, not only as a monarch but as a powerful woman of authority. Of course, her duties and political prominence have decreased significantly since the beginning of her rule, but at the time of her ascension, the world was largely governed by aging men, which made her royal debut as a young, female monarch a refreshing and exciting moment for many.

It is from this that one could assume attitudes towards the monarchy are mostly positive – if the Queen is to be considered a symbol of unity and peace, with little say in government, and arguably most of the Royal Family remaining admired by the public. But is there a problem?

Now, the ‘problem’ is not necessarily to do with the Queen and the Royal Family themselves, it is possibly to do with the idea of the Queen and the monarchy. Recent studies have raised the question of whether a change is needed. As much as the legacy of the monarchy is historically lasting, it can also project Britain as an old-fashioned society perpetuating the idea of a hierarchy and the notion that there is an upper class of people who are automatically superior to others. In a 2020 poll, 18-24-year-olds were recorded as the generation most likely to support an elected head of state, over the monarchy, highlighting the prominence of up-and-coming, fresh perspectives.

I must also draw attention to the type of society that Britain has become – one in which religion plays a less significant role and there are a vast array of cultures. This means that the Queen being Head of the Church of England actively promotes adhering to religion, whilst also favouring Christianity over all others – a dangerous message to be projecting, especially in a modern and mostly secular society. Combining this with the Royal Family’s extortionate expenditure, there is immense validity behind the question of whether a monarchy is something the UK actually needs, or if it is just something it is trying desperately to hold on to, for history’s sake. The public’s attitude has been shifting for a long time, and with recent scandals regarding institutional racism towards the Duchess of Sussex and a sexual abuse case involving Prince Andrew, the place of the monarchy in society has never been more unstable.

The final question to be asked is: what is more important – the preservation of history or the progression of an equal and modern society?