The ‘white’, lost magic of monarchy as Queen Elizabeth II is laid to rest

People gather in Hyde Park where the State Funeral Service of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II

People gather in Hyde Park where the State Funeral Service of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II will be shown on a large screen in London on September 19, 2022.

Photo credit: Justin Tallis | AFP

The processions, mourning and commemorations that have followed the death of Queen Elizabeth II will culminate in the queen’s funeral at 11am (1pm in Kenya) at Westminster Abbey today.

The event will draw dignitaries from across the globe — including our own, newly elected President William Ruto — and a massive worldwide audience watching online and on television.

Grand processions through the streets of London and then at Windsor Castle will accompany the queen’s coffin before it is buried today evening at St George’s Chapel in Windsor. Even in the 22nd year of the new millennium, modern societies still crave myths and rituals that express the most deeply rooted hopes, fears and emotions of a community, in daily physical and spiritual life.

And the English monarch, who “ruled” over Brittania (and nominally as titular Head of the Commonwealth), supplied an image of royal magic that whitewashed all sorts of colonial and post-colonial ills, whereas there is nothing inspiring about a brilliant but mud-stained politician like Boris Johnson, chased from power partially for the grave constitutional crime of partying like a Mad Hatter during Covid-19 lockdown back in November 2020.

A hereditary ruler is a unique symbol of the unity, continuity, history and permanence of a nation, though writer Tom Paine did paint the Crown as a “nominal office of $100 million a year, its main business consisting in its receiving and spending the money [on itself].”

But common people crave colour, mystery, and pageantry, and monarchs, as both persons and symbols, sate that public need; even as they make ancient Power and the modern State both intelligible and mysterious.

Legitimacy — acceptance by the governed of the political system — is far better aided by an ancient monarchy (the Windsors go back 1,200 years with King Charles being their 61st monarch) set above political squabbles, than by a transient president with a tenure won after bruising political battles that may have left half a country with a lingering sour taste in the mouth that may last for years.

The existence of a royal family on the throne also makes next to impossible the emergence of a quasi-royal family among the ranks of politicians, as witnessed locally, where we can have “dynastic”politicians.

Together with emperors, kings and queens have (mostly) quietly and gradually disappeared from the global scene since the end of World War One in 1918.

In fact, in Africa, we have only three monarchies left — the progressive monarchy of Morocco under Mohammed VI, the retrogressive absolute monarchy of Eswatini under Mswati III, and the immaterial monarchy of Letsie III of Lesotho. The late Queen Elizabeth II was globally head-and-crown the most famous monarch on the entire planet.

Guests and officials take their seats inside Westminster Abbey

Guests and officials take their seats inside Westminster Abbey in London on September 19, 2022, for the State Funeral Service for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

Photo credit: Pool

For the British, the monarchy isn’t just a system of government but a way of life, and as one monarchist Dermot Morrah once put it: “Elizabeth is queen, not because she governs England, but because England would not be the same without her.”

Both in the United Kingdom and abroad, the British royal family enjoy both a widespread popularity and also hatred, as has been shown by the split between Prince William and Kate Middleton versus Harry and Meghan Merkel camps, that made the latter couple decamp from the UK to the US in early 2020.

For Britain, the existence of a person/institution who/that is above and apart from the party struggle has obvious benefits, since there can be no usurper to power (or pretender to the parliamentary throne).

The king/queen only summons the duly elected Parliamentary leader to the Palace to “give”them their premiership — Liz Truss, UK’s new prime minister, was the last public official to see Queen Elizabeth (two days to the latter’s death) to get her spurs. The queen, dutiful to the end, received her in Balmoral Castle to give her premiership. The monarch in the UK is the supreme guardian of her (unwritten) Constitution.

If a prime minister, such as Boris Johnson who had been rejected by his own party, refused to resign, the monarch could out-rightly dismiss him, as she or he would a government that attempted to perpetuate itself in power without calling elections.

As the representative of the British people and guardian of sovereignty, a monarch would be remiss if he/she gave protective colouring to a party dictatorship, as King Victor Emmanuel of Italy did for Benito Mussolini and his Fascist party a century ago; thus providing constitutional crown sanction to an illegitimate break in British political tradition.

Laying foundation stones, opening schools and hospitals, and visiting with his charities are pretty much what former Crown Prince Charles has been officially doing for much for the last half century of his life. His mother, the late Elizabeth II, last left the UK for a visit to Germany in 2015.

The flitting around from continent to continent had pretty much been left up to royal personages like “black sheep” Harry and Meghan, to talk to the Oprahs of the world about their “royal situation.”

If state visits by Queen Elizabeth had ceased to be of any political importance to her, presidents and prime ministers globally found it both politically prudent and immensely prestigious to be received/hosted by gracious Queen Elizabeth II across her endless decades in the various palaces. She hosted ex- President Uhuru Kenyatta at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in April 2018.

The weddings, interviews, sex scandals and other shenanigans of her sister, children, grandchildren and in-laws intrigued and entertained billions of “commoners” across the world; and the death of her heir’s glamorous young ex-wife Diana Spencer in 1996 literally overshadowed the death of Mother Teresa, now a Saint, off the newspapers and TV screens of the earth, as the world went into collective mourning fad. When news of the Saint’s demise came out on September 6, 1997, she became a TV trailer footnote to the”sinner’s” funeral on the same day.

Like any other representative, the queen was often reviled, and on social media, many celebrated her death, including South Africa’s controversial politician Julius Malema, seeing her as the face of “Bloody Britain” that, in the same year of her ascension to the throne, 1952, was making “gulags”in Kenya to contain a population believed to be aiding and abetting the Mau Mau. Local pundit Gathara had a particularly grotesque parody of the same, with distasteful death “humour.”

In Britain, 45 years ago during the silver jubilee anniversary of Elizabeth’s coronation, a British punk rock group called the Sex Pistols sailed down the Thames on a hired boat to disrupt the festivities, by “flash singing”their (now) classic hit “God Save the Queen, and her Fascist Regime …”

Queen Elizabeth may have preferred to have live within an inflexible moral code and the solid bourgeoisie virtues of her predecessors George V and George VI.

But life intervened, starting with the very messy public divorce of Prince Charles from Princess Diana, although she did mellow and give the now new King her blessings to marry Camilla, the woman he had been having an affair with — a far cry from a generation before when he would have had to abdicate — as indeed King Charles’s uncle Edward VIII did in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

But that’s a story for another day — or for the reader to watch on a series called “The Crown.”In the end, even Elizabeth II couldn’t escape being caught in the net of Netflix. The Queen is dead. And today she will be laid to eternal rest beside her late husband Phillip in Windsor. God Save the King!