The British Empire
Today was the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. It was about 10 days ago that she died.
The British Empire from Wikimedia Commons. (You can access a larger version of the map at the Wiki article on the British Empire. Pink shading is the maximum extent of the empire.)
My initial post “The Queen” was September 9. I’ve had no reason to change anything. It is totally speculative what the future holds for what remains of the Empire which began in the 1700s (on the heels of Spain and Portugal’s adventures) and probably peaked out about the time of WWI. France and the Netherlands were part of the colonizing frenzy as well.
It was not kind and gentle times. It doesn’t take much study of history to know that. The American colonies rained on England’s parade, but after losing the War of 1812, the English figured out how to cash in anyway….
My beat is mid-United States, Minnesota and North Dakota. Before the English defeated the French at Quebec City (1759, treaty of 1763), what is now Minnesota was part of the French empire; thence English and Spanish, thence after 1818, the United States.
Last night we watched the replay of the Queen’s funeral. It wasn’t the first choice – it co-opted a more important PBS program on the U.S. and the Holocaust – but it was very interesting.
I noted that Charles III had a difficult time keeping “a stiff upper lip” at the final committal of his mother. It was clearly an emotional time for him, far afield from what’s ahead.
She was a good Mum, I’ve gathered. What more can one ask?
What’s ahead? I have not a clue. But it is extremely important, it seems to me, who the presumed leader of a country is, however that person is selected.
So…the Germans mostly elected Hitler; Mussolini was exciting to enough Italians; Putin can more or less honestly claim that the Russians elected him; and on and on.
And it is we Americans who in our infinite stupidity actually elected #45, and almost reelected him; and millions still believe he is the Messiah, most especially colleague ‘Christians”.
“The Gods Must be Crazy” is the title of a movie I once saw, where a light plane was flying over pygmy land in Africa and someone tossed out an empty Coke bottle, which a pygmy found – a gift from the gods?
The United Kingdom and the Commonwealth will survive, I predict, but not without bushels of rhetoric. So will we, if we vote for community more than for tribal allegiance.
QEII is at peace, and I think Charles III is equal to the task ahead.
COMMENTS: more below
from Fred: QE2 seemed like a decent, hard-working person whose believed preserving the monarchy was actually important. No one could shake her belief.
from Peter: Thanks for your question (I think that’s what it was). I had not quite put it all together. I think this is because the part that does that is in a different compartment from the part that understands everything. Something to do with brain hemispheres (see Dr. McGilchrist)…
Having spent my 17th year of life in Nigeria, four years after “independence,” would have been enough for me to understand a small part of the damage the colonial worldview has done to humanity and life itself. But on the way back to the states we landed in London, and were whisked off to luncheon at the House of Lords, with The Right Honourable The Viscount Gavin Simonds, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain (1881-1971).
He was a cousin on my mother’s side. He is remembered as one of the great jurists of his time. He was a compassionate and generous human being.
I remember the narrow corridors with low arched ceilings and ancient wood and glass bookshelves lining the walls. Everyone coming the other way had to flatten themselves against the bookcases so Gavin and the rest of us could squeeze by. His office was grand, a corner of the palatial builidng, I think next to Big Ben. There was a fishing pole by the window, the long bamboo kind, and an original copy of the Magna Charta in a glass case across the room. His Lordship was famous for saying: “There’s nothing so important it can’t be put off to go fishing.” He said he didn’t use bait, what with the Thames below the window. He was actually famous in fly-fishing circles for tying his own flies, and spending days fishing streams in the wilderness.
His family had owned most of the hops farms, the cooper shops, the breweries, and the pubs, for a couple of centuries, and rose to such prominence that they were known as “the Beerage.” Gavin was appointed Lord Chancellor by Winston Churchill in 1951, and served until retired by the young Queen. He was in office when King George VI died, and personally conveyed the tragic news to Queen Mary and later presided over the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey. He is depicted in the Coronation Window of the Becket chapel at Canterbury Cathedral, in stained glass.
Years later, at a family reunion in the UK, we toured Windsor Castle. The Queen was at home, her banner flying, but we did not run into her. But I walked about 26 miles of the place, gazing up at walls festooned with swords and armor that had been used in the plunder of the world’s material and cultural riches, an enormous hoard still on display.
In Nigeria I had attended a school run by the Sudan Interior Mission, St. Paul’s College, a small secondary boarding school for Nigerians. The other boys were from all over the country. Read the works of Ngugi wa Thiong’o (“Decolonizing the Mind”) for a deeper understanding of what that life was like. I understand that Sani Abacha went there years later, and went on to lead a corrupt dictatorship. It (the school, but also I think, Abacha’s government) was patterned on the British “public” school system, a hierarchy enforced by genteel physical violence.
The top judge of the highest court in the British Empire, and a small, shy, Yoruba boy at St. Paul’s who took a great risk on my behalf out of pure generosity, were both wise and generous human beings, who loved and were loved in their communities. I knew them both very well in 1964. That, and the fact that both were subjects of Queen Elizabeth II, was all they would ever have in common.
I have a personal view of the Empire from inside the very heart of it, from a family that fought for it and in some cases ran it, for generations. Most of my family bacame Americans, but were just as colonial-minded; they didn’t like the monarchy because they weren’t highly ranked in the feudal establishment.
Hoarding is locking stuff away so nobody else can have it. Hoarding education. Hoarding information. Hoarding pleasant environments. Hoarding stuff is bad, but hoarding other people’s opportunities is an addictive disease that will kill our species if we don’t outgrow it damn quick.
Our collective behavior is a function of our collective worldview, which is deeply traumatized. Humanity is out of time now. We’ve changed everything but ourselves. Time to start. Healing oneself makes a great difference.
The bitter news after seeing a Queen who lived thru WW2, and worked with Winston Churchill, is that Sweden is going to have a conservative govt with a large representation of neo fascists. Italy, where my ties are direct, is on the verge of electing a similar neo fascist party into power in a few days. Both of the parties sprang from real fascist roots and even now their members evoke the German and Italian dictators of the 1930s and 40s. The usual simplistic and craven policies and beliefs and scapegoating will follow.
We idealize the past at our own peril.
As to the Commonwealth, I see countries, particularly in the West Indies, leaving and becoming republics. Little actual change, but the British monarch will no longer be the head of state. Charles will have no choice but to go along.
The British monarchy offers stability, continuity and comfort in a world of lightening changes (accompanied by nearly constant thunder). Some Commonwealth countries may see the Queen’s passing as a time to reassess their membership. Others may strengthen their ties during the current storm, in the same way Putin’s invasion of Ukraine strengthened NATO.
In that sense, the world needs Charles III.
Every now and then the Brits impress me with their love of country. As I see things, this was one of those moments in time.
I was communicating with a Canadian historian in Winnipeg on the day of the funeral. His very brief comment follows:
“I too watched much of the Queen’s funeral the past few days – there will likely never be such pomp and ceremony to be witnessed again in my lifetime, if ever.”
As for me, I would like to think that the Queen, through her very reserved and gracious manner as an international figure, unavoidably became a voice promoting peace in a better world.
First of all, the British Empire no longer exists. Under Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the Commonwealth evolved including both constitutional monarchies like Canada and republics. Countries can choose their own future. I think the Commonwealth is a good thing as it spans the globe and includes many countries with disparate interests. The Queen was influential is supporting a boycott of South Africa during Apartheid and that helped bring down the regime and freed Nelson Mandela. This was when Margaret Thatcher, the duly elected Conservative PM, was pro-Apartheid or did not see why it was bad. The Queen used her “soft power” to support African countries who did understand the problem. Canada was part of that movement. This is an example of how the Commonwealth could be effective in human rights abuses.
I think the Queen did a good job as she was successful in staying out of British politics. She is also the Queen of Canada and signed the 1982 update of our Constitution which included the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I don’t think that Americans should be too judgemental when the USA had to fight a civil war over slavery and has a bad history of human rights abuses of minorities. I personally think it is better to have a Head of State who is not elected and is separate from the elected leader like our Prime Minister. This way, the Head of State is not political. King Charles has a great commitment to understanding Nature and Climate Change and I hope he will be able to bring people on board who are currently in denial about these problems. I enjoy the pageantry of British state occasions and watched the Queen’s funeral twice. I was glad I was able to watch it on TV as it was like having a front row seat to history. I don’t think most Americans understand how a constitutional monarchy operates. We get tired of lectures from people whose country had slavery until 1865. Ruth Swan, Winnipeg
I appreciate your response. As you know, I have direct connections with, particularly, French Canada, and Manitoba. Most recently last Saturday, our French American Heritage Foundation was having a retreat and a colleague shared the following based on a conversation he had at some point with a professor – I have no other details: “The University of Minnesota has no course on Canadian history. Nor, I believe, has any other Minnesota College. Canada is our border neighbor and biggest trade partner. Folks cross the border regularly. These Minnesota colleges offer history courses on other specific countries or regions of the globe. The internet shows only two U.S. college offering a course on Canadian history, and both are correspondence courses. In Colonial days Minnesota was French territory. After the British captured this region of North America, French and French-Canadian history was suppressed and American history courses quickly moved to the English era of our history. A challenge for the French-American Heritage Foundation is to raise awareness of the French and French-Canadian stories and history in Minnesota and the surrounding areas.”
Point very well taken. Now, how to go about a remedy?
Generally it would be good if Americans had access to Canadian HIstory courses. Canadian media is overwhelmed with TV shows about the States, but most Americans cannot access Canadian media. So there is a high level of ignorance about the history of our countries. I find in American heritage sites that the history begins when the Americans took over and ignores the French and English regimes. Our governmental organizations are quite difference. A lot of Canadians are influenced by what they see on TV and don’t understand the differences. When something happens like the Queen dying, it brings these differences to the forefront. The British governors protected French Canadian rights after “The Conquest” and that is one reason that Quebec was able to survive as a French speaking province in the Canadian Confederation. Ruth Swan, Winnipeg