A Day after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s longest reigning monarch, there have been vocal calls across social media to abolish the monarchy. The hashtags #AbolishTheMonarchy and #NotMyKing have been trending, while a variety of images and memes have been shared to make the point.
Some were far less kind than others:
The question can be asked, whether this is the appropriate time to have the discussion. And if not, then when is the right time?
“You get this same kind of response that now isn’t the time to have a discussion about gun control following a mass shooting,” said Dr. Dane Kennedy, Elmer Louis Kayser professor emeritus of History and International Affairs, at George Washington University.
“My response is that it is a perfectly legitimate time to question the future of the monarchy,” Kennedy continued. “Republican/anti-royalist sentiments have existed for a very long time, but they wax and wane. Now they are simply waxing a bit more. One reason is that Charles III is not the warm and fuzzy person that his mother Queen Elizabeth II was.”
It could be argued too that the monarchy continued because of Queen Elizabeth II, and that sentiment to abolish it could grow louder now with her passing. However, what wasn’t as immediately considered is what could be lost if the monarchy is abolished.
“The monarchy is very important for the British people. It provides a strong sense of identity and also plays an important role in tourism,” said Dr. Carole Levin, Willa Cather Emerita professor of history at the University of Nebraska.
Despite calls to abolish the monarchy trending on social media, Levin doesn’t see actually it happening, but that doesn’t mean changes won’t be made.
“Charles has to show that he is economizing and understands the hardships the people are going through,” she added. “That could mean cutting back who is on the payroll.”
Moreover, it is still tourism that can’t be understated.
“The Royals play a huge role, and it isn’t just London, it is Windsor, Scotland and throughout the country,” Levin noted. “The British monarchy isn’t just historically important, it remains so today.”
End Of The Commonwealth
Also discussed on social media is what the death of Queen Elizabeth II means for the future of the Commonwealth of Nations, the political association of 56 states. Some on social media have suggested the organization should also be axed – while others have called for keeping the monarchy in place as a way to maintain the Commonwealth.
However, the end of the monarchy wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of the Commonwealth explained Kennedy. “You can be a member of the Commonwealth and still be a republic,” he added. “India is a republic and doesn’t acknowledge Queen Elizabeth II – or now Charles III – as its sovereign. That is true for other Commonwealth of Nations members. However, it does have its odd, archaic roots as an effort to retain the British Empire.”
Though Queen Elizabeth II was one of its biggest supporters, her death may not alter it anyway.
“States don’t maintain membership unless they gain some benefit,” said Kennedy. “It will exist as long as the states have an interest. Elizabeth II may have been the most visible supporter, but her death doesn’t alter its institutional purpose.”
Charles III – A Bad Choice Of A Name?
There has also been much of the mockery on social media directed at the new monarch, King Charles III. A meme made the rounds pointing out that he has spent much of his life basically “unemployed.”
Others shared a poignant fact about his choice of “regnal” name. “Charles is an unlucky name for an English King. Charles I was executed, Charles II exiled,” one user on Twitter quickly pointed out.
“Really odd of him to choose Charles III title: kinda ironic and/or fitting since he’s a philanderer like Charles II and, like Charles I, there’s a really good chance the monarchy will end with him,” wrote another.
Members of the Royal Family traditionally have long names — Charles’ full name is Charles Philip Arthur George — and those who have ascended the throne have as often than not in recent centuries taken a name different from what they were given at birth. Queen Elizabeth II’s father was known to the world as King George VI after succeeding his brother King Edward VIII, but he was actually named Albert Frederick Arthur George, and commonly called Bertie by members of the family.
The tradition to take a different regnal name began when Queen Victoria – Elizabeth II’s great-great-grandmother – ascended the throne in 1837. All prior monarchs had used their first baptismal name as their regnal name. However, when Victoria was born her uncle, the Prince Regent (future King George IV) had specifically prohibited the royal names of Charlotte, Elizabeth, or Georgina. She was subsequently named “Alexandrina” after her godfather, the Russian Czar Alexander I. For most of her childhood, she was known as “Drina,” and up until her coronation, many in the general public didn’t know what her official “regnal” name would even be. She could have been Elizabeth II, but instead opted to use her second name, Victoria.
“Charles III” does seem like a bad choice, in part because as some on social media have pointed out Charles I of England was defeated by the Parliamentarian Forces in the English Civil War, and was later executed. His son Charles II of England was restored to the throne, but is more commonly remembered for his rampant womanizing, having fathered at least a dozen illegitimate children; while there is also the Jacobite connection to the “Young Pretender” Charles Edward Stuart, who had claimed the title “Charles III.”
In other words, King Charles I saw the end of the monarchy and the creation of the decade-long Commonwealth under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, until the restoration under King Charles II. While the UK won’t likely face another civil war, instead it could be social media that ignites the flames that could see this Charles as the final monarch.
“Anyone who has an understanding of British history will know that his two named predecessors weren’t the most successful or beloved,” said Kennedy. “One can question whether it was the most appropriate name, but to most of the British public it probably doesn’t matter.”
Many younger Britons may not even know that much about the history of those previous kings.
“Charles II was actually a unifier during the restoration,” said Levin. “It is a fine name and it could provide a sense of continuity, but he has to be king for everyone. What was impressive about his mother, Queen Elizabeth II was that she was a monarch who people could relate to.”
The bigger issue Charles may face is with his image.
“He is already in his 70s, and is well-known, but not especially beloved, particularly due to his divorce from Princess Diana and how he treated her,” Kennedy noted. “Unlike his late mother, he comes to the throne, not as a fresh face, which could symbolize a renewal. Rather, he is someone who carries a lot of baggage, and he can’t fully get rid of it!”