There are deep cultural impacts on Britain as a result of the recent passing of its longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, according to Rev. Oliver P. Rafferty, S.J.
“We think of the British monarchy as something which is intrinsically linked with British identity,” Rafferty, a professor of history at Boston College, said. “And of course, the monarchy has been subjected to periods of undulation.”
BC’s Model United Nations Club hosted an event on Monday night to discuss the implications of the queen’s death. The club’s mission is to educate members on important international events through discussions and mock debates, according to Ana Campanico, the club’s secretary of delegations and MCAS ’24.
Throughout the talk, Rafferty said the late queen had an unusual journey to becoming the head of state of the United Kingdom.
“When Princess Elizabeth was born in 1926, she was not destined to rule,” Rafferty said. “This came about by chance, because again of the abdication of her uncle, Edward VIII in December of 1936. This meant that Elizabeth’s father, the Duke of York, then became king and she became the heir apparent. She was only 10 years old.”
A few years before she would become queen, Elizabeth shared her hopes for her reign in an address to the country from a broadcast in South Africa in April of 1947. After the sudden death of her father, Elizabeth became queen at the age of 25, and Rafferty said her reign was marked by constant devotion to Britain and to royal protocol.
“In that broadcast, she declared that her whole life—be it long or short—would be devoted to the service of ‘our great imperial family,’” Rafferty said. “And as it turned out, she had a very long life as we know, living until the age of 96.”
Rafferty also pointed to the lows of the late queen’s reign. He said that her unpopularity rose among the Commonwealth in Nigeria before it gained independence.
“The Nigerians were gearing up for independence and the [British] government decided to send the queen to Nigeria in 1956, hoping that a visit from her would calm nationalist passions,” Rafferty said. “But, [the queen] was so stiff and formal in contrast to the Nigerians being warm and friendly, that the very opposite happened. They took against her and were determined to break their link to Britain.”
According to Rafferty, the late queen also faced scrutiny from the public for her strict adherence to royal protocol during the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death in 1997, leading to a decline in her popularity.
“The death of Princess Diana in August of 1997 was another kind of sore point for the monarchy,” Rafferty said. “There were certain times when Tony Blair, the prime minister, saved the monarchy from itself. The queen was at Balmoral at the time and refused to go down to London. She refused to allow the flag of Buckingham Palace to be flown at half staff.”
Rafferty said that the public saw her adherence to the protocol as indifference to Diana’s death.
“The only time the Royal Standard is lowered to half staff is when the monarch dies, nobody else,” Rafferty said. “But, British people couldn’t understand.”
Rafferty emphasized the importance of Tony Blair’s advice to the Queen in helping the monarchy respond sympathetically to the death of Diana.
“It’s only because of Blair insisting and pleading with her so that eventually she relented,” Rafferty said. “She came down to London, donned black, looked at the flowers and the people outside of the palace. She then broadcasted to the nation.”
With Charles now officially king of England, Rafferty reflected on his behavior over the years and his suitability to serve as the monarch. According to Rafferty, part of the role of the monarchy is to set a good example for the British people, which to him, the monarchy has not lived up to in recent times.
“The current status so far as Charles and Camilla are concerned is the fact that what we’ve seen is a reward for bad behavior,” Rafferty said. “[Charles] married a woman who he did not love and did so for dynastic reasons, to produce an heir.”
Although the death of the queen sent shockwaves around the world, according to Rafferty, the monarchy’s role is purely ceremonial and will not hurt the functions of the British government.
“The monarch can advise the government and can caution it and make appeals, but the monarch cannot tell the government what to do,” Rafferty said. “That is something that the House of Commons designed; that is a very firm constitutional position so that the monarch doesn’t interfere with the workings of the government.”