Who does ‘God Save’ if not The Queen?

Kaitlyn Beattie-Zarb (She/Her)

Kaitlyn reflects on the coronation of a new monarch and considers the future of Britain's (and in part the world's) monarchy

(Image: Pexel)

After seven decades, the moment much of the world expected had finally arrived. Queen Elizabeth the Second had died. King Charles the Third now sat on the British throne. Nations and citizens were unsure of how to react and the identity of much of the UK and the world seemingly sat in the balance.
Of course, many other unexpected events had led to this dramatic and uncertain 2023 moment, where a future of change lay ahead, ready for the taking.

The biggest change of leadership in modern-times was always bound to be accompanied by a wider radical change as nations comprehend the absence of a long-standing figurehead. And with changing times comes the inevitable resurfacing of alternate perspectives and new ways of doing things. Or, at least, it should.

“More than just changing the face staring out of the money.”

Kaitlyn Beattie-Zarb

As we walk further into 2023, it’s no secret that the United Kingdom is facing its own kind of disillusionment, with or without a monarch. As Scotland continues debating separation, Northern Ireland reels from ongoing Brexit dramas, and all four nations struggle through the ongoing cost of living crisis: calls for a change of governmental leadership seem particularly rife. Next year’s impending election has never felt so urgent, but whether it will offer the necessary change the country yearns for remains in the hands of the politicians ‘leading’ Westminster.

Add a complex and evolving conversation about the necessity of the monarch and it’s no surprise that the nation’s future seems particularly confused at the present moment.

The UK was always bound to face uncertainty in the aftermath of The Queen’s passing. For many, Elizabeth was a heartwarming reminder of the old times. For others, The Queen was an outdated, immovable relic; clinging to power from a different century. And as her son takes the crown, it becomes clear that this is a nation starkly divided on whether it even needs a 21st century monarch – seated on a throne (of lies), using taxpayer money, and offering only pomp, pageantry and out-of-touch Christmas addresses in return.

But what does the rest of the world think? On a superficial level, The Queen provided a simple and identifiable identity for the UK – a kind of mascot if you will. ‘Queen’ became synonymous with Elizabeth the Second. Royalty in modern times became a fun tourist excursion in a visit to England. Raised pinkies, Buckingham Palace and a flurry of corgis became the United Kingdom’s (highly stereotyped and inaccurate) identifiers.

Now, not only does the UK need to redesign an external identity to represent it, it struggles with internal political debates branching out of Brexit, Covid and aeons of racist history and colonialism. But at least James Bond is still wholesomely English right?

Of course, this colonialism is what necessitates a turn now to the rest of the world, where relics of the British empire restyled as ‘Commonwealth’ debate their own existence in the absence of their biggest cheerleader. In the days after The Queen’s death, one particular quote was heard echoing on news outlets across the world. “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong,”; pledged by The Queen on her 21st birthday. And, it’s no stretch to say that Elizabeth was the key glue for the Commonwealth as it struggled to find a purpose for its forced union throughout the 20th century, where royal visits from The Queen became some of the first celebrity world tours. Young by colonisers standards, but old in every other way, Commonwealth nations across the Caribbean, Pacific, Asia, Africa and the Americas debate who they are now that that last direct line to empire has debated.

And it’s not a particularly vague debate. Conversations regarding race, slave trade history, stolen items and complex identities have been growing for many years. Numerous nations have debated getting rid of the monarch before. Eighteen already have. Ongoing commonwealth realms such as Australia have even conducted monarchy ending referendums in the past – with narrow salvations of the royal family. It seems inherently obvious that at some point in the ongoing story of post-colonial nations that the ruling status of a British monarch oceans away will be called into question and subsequently removed. Except for one lingering question “who becomes the head of state?” It’s never an easy challenge to determine a neutral figure to represent, remain politically separate, unite and, if necessary, lead a nation. With complex histories, confused identities, engrained Westminster systems of law and politics, and necessary alliances with Britain, the decision to leave is more than just changing the face staring out of the money.
In these ways and many more, the death of a Queen and the coronation of a King ignite deeper concerns beyond the passing of a crown’s ownership. What changes with The Queen’s death is more than simply the words of a song or the figurehead of England.

Now begins the changing of identities, the salvaging or destruction of monarchical heritage, and the chance to construct a different future, for both the UK and much of the world they helped ‘build’. Whether this distinct opportunity will be seized is yet to be seen, and will rely hugely on the choices of King Charles III, the United Kingdom and the wider Commonwealth of nations as we march into these early years of singing “God Save the King”.