Queen Elizabeth seemed sweet, the monarchy isn’t

It ought to be abolished.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II waits in the Drawing Room before receiving Liz Truss for an audience at Balmoral, in Scotland, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022
Queen Elizabeth II in the drawing room at Balmoral Castle on September 6, 2022 [Jane Barlow/Pool Photo via AP]

The last picture is the most endearing.

Standing in the centre of a room at Balmoral Castle with stooped shoulders and that inescapable bulb of white hair, and leaning gingerly on a brown, wooden cane, Queen Elizabeth II looked as sweet as her smile.

Her mottled hands and thin frame told a different story. They were the unmistakable signs that this old, frail sovereign was approaching the inevitable.

Still, she appeared content, if not happy. In that moment, dressed in a long, grey cardigan, a matching tartan skirt and brown penny loafers, the queen – who reigned for seven decades – seemed more Grand Mama than monarch.

Perhaps she knew what was to come and decided to gift her family and subjects in England and beyond who admired and loved her one final, happy image to remember her by.

That she was able to summon the strength and enthusiasm to afford a new prime minister the courtesy of an official audience is, I suppose, a testament to the queen’s determination to fulfil her duties as best she could until the very end.

A nice, 96-year-old woman has passed.

From the instant that the news of her death was announced, the tone of much of the media’s coverage has been sombre and reverential. With a funeral procession and succession ceremony on the horizon, we can expect that hushed, respectful mood to persist.

But, even at this subdued hour, it would be deeply irresponsible and an egregious mistake to avoid acknowledging that the imperial institution Queen Elizabeth II led has caused indelible harm and suffering to so many people, in so many places.

Only recently have members of the royal family been obliged to admit publicly the inhumane consequences of the crown’s long, disfiguring history of being the pretty face to the violence, racism, slavery and wholesale pillaging of largely non-white nations that made up Britain’s colonial empire.

Earlier this year, in the opening speech at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali, Prince Charles said that “this is a conversation whose time has come”.

Indeed, the British monarchy has much to answer and atone for.

Sadly – but not surprisingly – the prince’s remarks were only a modest and belated concession; a tentative first step, at best, towards what he described as a “way” to “acknowledge our past”.

Anyone expecting a more explicit or fulsome apology for the brutal subjugation of Indigenous peoples and the premeditated erasure of ancient ways of life in scores of once-occupied countries in the benevolent name of the king or queen was disappointed.

Instead, Prince Charles addressed just one of the litany of sadistic sins committed with the knowledge and approval of his gilded ancestors: slavery.

“I want to acknowledge that the roots of our contemporary association run deep into the most painful period of our history. I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many, as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact,” he said.

Translation: I feel your pain. Oh, and despite being 73 years old, I promise that I’m going to start thinking hard about how and why my relatives caged and sold you like chattel to enrich themselves.

It was a sorry, inadequate expression of qualified regret by a man, who, by virtue of primogeniture, is now king.

So, while King Charles III is preparing for his ascension to the throne and considering, apparently, the ghastly residue of slavery, some states that make up the Commonwealth are choosing maturity and sovereignty over the grotesque colonial past.

Last December, the small, sun-kissed Caribbean island of Barbados freed itself – fully and completely – from the mythical “motherland”. A forlorn Prince Charles was there to witness the island’s proud trajectory from former client state to full-fledged republic.

For republicans like me, the wise people of Barbados are proof of the power of good sense and imagination. The “ties that bind” is a silly fiction promoted by fawning sentimentalists and historical revisionists who prefer to traffic in saccharine-laced lies about a spent anachronism called the British monarchy.

My hope is that other Commonwealth realms that treat Britain’s monarch as their head of state follow Barbados’s inspiring example.

That decision should be easier to make in part because the Windsor family has not only devolved into farce, petty recriminations and irreparable rifts, but has also been accused of committing vile sexual offences, including rape, against vulnerable children.

Prince Andrew has disappeared amid allegations that he was party to an international scheme to lure and violate girls to satisfy his sexual appetites in the company of an equally rich, notorious paedophile who subsequently took his own life in jail.

Money, position and prestige protected him. So did his mother. That nice, grey lady with the sweet, becoming smile.

Prince Andrew has been made a ghost and stripped of his royal “duties” because he exposed every odious aspect of the royal family that its public relations machinery works hard to camouflage: entitlement, impunity, and the smug satisfaction of knowing that deference will always be paid to blue-bloods.

And yet it may be Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, who have, by deliberate design, revealed that the monarchy’s best-before date expired ages ago.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the pair of wealthy dilettantes derided and dismissed the choreographed fraud they once were part of and have since abandoned for sunny and lucrative Los Angeles.

Meghan told Oprah that her family lives an “authentic” life today, not an “unrealistic fairy tale”.

Meanwhile, Harry confessed that his father and older brother were “trapped” in the same “system” that shackled him. “They don’t get to leave,” he said.

The mirage is sustained, they agreed, by an entente between Buckingham Palace and the tabloid press that both sides reconfirm at summer garden parties where Fleet Street hacks share drinks and chit-chat with the who’s who of British royalty.

The couple divulged, as well, that racism remains as present today as it was yesterday within the “modern” royal family.

It was a refreshing sliver of honesty, and a reminder that the monarchy deserves a burial – not the relentless hagiography that television viewers will be served in the coming days and weeks.

For my part, I will not watch, read or listen to a whit of it. I have lots of other idle matters to attend to.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.