The Queen’s Legacy: Depends Who You’re Asking


Sarah "Bella" Roth, Senior Editor

On September 8, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II passed away after a 70 year reign, the longest of any British or female monarch in history. Union flags were lowered across Britain as the nation entered a state of mourning. However, beyond the formalities, the passing of the longest-standing figurehead of the British monarchy was met with mixed emotions. 

To many, the Queen’s dutiful service was a stabilizing force over many decades of political turbulence. As a successful, unapologetically female ruler, she stood as a symbol that women could reach the heights of power. This resonated with her population, as Edie, a Vanderbilt student from England, remarks that Queen Elizabeth was “a symbol of grace and courage and strength throughout such a long time span.”

The Queen’s funeral symbolized a change most people in Britain have never lived through previously. Edie explains, “it has been a transition for so many people … they have never experienced a change of monarch in their lifetime.” Nine out of ten people currently on earth were born during her reign. Edie concludes, “I feel really sad about it personally and I know all my British family and friends do too, regardless of if they agree with the concept of a monarchy.”

To others, the end of the Queen’s reign brings more mixed emotions and has revamped discussions on the lasting impacts of colonialism. When Queen Elizabeth assumed the throne in 1952, a quarter of the world’s population was under British Colonial rule. During her reign, Great Britain let its empire go—sometimes begrudgingly, but on the whole peacefully. Meanwhile, other nations—notably France in Vietnam and Algeria, and more recently Russia in the Ukraine—took a more aggressive geopolitical stance. 

In an interview with NPR, Vanderbilt Professor of African Studies Moses Ochonu commented on the feelings of “residual anger” in former British African Colonies. The Queen ruled during periods of both oppression and liberation. “It’s her dual status as the face of colonialism, but also a symbol of decolonization that defines how she is perceived in many former British African colonies,” says Ochonu. Growing up in Nigeria, the monarchy represented grandeur and prestige to Ochonu, while also playing an important role in the bloodshed of Nigeria’s brutal civil war, as the English secretly fought against secession efforts. 

Samaya, a Vanderbilt student whose parents grew up in India, a former British colony, remarked that the death of the British Monarch was met with ambivalence in her household as well. Her father did not feel the same shock and sadness that she did upon the Queen’s passing. She says it is hard to shake “the older members of the royal family’s ties to colonization.”  

Given its unprecedented nature in recent history, the transition to a new British monarch is a symbol of a new era in British history. As the sun sets on “God Save the Queen,” the sun also sets on more direct ties to the British Colonial Empire. 

Image “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Royal visit to Queensland, 1970” by Queensland State Archives via Flickr