On Thursday, Sept. 8, the BBC announced to the public that the longest reigning Queen of England had died at the age of 96.
3,549 miles away from London, where he was born and raised, Guillaume Robert ’26 received a text message from his brother on that same Thursday afternoon after news and premature announcements had been circulating surrounding the poor condition of the queen’s health and of her potential death.
“My brother texted our family group chat two minutes before [the queen’s death] was announced on everything: ‘The queen is dead.’” Robert said. “Then after, [the news of her death] started rolling in — all the flow of information from the BBC and all the news websites.”
Robert said that although he may be more connected to the royal family than most Swarthmore students, he feels that the issues of the royal family are not necessarily significant to him.
“We don’t really care about royal family matters,” Robert said. “It’s not really an English thing. It’s more American to care about royal weddings and to care about what’s going on [in terms of] drama in the royal family,” he said.
Robert went on to say that other than having to experience a shift away from a figure who reigned for his entire life, he feels a general sense of indifference towards the queen’s death.
“I think what mattered for most [English] people is that the queen ruled for 70 years. For most people in England, she’s been queen for their whole lives. So even if they don’t really care about what goes on in the royal family, she was still something that was just there throughout all the prime ministers, all the political ages,” he said. “She was just there. She was not necessarily this massive symbol of England that other people, especially Americans, see her as, but she was this symbol of permanence. I think it’s just going to take adjusting to.”
Robert’s reaction was just one of many Swarthmore student reactions to Queen Elizabeth’s death. These feelings ranged from Robert’s indifference, to sadness, to joy. The queen’s death has also prompted a general reflection on the role of the monarchy at large.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Associate Professor of History Farid Azfar explained that one thing Americans might feel is a general sense of connection to British royal affairs due to their educational upbringings and cultural ties.
“I think that for some Americans, Britishness and the royalty, in particular, are subconsciously linked with childhood nostalgia, and the queen of course embodies that,” Azfar said.
Azfar went on to reflect about the negative aspects of the queen’s rule, including the Commonwealth’s various colonial brutalities.
“The colonial role that [the monarchy] played through the means of institutions like the Commonwealth was probably less visible in the U.S. than it was in Pakistan, where [the people] were constantly being expelled and re-admitted depending on the state of democracy.”
Furthermore, Azfar said he wonders how the world will reflect upon itself moving past the queen’s death.
“I’m interested in the questions that arise when we think of her reign as one continuous era — and of ourselves as being just beyond it,” Azfar said. “What does it mean to be living in the second post-Elizabethan era?”
Swarthmore students have also been wondering what the queen’s death will mean going forward.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Lucas Myers-Lee ’23 talked about how the queen’s death illuminates the shifting nature of the monarchy’s role in contemporary society.
“The queen, I think, besides being a person, is a sort of representation of a transition of monarchy from a time that no longer exists to its current state of window decoration on a nation-state,” Myers-Lee said.
As the British monarchy transitions from the queen to her succeeding heir and son, King Charles Windsor III, some Swarthmore students are worried about what this new era might represent. Eva Murillo ’26 said she is unsettled by the ascent of its newest monarch due to his character and past actions, including infidelity in his first marriage to Princess Diana and previous attempts to meddle in British governmental affairs. Murillo also believes that this transition of power only serves to amplify the systemic problems within the British monarchy.
“The monarchy is technically a figurehead, but they still have influence over the world, and it sucks that [King Charles III] is the face of it,” Murillo said.
Murillo said that he feels like the death of the queen is more so a symbolic end to a long reign rather than a concrete societal change.
“The monarchy is not over,” Murillo said. “It was a little weird because, in my head, she has been almost immortal because she has been the queen, and she was always there. But, I didn’t care [when she died]. I [thought], ‘She is dead. That doesn’t change anything about how [messed] up the British monarchy is and colonialism is.’”
Like Murillo, Myers-Lee said he feels that the queen’s presence was more emblematic of the negative characteristics, such as colonial violence, of the British monarchy than it was as a figure of political prowess.
“As a symbol, I feel like she represents something that died a long time ago, but also something that’s very much alive, like the lingering effects of monarchy,” Myers-Lee said. “Those things she represents are generally bad and they are things that I don’t want to exist in the world. I think it’s for that reason that a lot of my friends [had] a sort of cathartic joy because her death was a symbolic death of a lot of bad things and things that really should die.”
Murillo said she believes it is time to shift away from a cultural fixation with the royal family and that the media emphasis put on mundane facets of royal life distracts from the cruelties the British monarchy enforced during the queen’s reign.
“The symbol of the Crown carries so much more significance than I think it should, even though they don’t technically have governmental power,” Murillo said. “I think the kind of constant glamorization of the monarchy — the constant [idea] of, ‘These people are fascinating and interesting,’ […] takes away from the genocides and colonizations that [the monarchy] took part in.”
This idea of the British monarch serving as a symbol is shared by Azfar, who said he recognizes that the queen’s symbolism, though heavily nuanced, holds global significance.
“I think of her as a kind of symbol,” Azfar said. “But, symbols are powerful.”
It is profoundly dismaying to read the drivel that is being taught to American undergraduates about the UK and the Royal Family.
Contrary to what Guillaume Robert (who is what, 18?) tell us the Royal Family is not primarily about soap opera drama. (Although he is equally wrong that those fixated on soap opera drama are all Americans. Has his sojourn in the Land of the Free caused him to forge about the Daily Mail?)
It is ultimately about providing constancy to the UK with the monarchy being Head of State. Perhaps you Americans should look in the mirror as to how well your recent Head of State Donald Trump comported himself whilst in office.
It also seems to have escaped Eva Murillo and her intellectual mentor Farid Azfar that the Queen reigned during the greatest period of decolonisation that the world has ever known. Predictably Dr Azfar’s CV shows him to be obsessed with racial identity politics.