The Veneer Falls: The Many Controversies of Elizabeth II

October 21, 2022

British soldiers and Mau Mau prisoners in the the Kenya Emergency during the 1950s. (Courtesy of The Guardian)

British soldiers and Mau Mau prisoners in the the Kenya Emergency during the 1950s. (Courtesy of The Guardian)

Although some may see Queen Elizabeth II’s rule as a golden age, the existence of her controversies involving other members of the royal family, particularly Princess Diana and the Duchess Meghan Markle of Sussex, is undeniable. Beyond just her familial conflicts, Queen Elizabeth II ruled during a period of the lasting effects of British colonialism rising in the world, forever tainting all of her reign’s seemingly prosperous aspects. To truly understand the late queen, one must recognize both her seemingly minor and exceedingly detrimental controversies.

In truth, Queen Elizabeth II’s relationship with Princess Diana was one of the things that first exposed the former in a questionable light. Initially, the two appeared compatible: Diana was a lady of a well-regarded family, and the queen viewed this as an indication that Diana could marry her son, Prince Charles.

Appearances can only last so long, though.

Diana was more vocal than any member of the royal family, likely ever, and this drew a sharp divide between her and the queen. Allegedly, members of the royal family offered little help to the princess as she spoke more and more about her crumbling marriage with Prince Charles, and many Brits assumed Queen Elizabeth II was not providing adequate help. Eventually, Queen Elizabeth II herself pushed for the prince and princess’s divorce. When Princess Diana died in 1997, just a year after the divorce, questions soon arose regarding the Queen’s potential involvement in the horrific incident, though no facts came out of the matter.

Even today, the strangeness (an understatement) of Queen Elizabeth II’s relationships with other royal women still lasts. In 2020, Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Markle left their royal duties, and the general public wondered about the queen’s involvement in the matter, an incident reminiscent of the late 90s. Later, Oprah interviewed Markle as she revealed the reasoning for their departure: when racist British tabloids attacked Markle, leaving her with suicidal thoughts, the royal family provided insufficient help, and one member even feared the possible darkness of the Duke and Duchess’s son’s skin. Again, many suspected Queen Elizabeth II of the terrible comments, though other royals had accusations thrown at them as well.

Both Queen Elizabeth II’s allegedly dreadful relationships with Princess Diana and Meghan Markle had their ups and downs, but her support for (or at least lack of disapproval of) British colonialism was solely awful.

The Mau Mau rebellion in colonial Kenya during the 1900s exemplifies this, for instance. The more Mau Mau combatants fought, the more stationed British colonists suppressed the fight with violence. The British created camps where they tortured and killed Kenyan people suspected of joining the Mau Mau. Queen Elizabeth II did not command this, butshe did not try to stop it.
Technically, during her reign, British colonialism ended; many British colonies fought for their independence and won, Kenya included. However, Britain left them in chaos as they depended heavily on the country for resources, and the queen never acknowledged this.

“Decolonization was supposed to force the acknowledgment of wrong,” said Priya Satia, a Stanford University professor, for TIME. “That never came because it was always masked by the continuity of the queen.”

By the time of her coronation, the queen held little political power over Parliament, so she never was the one to decide whether Britain should provide help for the former colonies. If she truly wanted to, though, as a greatly influential figure, she could have spoken up about the issue and prompted some change. She never did. And so, she remained a figurehead of British imperialism, even if that was never her direct intention. Her wearing of the stolen crown jewels did not help her case in eliminating conversation about her role in British colonialism.

Whether or not one chooses to remember Queen Elizabeth II in a beaming light or a gloomy shadow, one must always recall her impact on fellow women and former British colonies around the world. In doing so, the truth about her reign can finally be revealed.

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