When Elizabeth II was crowned on June 2, 1953, “the empire on which the sun never sets” she is already shaken by the loss, six years ago, of her jewel, India. However, having emerged victorious from World War II and fascinated by the new queen, Britain still sees itself as a world power. “The country and the Commonwealth were not far from the kingdom of heaven” on the day of his coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury assured him a few days later with satisfaction.
With its pragmatism, the country then set in motion the institutional changes and easing that, over the decades and the decolonization process, will allow Elizabeth II to maintain an international dimension.
While her father had been “Emperor of India”, Elizabeth II will be “Head of the Commonwealth”
To keep India, which became a Republic in 1950, within the Crown, the title of the new sovereign was changed. While his father, George VI, was “King of the British overseas dominions “Elizabeth II will reign “His other kingdoms and territories”. The “kingdom”, which designated the entire British empire, now refers to a series of states, not necessarily “British” and which may be republics.
This provision, which breaks with the old principle that the queen is the head of state of all the countries of the Commonwealth, will make it possible to keep Pakistan (which became a republic in 1956), South Africa or Mauritius (1992). While her father had been “Emperor of India”, Elizabeth II will be “Head of the Commonwealth”, a long term synonymous with Empire, but cleverly preserved to designate a group of independent states historically and economically linked to London.
Governing “according to the laws and customs”
In 1953, the new monarch ruled over no less than forty-six territories: seven autonomous domains and thirty-nine colonies and protectorates administered from London by the Colonial Office. His solemn oath sworn in Westminster Cathedral contains a pledge to rule “According to laws and customs” of each of these “possession” and each of these “Territories “ which include Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Ceylon and the Union of South Africa.
Sixty-nine years later, when the queen disappears, the forty-six territories held in the Crown at her rise are independent, often for a long time, and the planisphere of the Empire dotted with immense pink areas on all continents is ancient history.
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