Since Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, died last week at the age of 96, tributes to her have poured in from the U.K. and across the world, including from the leaders of London’s staunchest allies. U.S. President Joe Biden described Elizabeth as “a stateswoman of unmatched dignity and constancy.” French President Emmanuel Macron said that “she held a special status in France and … in the hearts of the French people,” while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remarked that Canadians will always remember and cherish her “wisdom, compassion and warmth.”
International media reaction to and coverage of Elizabeth’s death has largely echoed these sentiments, with frequent descriptions of Elizabeth as a pillar of stability and unity during a reign that spanned several periods of dramatic social and political change in the United Kingdom and the world. But while many observers recalled fond memories of Elizabeth and her long reign, her death also reignited conversations about the legacy of colonialism and the British Empire, including among many Africans who regard the late queen as the symbol of a cruel institution that subjugated millions, plundered and extracted wealth from their lands and imposed political institutions and identities that they believe continue to haunt them to this day.
Elizabeth ruled as queen for 70 years, succeeding her father, George VI, upon his death in 1952. Four out of five people currently living in the U.K. were born after her ascension to the throne, making her the only monarch most Britons have lived under. At the time of her death, she served as the U.K.’s head of state as well as the queen of 14 other realms in the Commonwealth of Nations, an association largely comprising former British colonies. But when she became queen, more than a quarter of the world’s population was under British imperial rule. This included more than 700 million people in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands. In a speech delivered in South Africa in 1947, a year before the country’s National Party began formally implementing its apartheid policies, Elizabeth pledged to devote her life to the service of “our great imperial family to which we all belong.”