The death of Queen Elizabeth has prompted an outpouring of grief and widespread praise for her 70 years of service as sovereign. But a few dissenting voices have begun to emerge from those who believe the monarchy is outdated and anti-democratic.
Within hours of King Charles being officially proclaimed monarch at a ceremony in London on Saturday, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda announced plans for a referendum on whether the islands should keep the monarch as head of state. On Friday, politicians in Australia issued calls for that country to become a republic as soon as possible, and petition has started circulating in Wales to stop the use of the title “Prince of Wales.”
Outside St. James’s Palace in London during the proclamation ceremony, Anne Baker and her 13-year-old daughter held up small signs that read “Not my King” and “Republic now.”
“The head of state is being announced without anybody’s consultation,” Ms. Baker said. “We don’t change the head of state until someone dies and I just think that is horrible. That’s not human. It should be civilized and modern.”
Ms. Baker and her daughter stood out among the thousands of people who gathered to watch the proceedings. Many brought flowers as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth and most joined in a loud rendition of God Save the King when the service ended.
At one point a woman grabbed one of Ms. Baker’s signs and tore it up. Another man shouted: “There are other countries without a monarchy that you can go to.”
Ms. Baker held her ground. “We think Britain is a great country and it would be an even greater country if it was able to have full democracy,” she said.
There has always been concern among monarchists that once the Queen died the future of the monarchy would be uncertain under her successor, King Charles. He’s far less popular than other royals and he’s caused controversy over the years by meddling in government decision-making and running into trouble at his charitable foundation. The charity is currently under police investigation in London over allegations it tried to help a Saudi billionaire obtain citizenship and a knighthood in return for a donation.
“The monarchy has gone through some very rough times and the Queen has been the heat shield that can deflect a lot of the criticism,” said Graham Smith, who heads a London-based political advocacy group called Republic. “But she’s no longer there and Charles is someone who people are very happy to challenge and to criticize.”
While the group kept a low profile in the immediate aftermath of the Queen’s death on Thursday, Mr. Smith said it was fair game to protest the proclamation ceremonies, which also took place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the weekend. “We’ve had two or three days responding to the Queen’s death and the issue now is Charles being King,” he said. “And it’s absolutely reasonable to challenge that.”
Like many observers he believes that the most serious challenges to the Crown will come from countries in the Caribbean.
Antigua’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne told reporters that moving away from the monarchy was an important step toward full independence. “This is not an act of hostility or any difference between Antigua and Barbuda and the monarchy, but it is the final step to complete that circle of independence, to ensure that we are truly a sovereign nation,” he told British television.
Other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas, have also indicated that they may break with the Crown and throw off the last vestiges of their colonial past. Last year, Barbados dropped the monarch as head of state joining Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Dominica and Mauritius.
Australia’s prolonged debate about becoming a republic intensified on Friday when the leader of the Green Party Adam Bandt said the country “must move forward” now that the Queen had died. “We need a treaty with First Nations people, and we need to become a republic.”
Mehreen Faruqi, a Green Party senator in Australia, went further and said: “I cannot mourn the leader of a racist empire built on stolen lives, land and wealth of colonized peoples.”
In Britain, there was a smattering of dissension as the country began a period of mourning for the Queen.
“We’re just showing another side,” said Lyn Mererid, as she protested the proclamation ceremony in Cardiff on Sunday. “All this ceremony does is represent some people, but there are people as well who aren’t interested in the monarchy and don’t think it represents them, and we want to be a voice for those people,” she told reporters.
Hours before King Charles announced on Friday that his eldest son, William, would take over the title of Prince of Wales, a petition had been launched to oppose the move, calling it an insult.
“The last native Prince of Wales was Llywelyn the Last, killed by English soldiers in 1282 and his head was then paraded through the streets of London and placed on a Tower of London spike,” said the petition which has been signed by more than 16,000 people. Since then “the title has been held exclusively by Englishmen as a symbol of dominance over Wales.”
In Belfast, the leader of Sinn Fein stayed away from the proclamation announcement at Hillsborough Castle in a show of the party’s long-standing push for the reunification of Northern Ireland and Ireland. “The accession proclamation ceremonies are intended for those whose political allegiance is to the British Crown,” said party president Mary Lou McDonald. “Sinn Fein will not be in attendance at these events.”
However, Ms. McDonald said party officials would attend other events during the mourning period in recognition of “the very positive role the Queen played in advancing peace and reconciliation between our two islands.”