“The empire on which the sun never sets.”
This colloquialism has largely defined the whole 19th and early 20th century when the British Empire reached its height in terms of territory under its control in 1922.
Roughly every six days, a country celebrates independence from the British Empire – which is telling in itself.
And the cornerstone for that empire, even though the actual power and functions of which have largely been – at least in precedent – restricted to make way for a healthy and functioning democracy, is the monarchy.
The British monarchy has always been influential and well-known around the world, unlike its lusterless European counterparts seen in modern-day kingdoms such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in Commonwealth history, has left a deep mark in the psyches of peoples of the English-speaking countries around the world, a.k.a. former British colonies who still retained her as the head of state, represented by governors-general in their respective states.
Now that she has passed away and the personal union – which basically means that several countries share the same figurehead while being politically, diplomatically and functionally independent – will be led by newly proclaimed King Charles III, a hot debate has begun around Commonwealth countries.
The three largest Commonwealth countries with the most clout among their usually smaller and less prominent counterparts, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have all been a political battleground between monarchy supporters and opponents alike.
In New Zealand, for example, a very public figure made a very public and bold statement after the queen died.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement that her country “will eventually become a republic and drop the British monarch as its head of state.”
In a cautious addition to her remarks, she said that she does not expect such a radical change to happen “anytime soon.”
“I do believe that is where New Zealand will head in time,” she said.
“I believe it’s likely to occur in my lifetime, but I don’t see it as a short-term measure or anything that is on the agenda anytime soon,” she said, adding that the New Zealand government won’t be debating it soon because she “has never sensed an urgency.”
Meanwhile, a poll in Australia where republicanism has historically been somewhat strong showed some striking results.
Roy Morgan, a research institute and a well-known market research company in Australia, showed in the poll that a majority of Aussies want to retain the monarchy after the succession of the new king.
“Australians have given a vote of confidence in new Head of State King Charles III with a majority of 60% saying Australia should remain as a Monarchy, an increase of 5% points from November 2012, while only 40% say Australia should become a Republic with an elected President,” a statement from the company said.
“Support for remaining as a Monarchy is far higher among women (66% in favour) than men (54%) and is strongest among older age groups with over two-thirds of people aged 50-64 (67%) and nearly as many aged 65+ (61%) in favour of remaining as a Monarchy,” Roy Morgan also said.
“The main reasons provided by people for why Australia should remain as a Monarchy are ‘Why change?’, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ ‘The current system based on Monarchy has brought Australia decades of stability and stable government.’ Alongside these themes were those who voiced their distrust of politicians to bring in a Republic, and do we want to end up like the USA? Those Australians advocating for a change and to move towards a Republic with a directly elected President mentioned that the Head of State should be Australian and that we should be a totally independent country as holding onto our colonial history is an insult to First Australians,” the company added.
“The results of this latest Roy Morgan SMS Poll on attitudes towards Australia becoming a Republic or remaining as a Monarchy shows that despite the passing of the popular Queen Elizabeth II last week a clear majority of Australians are in favour of retaining the current system – and this has consistently been the case for over a dozen years now.”
In Canada, the situation is even more complex due to the very existence of Quebec, a French-speaking province in Canada. The area, which has had historically strong ties to the Francophonie, has always opposed the monarchy in nearly a hostile manner.
Excluding Quebec though, Canadians are far more in favor of the monarchy, even though the name of the monarchy itself is another matter of debate.
While Canada recognizes the monarchy as a Canadian institution that is separate from the British monarchy through the notion of the personal union, and that the current King Charles III is titled King of Canada and considered Canadian, some Canadian polls have referred to the British monarchy or called the British monarch Canada's head of state in their questions.
A poll, carried out after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies found that “while some Canadians are happy about King Charles III and others are not, most are largely indifferent to Canada’s new head of state,” Alberta Prime Times news website reported in a piece on Tuesday.
“Respondents were fairly split when it came to watching the Queen’s funeral, with 48 per cent saying they planned to tune into the ceremony when it is televised next Monday and the same percentage saying they would not,” the news website added.
“That’s because only about a quarter of all respondents said they had been even moderately personally impacted by the Queen’s death, while nearly 75 per cent said they felt little to no impact at all.”
All in all, the divide in Commonwealth nations around the world regarding the monarchy seems far from over. What the future holds for the ancient institution, which some call incompatible with modern values, is to be observed and understood. Maybe the slogan written on the flag of yet another state that officially calls itself a “Commonwealth” despite not being under the monarchy anymore, the U.S. state of Kentucky, will shed some light on what’s to come: "United we stand, divided we fall."