Imperial England's three queens: Elizabeth, Victoria, and Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth II walks on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London on June 2, 2022. [AP photo]

Elizabeth II’s funeral in London is a global happening involving roughly 500 invited global elite; royalty, presidents and other leaders.

Since some ‘leaders’ are not wanted, the funeral is a statement of geopolitical leanings and symbolises British influence in the world.

The quip that the sun could not set in her Empire was true to the extent that it was always morning or afternoon somewhere in the empire. It is also true of Elizabeth II’s main legacy, the Commonwealth of Nations.

She was one of three long-reigning women who built and managed the large British Empire, in terms of territorial expanse and longevity. The other two were Elizabeth I from 1558 to 1603 and Victoria from 1837 to 1901. The first Elizabeth, born in 1533, was 25 when she became queen and died in 1603 at 80.

The second daughter of Henry VIII, the founder of the Anglican Church because he wanted to divorce his first wife and marry Elizabeth’s mother, she reigned for 45 years. A grand strategist, she created England as an imperial power.

To do that, she undermined Spain by encouraging anti-Spanish piracy and succeeded in the 1588 Armada encounter after which England rose as a European power and Spain slid. All the other monarchs built on her success, including Victoria.

Born in 1819, Victoria was 18 when she became queen in 1837 and died at 83 in 1901. She loomed large in establishing slavery in situ in Africa known as territorial colonialism and the creation of ‘colonial state’ that 60 years later became independent states with African leaders that were groomed to continue looking after British interests.

Among such colonial states was what became Kenya, whose western border is a large inland lake named ‘Victoria’. It was initially designed to be white settler colony with a belief expressed by Theodore Roosevelt that it would be a crime against humanity not to turn the territory into ‘white man’s country.’

There then developed two antagonistic societies that led to the Mau Mau War which shattered the dreams of the white man’s country.

The outbreak of the war in Kenya coincided with the ascendance of Queen Elizabeth II, Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter, to the English throne. As princess, Elizabeth was in Kenya watching animals when her father, George VI, died in 1952.

Elizabeth’s 70 years reign has three chronological phases that constitute her legacy. First, was the colonial phase in which she symbolized an empire, with all its negatives. Although she had little personal role in creating slavery and the looting embodied in the colonial state, she enjoyed its fruits and therefore had to take the blame for the atrocities committed in her name.

She, however, could do little but watch her empire crumble as colonial subjects rejected imperial rule as evidenced in the 1956 Suez humiliation and the Mau Mau War. The Mau Mau showed their rejection of her by burning the Treetops Hotel where she had stayed and even tried to counter her 1953 coronation by crowning their own queen. By 1959, she had accepted the inevitable which Prime Minister Harold Macmillan termed a ‘wind of change’ blowing across Africa.

Second, was the transition phase in which she accepted the wind of change and adapted to the reality of the dismantling of her empire. She, and her royal family members, astutely adapted to the changes by smoothening bad feelings during the transition to independent states.

They attended the independence ceremonies and even danced with the new African elite, the inheritors of the colonial state. She, therefore, helped to turn territorial colonialism into neo-colonial entities.

The third phase involved the entrenchment and expansion of the Commonwealth of Nations. She made it such a global movement that it attracted countries that were never British colonies. Those attending Elizabeth’s funeral value the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is her most pleasant legacy.