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Preparing for the death of a monarch

This analysis is based on a Business Insider column earlier this year about preparations for the demise of Queen Elizabeth II of England (my Queen, as I am British). Of course, it is rude to discuss the impending death of anyone in polite society, yet the case of a monarch in an advanced Western democracy presents special circumstances. Simply put, it would be negligent for people not to prepare for the demise, both within the Palace and in society in general. Consequently, there is significant speculation about this epoch-defining event in the media.

The column points out that the demise of the Queen will be the single most disruptive event in England in the last 70 years due to the long and generally successful life of the Queen and therefore the impact her demise will have on the population. In fact, much depends on how the Queen dies. If it is after a long illness, there will be a higher level of preparation and less of a jarring disjuncture. News stations will be better prepared, and communication with the public will be smoother. However, if she dies suddenly, or in public, we may expect to see much higher levels of public expressions of emotion as the news comes out more chaotically.

However, in either case, the first main effect will be that state channels (the BBC channels) will be ordered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to all switch to a single news feed managed by the BBC and directed via BBC1. It is very likely that all commercial channels will also switch to using this news feed. Normal programming may be expected to be interrupted in this way for at least a day. For the period of mourning, all comedy shows will be cancelled. Instead, viewers might watch documentary-style programmes on the life of the Queen. And, for a few months, all the members of the Commonwealth will also follow the news and may feel more closely connected to the British Empire of old.

The second effect is on the public psyche. It is anticipated that there will be serious psychological effects on the population. For example, most normal social functions, including at British embassies, will be cancelled. Then, as the Business Insider puts it, “there will be a massive, hysterical outpouring of public grief. It won't just be sombre dress and a minute of silence at sports games — it'll be a punch to the gut of the national psyche. When Princess Diana died, the public turned out in their tens of thousands to lay flowers outside Buckingham Palace — by some estimates as many as 1 million bouquets were left.”

In the period immediately after Princess Diana died, the column points out that there were even reports of hysterically weeping Britons wandering in a dazed fashion into oncoming traffic in streets. The British are famously known for their ‘stiff upper lip’ (resolve in the face of adversary), and, though the column does not comment on it, the number of mental breakdowns and suicides both rose following the death of Princess Diana - the Diana Effect – though some people in situations of loss experienced catharsis. However, the number of car accidents may have decreased, possibly due to the manner in which Princess Diana died. Given these complex effects, it seems likely that, when the Queen dies, the National Health Service will put into place preparations for the increased mental health needs of the British public.

The third effect the demise of the Queen will have will be in clarifying the succession. Largely due to public knowledge of Prince Charles being in a romantic situation with Camilla Parker Bowles (now Duchess of Cornwall) even prior to his marriage to Princess Diana, together with a strong British tradition against cheating on your wife, the British media has openly speculated about the succession skipping a generation. However, there is now absolutely no chance of that happening as Prince William has publicly negated this idea. As such, as soon as the Queen dies, Prince Charles will inherit the throne as in England, there can never not be a ruling monarch. Thus, while the Union Jack flag will be flown at half mast, the Royal Standard flag will not be lowered.

The fourth effect the demise of the Queen will have is on the economy. Firstly, for a minimum of 12 days from her demise to the funeral, the country will come to a standstill due to official and unofficial mourning. Stock markets and banks will close. And, while the funeral and the coronation will cost millions of pounds, this sum will be tiny due to the combined effect of millions of people stopping work either unofficially or during the state holidays, which is estimated to cost billions of pounds. The subsequent coronation of Prince Charles, which may be delayed by up to a year due to official mourning for the Queen, will also likely directly cost the state millions of pounds and the economy billions of pounds if declared a national holiday.

There may, however, be positive effects on the economy. The column points out that we can expect to see at least one major statue of the Queen, in Trafalgar Square, and her burial site may also become a focal site for tourists. However, it is not yet certain where the Queen will be buried, as she may choose between a private property such as Balmoral Castle and a public property such as St. George's Chapel at Windsor, the site of the grave of King George VI, her father.

In addition, there will be a lot of relatively minor, but highly symbolic changes. All the bank notes will have to be changed, as will all the state pictures of the monarch in all government offices. Finally, depending on how popular Prince Charles becomes as a monarch, the level of republicanism in the United Kingdom may change. At present in this highly patriotic country, approximately 66 per cent of Britons support the monarchy, with only 17 per cent being republicans.

John Draper possesses a BA in Modern History from Oxford and an MA in Applied Linguistics from USQ. He conducts research and is published in the areas of language policy and planning, multilingualism and sociolinguistics. He is a project officer at KKU with the Isan Culture Maintenance and Revitalization Project and is the father of three Thai Lao / English citizens. “For never can a fair or just policy be expected of the citizen who does not, like his fellows, bring to the decision the interests and apprehensions of a father.”

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