Since the death of Queen Elizabeth II (QE2) people outside of the Commonwealth have been paying more attention to the Brits and their interactions with Black folks, in particular. Very little has been done to put the situation into historical context. In order to understand who she was and what she represented we need to connect all the dots.
When QE2 died, her son, Charles III ascended to the throne. Most of us only know about him, because of his “martyred” wife Princess Diana and his scandalous relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles. What we should be asking is how is he related to Charles I and Charles II, and what role did they play in the historical development of Britain’s constitutional monarchy?
The history of Charles I is a bloody tale, indeed, which includes the 1st of 3 English Civil Wars and ends with his beheading at Whitehall, London in 1649. It’s important to keep in mind, while England is in the midst of some very serious disruptions in the continuum they’re also attempting to maintain control of their American colonies. These colonies represented a potential source of revenue through the trade of slaves, sugar, tea, rum and the taxes imposed by The Crown. These same kinds of taxes were being levied on British subjects just like they were being levied on the American colonists and the reaction to them was quite similar, open revolt. It was only 100 years after the untimely demise of Charles I before the American colonists really became a problem, but all during this time slavery was becoming more and more important to the British economy.
The involvement of the Brits in the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade did not begin with Charles I. It began with the pirate, Sir John Hawkins and his patron Elizabeth I (QE1). She not only approved the 1st British slaving voyage, she also funded later slaving voyages of his.
Following the reign of QE1 we have James VI and I (of Scotland & England), who commissioned the King James Bible for the exclusive use of the Anglican church. Mind you, this is the very same Bible that American slave holders used, to justify all manner of atrocities related to the capture and enslavement of African men, women and children.
The story of Charles I continues with his conflict with Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was one of the landed gentry; senior commander of the Parliamentarian army, in England’s Civil Wars as well as a leading member of parliament. The significance of Cromwell and his role in the establishment of the British Commonwealth cannot be understated. Cromwell rose from obscurity to become England’s 1st Lord Protector. His son tried to follow in his footsteps, but was not up to the task, which led to the reestablishment of the British monarchy, as a constitutional monarchy.
This brings us to Charles II who returned from exile, in 1660, to become Britain’s 1st constitutional monarch, a monarch under the authority of Parliament. Charles II accepted the terms of this new relationship between The Crown and Britain’s politicians, but he didn’t necessarily like it. This might explain why Charles II went to all the trouble to remove Cromwell from his place of eternal rest, in one of the walls of Westminster Abbey, to have him drawn & quartered. From 1660 to 1690 Cromwell’s head adorned the top of a pike at the entrance to the Tower of London. I’ll spare you the details involved in drawing and quartering someone. Suffice it to say, it’s not nearly as ‘fun’ when the victim’s been dead for 2 years. Desecration of a grave is one of the worst things you can do to someone. Drawing & quartering, followed by the display of one’s head on a pike beside London Bridge was a special kind of desecration reserved for traitors to the Crown.
Volumes have been written about the British Crown (monarchy). The story of Charles I, Charles II, Cromwell and their relationship to QE2 and Charles III are but a few chapters in a long and brutal history of Europe’s monarchs. The reign of QE2 was one chapter, but it was certainly not the most important chapter. We can talk all we want about what she did, but we can’t put it into context until we read all the chapters that preceded hers. Considering the fact that the British monarchy goes back over 1,000 years, this is a daunting, but necessary task. Today’s current events all have back stories, unfortunately we typically know nothing about these back stories until tragedy strikes. Our typical response to the breaking news is, “that’s crazy,” but in light of the historical record, much of what happens is quite predictable.
As for QE2 she played a role in stabilizing the UK for most of the 20th century. She is the link to our African past and the future of the African diaspora. As members of the Commonwealth, many former colonies are still tied to Britain, as evidenced by the fact that QE2 is still on their money and considered their “head of state.” The question is, will the British Parliament allow members of the Commonwealth to be truly independent or will they continue to hold them hostage. If they do allow for their true independence, will it be a positive move for the former colonial subjects? Time will tell!