The era of warm, wave-and-smile relations between the British monarchy and its distant realms has come to an end. Many of the former colonies that still formally swear allegiance to King Charles III are accelerating efforts to cut ties with the crown and demanding restitution and a deeper reckoning with the empire that the royal family has come to represent.
Jamaica is moving rapidly toward a referendum that would remove King Charles as the nation’s head of state, with a reform committee meeting regularly on the verdant grounds where colonial rulers and slave owners once lived. Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Bahamas and nearly every other country with similar systems of constitutional monarchy have also signaled support for becoming republics completely independent of Britain in the years to come.
The chorus of calls for British apologies, reparations and repatriation — of everything from India’s Kohinoor diamond to sculptures from Benin and Easter Island — has also grown louder, placing the new king in a vexing position. Charles represents nearly 1,000 years of unbroken royal lineage; he also now stands on a volatile fault line between Britain, where much of that history tends to be romanticized, and a group of forthright former colonies demanding that he confront the harsh realities of his country’s imperial past.
“There is a growing gap between Britain’s perception of its own empire and how it’s perceived everywhere else,” said William Dalrymple, a prominent historian of British India. “And that gap keeps growing.”
For countries still constitutionally joined to the crown, Charles’s coronation arrived with little fanfare, and some cringing discomfort.
These nations are but a remnant. In the wave of decolonization that followed World War II, dozens of independent countries climbed out from under British rule, including India, Pakistan and Nigeria. During Elizabeth’s seven-decade reign, which began in 1952, 17 former colonies left the monarchy’s embrace to become republics — in most cases, with a president replacing the queen as head of state, usually in the ceremonial role previously played by the monarch (India) or with stronger executive powers (Kenya).