Last week the country came to a standstill as the nation mourned the Queen.
Even those who don’t identify themselves as monarchists described feeling a sense of discombobulation. For most of us, she’s just always been there. Not many people alive today can remember life before Queen Elizabeth II.
The coming weeks will mark the beginning of a new era in British history. The second Elizabethan age, which saw an end to the days of empire, and the introduction of rapid technological expansion, is over. What will define the reign of King Charles III is yet to be seen.
Supporters of the monarchy often cite the institution’s ability to bring people together as one of the main benefits of the existence of the royal family. We saw it during the pandemic when the Queen’s rare address to the nation spoke to the pain and isolation felt by millions across the country, with her final promise “we will meet again”, a steadying message of calm amongst the chaos. We saw it during the ‘Platty Joobs’ celebrations when school children dressed in red, white and blue and neighbours joined forces to make piles of sandwiches and bake cakes for community street parties. And we saw it last week, when mourners turned out in their thousands to watch Her Majesty make her final journey before lying in state ahead of her funeral.
But while the death of the Queen and the subsequent mourning period may have brought people together for a little while, the truth is King Charles III is preparing to reign over a nation in crisis.
Last week inflation figures showed that while falling petrol prices have brought the figure down to 9.9 per cent, inflation is still running close to a 40-year high. Even with the price cap on energy bills, millions of households do not know how they will afford to put their heating on this winter.
And King Charles III may know a thing or two about inherited wealth, but it’s not just in the royal family where hereditary privilege offers its members the golden ticket to a prosperous future in this country. Last week new research by sociologists Dr Katharina Hecht and Dr Daniel McArthur, published in the British Sociological Association’s journal Sociology, found income alone is not enough to break British class barriers – with class background remaining a barrier to accessing opportunities in later life, even among those who have successful careers.
The study of over 8,000 professionals and higher-level managers found that those who came from a well-off background were much more likely to move around the UK – and ended up in more affluent areas when they did move – than those with working-class parents.
The report found moving to a richer area meant better access to well-paid jobs and better schools, resulting in people from poorer backgrounds being “unable to close the gap” on their peers no matter how hard they work.
As the Queen is laid to rest and the nation reflects on an extraordinary life of service, we can only hope that the new era of monarchy strives for a fairer society for all.