The Queen has died, and while this is a momentous occasion for Britain, it has also proved momentous for the country that rejected her ancestors in 1776.
Why do Americans still care so much about the royal family? It’s complicated.
At the time the death of Queen Elizabeth II was announced in the UK, it made headlines here – I received news alerts just seconds after official BBC news alerts from New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times etc. And while the death of a monarch is an epoch-changing event for Great Britain, it is also the passing of an era for the Americans who have been fond of the Queen throughout her reign. This is a woman who met with 13 US presidents. Thirteen! When I watched the advertisement, I cried.
Throughout the United States, people commemorate the Queen and celebrate her amazing life. On the night of her death, buildings in America’s vast cityscapes turned purple to celebrate her. Our own president had the official US flags fly half mast.
Think about it for a moment – we ordered our American flags to honor the monarch of the country from which we proclaimed independence. I consider it our “thank you” for ordering the Queen’s Guard to play the US anthem the day after the 9/11 attacks.
The United States is home to hundreds of thousands of British expatriates who commemorate it, especially in American pubs and British-themed shops. The local British consulate has even issued an official condolence book that people can sign, which will be returned to the UK for official archives. US television networks are providing face-to-face coverage of the funeral this week.
But why do Americans care at all? She was an admirable woman – but let’s not forget that she was the figurehead of the failing empire we left, and a symbol of the very hereditary system we abolished with our independence. We are culturally and philosophically opposed to the very idea of a hereditary monarchy. It’s non-American!
Well, the threads of our appreciation of the Queen can be traced back to precisely this independence. The idea of separating from Britain was not widely advocated in 1776, and some historians said about 30 percent of Americans did not want it. When we achieved our freedom, many of these Americans remained and retained sympathy for the lost king (and perhaps they hoped he would come back).
But a lot has changed in recent years. First of all, many British Americans – English, Scots or Welsh – now number around 72 million. So many Americans have British heritage and are unaware of it, although they may appreciate Harry Potter, James Bond or Jane Austen. We are a silent minority compared to others in this country, and this pride in our heritage is only really revealed when there are great royal ceremonies.
During World War II, American soldiers fell in love with British women and brought them home after the war. This led to a whole generation of children and grandchildren who had a British matriarch in their families who loved the Queen and spoke longingly about her homeland.
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British culture is deeply embedded in American society, almost to the point where most people don’t notice it. While American entertainment dominates the world, British culture is the second most influential cultural currency. British cultural institutions are extremely popular in America – and when I was growing up, Roald Dahl, Mr Bean and Doctor Who they were critical parts of my childhood. British culture is everywhere in America and we love it. This prompted me to start my own website, Anglotopia – dedicated to all British affairs in 2007.
Americans will continue to commemorate the Queen in the most American way: donning royal or British shirts and waking up in the middle of the night to watch the funeral television coverage from their couches on TV. Alternatively, have a cup of tea or a few, depending on the time.
The Queen – our Queen – was a permanent fixture in the world. She was someone everyone could admire. Her politics didn’t matter. She had an enormous sense of duty, and she carried out these duties to the very end. She was apolitical, adored by so many people. She was a calming but powerful force in the world.
He will miss her, especially in America, a country that appreciated what it had to offer the world, even if it did not want to be ruled by it. It is not known if these feelings will pass on to King Charles III, but I suspect they will.
Jonathan Thomas is the publisher Anglotopiawebsite devoted to all British affairs, author of Adventures in Anglotopia and other books on British history and culture