Queen Elizabeth II passed away from health complications on Sept. 8, marking the end of her 70-year reign as Queen of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth. The Queen, who served as queen regnant of 32 sovereign states over her lifetime, ascended to the throne in 1952 at the age of 27 and was 96 at the time of her passing in 2022.
The Queen passed away in the royal summer estate of Balmoral Castle, located in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, where she was carried by hearse for six hours to Edinburgh on Sept. 10 before finally being flown back to London to be buried in Westminster Abbey.
Brenda Perez Palaez ’24 was just about to depart to London for her study abroad in Edinburgh when she learned of the Queen’s passing.
“I left from JFK and there wasn’t much reaction [there], most of the reaction I saw was online,” Palaez said. “However, once I arrived in London, it was everywhere. All the screens at the airport said [things like] ‘Heathrow Airport is saddened by the Queen’s passing’, [and there was a] multitude of screens with pictures of the Queen and her birth date and death date.”
Although Palaez had arrived early enough to escape most of the crowds in London, her dorm in Edinburgh lay along the Royal Mile where the procession for the Queen’s coffin was being held.
“On my way back to my dorm I couldn’t go the easy route because there was such a long queue for people to wait to see her coffin after the procession,” Palaez said. “I was there in time to hear Prince Charles on the microphone talk about his mother and her life. And then it ended and there was a bunch of British music and bands playing, and finally after half an hour of that they lifted the barriers open and I made it home.”
Several orientation activities in the University of Edinburgh were canceled in the wake of the Queen’s passing, and many Commonwealth nations, such as Canada and Australia, held a national holiday and public day of mourning on Sept. 22 — the day of the Queen’s funeral.
Another student who was studying abroad in Edinburgh, Emma Wickline ’24, noted that despite the public display of grief and disruption of daily life, many things were quickly returning to normalcy.
“People are already moving on,” Wickline said in an interview on Sept. 14, nearly a week after the Queen’s death. “I was in London on the day after she died and people I talked to wanted to be quiet and thoughtful, but at this point everybody has mostly moved on. I was sitting on a bus, and the bus was 15 minutes late and a student outside of IKEA was like ‘Oh my God.’ He was just complaining about it, annoyed with the Queen for dying because it making his day inconvenient.”
Although hailed as a symbol of stability and grace in Britain, the Queen’s legacy abroad was not without controversy. For many, the Queen represented an unaddressed legacy of British exploitation and colonialism in Asian, African and South American countries. The Queen’s death has been followed not just with grief, but also anger in countries such as Kenya, where during the Mau Mau uprisings the British had forced roughly 1.5 million Kenyans into brutal concentration camps between 1952 and 1960 during colonial rule.
“Rationally, I think she was special to a lot of people, but she also represented so much oppression and colonialism,” Wickline said.
Though Palaez was excited to be able witness a crucial moment in history, she also felt mixed emotions about the Queen’s death.
“As far as I know, me and other students abroad are both fortunate and unfortunate for having arrived at this time,” Palaez said, referring to the constant delays, crowds and roadblocks that she has had to navigate in Edinburgh in her first few days. “I don’t really care for the Queen. All I know is that she was royalty and she was a colonizer. I don’t really like to go into the Queen’s history, but in her lifetime she hasn’t been particularly kind to what you would call the British colonies or what they used to be. She didn’t do as much as she could. I know royalty doesn’t have as much power, but her words had influence and she didn’t use them for the right reasons sometimes.”