The true story of Elizabeth II and the empire she supported

Queen Elizabeth II succeeded her father, King George VI, in February 1952.

A few months later, in September of that year, British authorities in Wales executed an innocent man who had emigrated to Britain from Somaliland, then a British colony in East Africa.

The man’s name was Mahmoud Mattan, and he was a sailor and laborer in a Welsh ironworks. He was married to a white Welsh woman, Laura Williams, also a factory worker, at a time when interracial marriage was not widely accepted in Britain.

A court in South Wales found Mattan guilty of murder because he was of the same race as the person who actually committed the crime and was the true killer of the clerk Lily Volpert.

Once a sailor, he was almost helpless to defend himself. He did not speak much English, and his own court-appointed barrister described him as “half-natural child, half-civilized savage”.

Mahmoud Mattan didn’t stand a chance in the English courts 70 years ago. His case was swiftly processed from short trial to execution in just six months and received little attention at the time.

In another era, 45 years after British justice relentlessly allowed the hanging of an innocent man, a British Court of Appeal overturned Mattan’s conviction and awarded more than £700,000 in compensation to his family. . This is equivalent to over $2 million Canadian dollars today.

This year, 2022, five days before Queen Elizabeth II died, South Wales Police finally apologized for their involvement in the miscarriage of justice.

The case of Mahmoud Mattan forms another bookend for the official account of Elizabeth II’s 70-year tenure. This version is not just about selfless lifelong service. It is also one of hers of racism, colonialism and brutality, and one of hers of justice too long overdue.

Princess Elizabeth at treetop in Kenya

Only a few British colonies achieved independence in 1952.

Of course, there were white countries, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa (mostly black and brown, but white-only governments), and in the late 1940s, India, Pakistan, Burma, and Sri Lanka. . .

However, the rest of the empire remained under British control. This included Malaysia and Singapore in Asia, as well as many African and Caribbean colonies with tens of millions of people.

The writer began attending the immigrant working-class Berkeley School in Montreal’s Park Extension neighborhood seven months after Elizabeth ascended the throne. The school was part of Montreal’s Protestant, English system.

At that time, our school maps proudly showed a vast swath of the earth colored in the red of the British Empire. Each day, I pledged allegiance to the Union Jack, the Empire, and the Queen immediately after saying the Lord’s Prayer.

A good number of our teachers were enthusiastic royalists and British imperialists. They took special pride in the fact that sailors, soldiers, merchants, and missionaries from the small islands of the North Atlantic had successfully conquered much of the world.

In October of the first year of Elizabeth II’s reign, Evelyn Baring, then governor-general of British colonial Kenya, declared a state of emergency. He, Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), commonly known as the Mau Mau Rebellion.

The KLFA’s actions responded to more than half a century of British theft of land that had been cultivated by Africans for centuries.

Late 19th and early 20’sth Over the centuries, British colonial forces seized some 7 million acres of Kenya’s fertile land, most of which later became known as the “White Highlands” and handed over to white settlers. Those they called “natives” were encouraged to become wage labourers.

KLFA fighters wanted the land back and were willing to use force to achieve their goals. The British reaction was more than just forceful. There was no talk at the time in Westminster’s halls about finding compromises to seek a peaceful path to Kenya’s autonomy.

British authorities in the East African colonies carried out mass arrests and sent tens of thousands to camps. A Kenyan lawyer later compared it to Nazi concentration camps.

In early 1952, when her father died and Kenya was in turmoil, then-Princess Elizabeth happened to be in Kenya. She and her husband were at the exclusive Treetops Resort, where guests stay in comfortable cabins literally built among the trees, overlooking the nearby savannah and forest.

Retrospective news features and partly fictional TV miniseries crown depicts a new queen in Kenya in 1952.

Starting with Ghana in 1957 and Nigeria in 1960, Kenya and most of the other British colonies in Africa eventually achieved independence.

As head of the British Commonwealth, the Queen showed beneficial allegiance to the nations shedding the yoke of colonial rule.

South Africa and royal sanctions in the war against Hitler

Queen Elizabeth II even sided with non-white Commonwealth countries (and Canada’s Brian Mulroney) when they voted to impose sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime in 1986. (In 1961, Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was the only leader of a “white” nation to join the majority in pushing South Africa out of the Commonwealth.)

At the 1986 Commonwealth Congress, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher adamantly opposed any sanctions against the apartheid state. However, Mulroney and the Queen’s staff worked skilfully to come up with a wording that would be acceptable to both Thatcher and the rest of the Commonwealth.

The British monarch’s interest in this matter is for historians to conduct a Field Day analysis.

Was she deeply concerned with human rights?

Or did Elizabeth II simply want to keep the Commonwealth viable?

The Queen understood that if the organization she led did not take action against apartheid, white nations would not leave in solidarity with South Africa, but non-white nations would very likely leave. Falcon?

Whatever her motives, the late Queen’s stance on apartheid may have been her finest hour. It is matched only by the courage and fortitude of her parents and her and her sister during the horrific days of World War II.

Much of Europe, including France, Belgium, Poland, Holland, Denmark, and Norway, fell under Hitler’s tyranny. Britain, along with Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth, confronted the Nazi thirst for world domination virtually alone.

Before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in late 1941, there were loud voices in the United States wishing Britain sick and predicting its defeat. There was a share of defeatists and Nazi sympathizers, including a certain David.

The royal family refused an offer to transport them safely across the Atlantic to this country, Canada. I stayed.

Princess Elizabeth was still a teenager at the time, but she did her part. Even those of us who believe she speaks the truth outright about the horrors of empire and colonialism must recognize her contribution to that.

Edict of 1763

Many of Canada’s Aboriginal leaders have recently spoken out about their special relationship with the British royal family.

They all refer to treaties concluded by the Government in the name of the King, in particular the Edict of 1763.

The proclamation was part of the British government’s efforts to consolidate imperial interests at the end of the Seven Years’ War with France.

With the goal of winning the allegiance of indigenous groups throughout North America, the Royal Proclamation states that settlers may seize, occupy, or seize so-called indigenous lands without treaties freely agreed upon by the indigenous peoples or legal purchase of the lands. or should not be used.

Canada’s Constitutional Act of 1982 confirms the Royal Proclamation and subsequent treaties with Indigenous groups.

But it would be a mistake to think that the king who issued the decree, George III, had any principled commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples.

18th The main interests of the king of the century and those of the British government were geopolitical. They wanted to match their French rivals, who still had a sizeable presence in North America.

Nevertheless, the facts of the treaty and decree underscore how constitutionally difficult it would be to abolish the monarchy in Canada.

Canada’s Constitution (as amended in 1982) states that all 10 provinces and the federal government must agree to abolish the monarchy and replace it with another system.

Indigenous peoples’ consent to such changes is not a formal requirement, but a de facto and moral one.

So, like it or not, we stick to the monarchy, perhaps until Britain itself decides to ditch it. (In Britain, a simple act of parliament could abolish the monarchy.)

So why in Canada should we use this moment to consider the institution of the monarchy in a more complete context?

Now, for the last week or so, we have been collectively fascinated by the solemnity of the grand ceremony that accompanies bidding farewell to the longest-reigning monarch.

But even when we say goodbye, we can also remember the deep and inescapable connection between the crown and the innocent history of “the empire it stands for,” to use the phrase we recite every day in school. .

The true story of Elizabeth II and the empire she supported

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