Empire into Commonwealth: The Past, Present and Future role of Britain's royal family in a global context

Monday 8 March 2021 will be an unusual Commonwealth Day. The inevitable result of the pandemic has been the cancelation of the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey attended by members of the royal family, and its replacement by a special BBC programme to be broadcast on Sunday 7 March. Even more significant than lockdown, however, has been the impact of the Black Lives Matter protests on the Commonwealth. They have led a number of prominent Commonwealth organisations to start to discuss the legacies of Empire, a subject that had previously seemed to be out of bounds. 

Despite this shift in focus, however, members of the royal family will feature prominently in the BBC’s celebration of the Commonwealth on Sunday. The 2018 Summit in London saw Commonwealth leaders confirming that Prince Charles would succeed the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth, maintaining the strong royal connection. Indeed, in their former roles as president and vice president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have shown how members of the royal family can embrace new agendas, including encouraging Commonwealth dialogue about legacies of Empire. At the same time, however, signs that Barbados plans to move to republican status and controversy in Australia over the ‘Palace Letters’ have raised fresh questions about the role of the Crown in the Commonwealth Realms, and the removal of the Commonwealth patronages of Harry and Meghan present uncertainty about their future relationship to the organisation.

In this special Commonwealth Day online seminar, an expert panel will examine why the royal family has played such an important part in the history and evolution of the Commonwealth and will discuss what its future role might be as the UK government attempts to chart the future of ‘Global Britain’. Why has the ‘British’ monarchy proved so durable? What advantages has the close association between monarchy and Commonwealth brought, and what have been the drawbacks and the dangers?

Speakers include:

  • Dr Anna Whitelock, is a Reader in Early Modern History and is Director of the London Centre for Public History and Heritage at Royal Holloway, University of London. Principal Investigator on ‘The Visible Crown: Queen Elizabeth II and the Caribbean, 1952 to the present’.
  • Dr Alice Hunt, Associate Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture, University of Southampton. Co-Investigator on ‘The Visible Crown’.
  • Dr Harshan Kumarasingham, Senior Lecturer in British Politics, University of Edinburgh.
  • Dr Kate Quinn, Associate Professor in Caribbean History, Institute of the Americas, UCL. Co-Investigator on ‘The Visible Crown’.
  • Dr Ed Owens, historian of the modern British monarchy and the media state and author of The Family Firm. Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53.
  • Chair: Philip Murphy, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and Director of History and Policy.
Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Anna Whitelock (RHUL), Alice Hunt (University of Southampton), Harshan Kumarasingham (University of Edinburgh), Kate Quinn (nstitute of the Americas, UCL), Ed Owens and Philip Murphy (ICwS)
Event date: 
Monday, 8 March 2021 - 5:30pm