It’s a huge monument, popular with tourists and pigeons alike, right in front of Buckingham Palace. Looking at it had me thinking about just how much times have changed in a little more than a century.
The Latin inscription reads ‘Regina Imperatrix.” My high school Latin translates that as “queen and empress.” The empire is long gone, though Britain still has a queen, Elizabeth II, great-granddaughter of the queen under whose reign the empire flourished so greatly in the 19th century.
I wonder what Victoria would think of her empire today, now that it has become a commonwealth of nations that feels increasingly irrelevant in our post-modern world. In the 21st century we frown on the notion of empire. At least, most of us do – I’m not sure about Vladimir Putin.
The sun never set on the British Empire, or so the cliché goes. It was certainly far-reaching. There are English speaking countries on every continent except Antarctica, which has no countries. No other language group has that extensive a reach.
The record of Victoria’s Empire is mixed. Certainly the United Kingdom prospered. I suspect many of the residents of the former colonies have mixed feelings about their time under British rule. Nobody likes it when someone else is in charge, even if they are mostly benevolent and have good intentions. They might even dispute the benevolence and the intentions.
In our more enlightened age we to tend to consider more the evils of colonialism. Victoria though might have been more inclined to look at the good. The British Empire was a civilizing force, as long as you accept their definition of civilization. I think a case could be made that the benefits outweighed the negatives. It would be a very interesting topic to debate, but we won’t do that here. Whether the pros or cons of empire win the debate doesn’t really matter – we can’t undo the past.
It’s been about 70 years since the end of the Empire, more or less. It depends on how you define it. The English speaking countries are loosely joined in a Commonwealth of Nations, and the UK is merely one member of about 50, not the boss of the others. Older Britons must still find that change difficult to accept. The sun has set on the Empire.
As I look at this monument I am reminded of a time that was and how much things have changed. I wonder if those changes are for the better?