Timothy Parker feels ambivalent about the events of the last week. “On the one hand,” the 21-year-old says, “someone of unquestionable importance has died.” On the other, the blanket coverage of royal affairs – “royals with flowers, royals with pens, royals with letters” – has left him frustrated.
While he is respectful of those in mourning and understands that the death of the Queen is a historic event, he finds the pomp and ceremony during a cost of living crisis “infuriating”. “I’m aware that part of it is symbolic, but don’t those symbolic acts just reinforce the underlying class hierarchies that are so plain to see?” he says.
Parker, a modern languages student, from Morton, Lincolnshire, is one of a growing minority of young Britons who are sceptical of the monarchy. According to polling last year by YouGov, up to a quarter of all adults want an elected head of state, up from a fifth in 2019. But among young people, the figure is higher, with 41% of 18 to 24-year-olds wanting an elected head of state and 31% saying they would like to see the monarchy continue. The trend is mirrored in analysis by the National Centre for Social Research, which shows support for the monarchy is declining among younger age groups.
Despite his republican leanings, Parker, who says he has “reverence for the Queen as she’s been in all our lives” but no such affection for Charles, thinks discussion about the monarchy is “hardly the most pressing issue of our times”. “Alternatives to monarchy don’t solve social inequality,” he says.
But unlike his family, who believe that discussing the issue now is in “bad taste”, he thinks it’s the right time for a debate. The arrest of anti-monarchy protesters under breach of the peace laws only served to strengthen his resolve.
“It pains me to see any attempt to discuss the role of the monarchy shut down as if it’s treasonous and horribly disrespectful,” he says. “I would rather discuss it now than wait until everyone’s lost interest and we just return to accepting the status quo.”
For Charlie Taylor, too, the last few days have bolstered his feelings about the need for reform. The 26-year-old from Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, has disliked how “forced” he believes everything feels, “from the stretched-out funeral procession to shutting down food banks for the day and absurdly minuscule acts, such as shutting a bike rack”. He is frustrated that “none of the discourse is zooming out to look at colonialism”.
The monarchy, he believes, is a “relic of the past”. “I don’t find my views extreme. I’m angry primarily because all the talk is positive and sentimental,” he says. “I just want an honest conversation about the reality. The Queen’s reign wasn’t sunshine and rainbows.”
As with Parker, Taylor’s thoughts have led to debate at home. Hearing his father refer to himself as “one of the Queen’s subjects” was jarring, and a conversation about the near wall-to-wall TV coverage scheduled for the Queen’s funeral on Monday led to a heated debate with his mother and sister. He can’t see the point of broadcasting it across all channels, but they disagree. “There’s simply no need from a logical standpoint but all I got in pushback was ‘it’s tradition’,” he says.
Sarah Davies, who lives in Walthamstow, east London and holds republican views, has also found the issue divisive, and says she has felt “genuinely shaken” by the way “anti-monarchists have been treated” since the Queen’s death, including the arrests of protesters.
“I have always been proud to live in London, and to live somewhere where free speech is celebrated. But I have felt this week that I cannot say what I think. I’m worried I might offend someone, even friends and workmates,” the 39-year-old, who works in public health, says. “I’ve felt oppressed in a way that I never thought I would living in London.”
Anna Farrow, 26, an interior designer from Eastbourne, adds that she has “always been staunchly anti-monarchy and this past week has cemented that fully”. “How anyone can defend the cost of the funeral and coronation in a cost-of-living crisis is beyond me,” she says.
Whether the gradual decrease in support for the monarchy will accelerate under King Charles, or turn into something more, remains to be seen. But what’s undeniable is that interest in the debate has spiked in recent days. Hashtags including #abolishthemonarchy and #notmyking have trended intermittently on Twitter, while Google searches for “abolish the monarchy” – which typically spike after royal scandals – reached an all-time high.
But some online communities for royalists have also seen their numbers swell. One such group on the forum platform Discord has more than 500 members and has seen young people from the UK joining in recent days. “I’m a monarchist myself and I’d love to find an active community of like-minded peeps to have fruitful discussions regarding the same,” one new member wrote. “Also here to mourn the passing of Her Majesty.”
Reko Smith, 23, a royal supporter, who lives in Basingstoke and works in project management, adds that his views on the monarchy have “always been positive” and says the fact “many young people don’t connect” with the royals is “unfortunate”.
He believes that the Queen’s “lifelong dedication and devotion to service” were incredible, and he is optimistic for the monarchy’s future. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he says. “I have no doubt King Charles III will follow in his mother’s footsteps.”
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