Across the globe, the death of Queen Elizabeth II has prompted reflections on the historic sweep of her reign and how she succeeded in presiding over the end of Britain’s colonial empire and embracing the independence of her former dominions.
Tributes to the queen’s life have poured in, from world leaders to rock stars to ordinary people — along with some criticism of the monarchy.
It was in Cape Town, marking her 21st birthday in 1947, that the then Princess Elizabeth pledged that her “whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
The British empire soon crumbled, but Elizabeth managed to maintain a regal — if ceremonial — position as the head of the Commonwealth, the 56 nations of mostly previous British colonies.
“The Queen lived a long and consequential life, fulfilling her pledge to serve until her very last breath at the age of 96,” Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, said in a statement Friday. “She was an exemplary leader of the kind seldom seen in the modern era.”
As queen, Elizabeth was seen as endorsing the birth of democracies in former colonies in Africa where Black citizens previously had been denied basic rights, including the vote. When in glittering tiaras she danced with new African leaders in the 1960s and visited their capital cities, she burnished the new institutions.
When white-minority rule finally fell in South Africa in 1994, Elizabeth welcomed Nelson Mandela as a world leader. Her openly warm friendship with Mandela was enjoyed by him, and it gave her a new relevance.
“In the years after his release from prison, (Mandela) cultivated a close relationship with the queen. He hosted her in South Africa and visited her in England, taking particular delight in exploring Buckingham Palace. They also talked on the phone frequently, using their first names with each other as a sign of mutual respect as well as affection,” the Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement Friday.
“For Madiba (Mandela’s clan name) it was important that the former colonial power in southern Africa should be drawn into cordial and productive relations with the newly democratic republic of South Africa. For the same reason, South Africa becoming a full member of the Commonwealth again after its long apartheid-era absence had a special significance.”
Fellow radical anti-apartheid fighter, Anglican archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, also enjoyed good relations with the queen, and his foundation paid tribute to her.
“Although ensconced in the pomp, ceremony and lifestyle of royalty and empire, in a world of profound inequality, she was a servant queen,” Tutu’s foundation and trust said Friday.
In contrast, a scathing view of the queen’s rule was issued by South Africa’s populist party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. The queen was “head of an institution built up, sustained, and living off a brutal legacy of dehumanization of millions of people across the world,” said the statement.
“We do not mourn the death of Elizabeth, because to us her death is a reminder of a very tragic period in this country and Africa’s history,” said the party. “During her 70-year reign as queen, she never once acknowledged the atrocities that her family inflicted on native people that Britain invaded across the world. She willingly benefited from the wealth that was attained from the exploitation and murder of millions of people across the world.”
Some Irish soccer fans raucously cheered the queen’s death at a match Thursday night, according to videos posted online that angered her supporters. The Republic of Ireland’s leadership expressed condolences and admiration for the queen.
The widespread tributes that followed her death came not only from United States President Joe Biden but also from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
She was a “stateswoman of unmatched dignity and constancy who deepened the bedrock alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States,” Biden and first lady Jill Biden said in a statement, adding that she ”defined an era.”
Putin sent a telegram to King Charles III — Elizabeth’s son who automatically became Britain’s new monarch.
“For many decades, Elizabeth II rightfully enjoyed the love and respect of her subjects, as well as authority on the world stage. I wish you courage and perseverance in the face of this heavy, irreparable loss,” Putin wrote.
Elizabeth was mourned across Europe. In France, Britain’s historic rival and contemporary ally, officials ordered flags at the presidential palace and public buildings be lowered to half-staff on Friday.
President Emmanuel Macron hailed her “immutable moral authority” and her intimate knowledge of French. He said no other foreign sovereign had visited the presidential palace more often than Elizabeth, who knew all eight presidents of contemporary France.
“The woman who stood alongside the giants of the 20th century on the path of history has left to join them,” Macron said in a statement.
Even in places where the relationship with British monarchy is complicated, the tributes flowed. In India, once a British colony, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Elizabeth “a stalwart of our times.”
The queen’s death came as a growing number of British territories in the Caribbean are seeking to replace the monarch with their own heads of state amid demands that Britain apologize for its colonial-era abuses and award its former colonies slavery reparations.
Still, Caribbean leaders mourned her.
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that for many years Elizabeth visited the island every decade.
“Undoubtedly, she formed a special bond with the people of Jamaica,” he said. “We are saddened that we will not see her light again, but we will remember her historic reign.”
Bermuda Premier David Burt noted that her reign “has spanned decades of such immense change for the United Kingdom and the world.”
It was not only Britain that lost its queen. Elizabeth was also sovereign to 14 other countries including Jamaica, Canada, Australia, the Solomon Islands and New Zealand.
“Here is a woman who gave her life, utterly, to the service of others. And regardless of what anyone thinks of the role of monarchies around the world, there is undeniably, I think here, a display of someone who gave everything on behalf of her people,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was having trouble believing he’d had his last sit-down chat with Elizabeth: “I will so miss those chats,” he said. Elizabeth had visited Canada some 22 times as monarch.
“For most Canadians, we have known no other sovereign,” Trudeau said. He said she was a “constant presence in our lives — and her service to Canadians will forever remain an important part of our country’s history.”
Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who led a failed campaign to have an Australian president replace the British monarch as Australia’s head of state, came close to tears in paying tribute to Elizabeth.
“It’s the end of an era and let’s hope that the future, after the queen’s passing, is one where we will have leadership as dedicated and selfless as she has shown,” Turnbull told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Elizabeth’s death held people’s attention in China, where it was a top trending topic on social media.
“I feel quite sad,” said Bao Huifang, a lawyer in Beijing. “She played a very important role in stabilizing Britain and the world.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his condolences, noting Elizabeth was the first British monarch to visit China.
Elizabeth’s death comes amid increasingly tense relations between Britain and China. Xi said he was willing to work with King Charles III on promoting “healthy and stable” bilateral ties.
In the U.S., tributes came not only from the Bidens but also from every living former president.
Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, said Elizabeth made “the role of queen her own — with a reign defined by grace, elegance, and a tireless work ethic.” George W. Bush called her “a woman of great intellect, charm, and wit,” and Jimmy Carter said Elizabeth’s “dignity, graciousness and sense of duty” were inspiring.
Rock star Elton John paid tribute at his Toronto concert, saying he was inspired by her and is sad she is gone. “She led the country through some of our greatest and darkest moments with grace and decency and genuine caring,” John said.
At the United Nations, the Security Council stood in silent tribute at the start of a meeting on Ukraine. France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere, the council president, sent condolences on behalf of its 15 members.
Elizabeth presided “over a period of historic changes both for her country and the world,” he said. “Her life was devoted to the service of her country.”
—Andrew Meldrum, The Associated Press