Queen Elizabeth II passed away at 96, two years after her husband for 77 years, Prince Philip, who died at 99. When the Queen ascended to the throne in 1952, 70 years ago, she was not only the head of state of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but dozens of colonies in what was then the British Empire, where the sun never set, as they used to say. Alas, for most people, life in the colonies was dark and miserable; people were oppressed, lived without human and democratic rights, and had minimal say in the running of their countries. The independence struggle lasted for decades, from the 1940s.

British India was a crown colony, under the Emperor of India. It became Pakistan and India on 14 and 15 August 1947 when the British Raj was dissolved. Many other countries became independent in the next decades, mainly in the late 1950s and 1960s, overseen by King George VI as constitutional head of state from 1936-1952, followed by his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. When it was announced that her father had passed away and she had inherited the throne, she was on holiday with her husband Prince Philip in the African colony of Kenya, which gained independence in 1963.

It is an interesting piece of history that the British head of state was also the constitutional head of state of Pakistan from 1952-1956 when the country became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Thus, we can say that Queen Elizabeth II was the Last Queen of Pakistan. Good to know perhaps for those Pakistanis who have dual citizenship, or otherwise feel quite British at heart.

The Queen was at the time of her passing, the ceremonial head of state of fourteen countries outside the UK, with Australia, New Zealand, and Canada being the largest ones. Now King Charles III has taken over the ceremonial duties. Some of the smaller countries may now consider if they should withdraw from the old British link and become republics.

Today, the former British colonies, and some other Anglophone countries, are voluntary members of the Commonwealth of Nations, which currently has fifty-six members, including Pakistan. The countries must have a democratic rule to remain members, and if not, which happened to Pakistan during military rule, membership is frozen till democracy is again restored.

The ceremonial chair of the Commonwealth is always the British head of state. Queen Elizabeth II took her role as head of the Commonwealth particularly seriously. It has been suggested that the chair should rotate among the members, as is common in other international organizations and associations. The Commonwealth Secretariat, with its elected Secretary General, is located in London, UK, and it carries out important work in the interest of all members. The British Council has some similar tasks but focuses more on the UK’s benefits.

Let me tell a few stories related to the Queen and UK; they are quite interesting albeit perhaps not of great international significance. Well, being a Norwegian, I may even think they are important. First, King Charles III is not named after the two earlier British kings with the same name, Charles I, ruling from 1625-1649, and Charles II, from 1660-1685. It is said he is named after the first Norwegian king in modern times, notably King Haakon VII, born in 1872, who became King of Norway from 1905-1957. He was born a Danish prince by the name of Carl (Charles in English), a younger brother of King Christian X of Denmark. The Danish and the British royals were close relatives, as were most royals in Europe at that time and even today. King Haakon VII was known to the UK royals as ‘Uncle Charles’. He spent much of his time in the UK and married the British Princess Maud.

As the union between Norway and Sweden, lasting from 1814-1905, was dissolved, the Norwegians had already asked Prince Carl if he would accept to become King of Norway, having no real royal duties at home, and Norway wanted to be a monarchy as per a referendum. He took the name of King Haakon VII of Norway, and his wife became Queen Maud of Norway. They moved to Norway and learned skiing and other winter sports, but it was said that Queen Maud, although popular amongst Norwegians, always considered England her real homeland.

King Haakon VII became an important symbol of Norway’s resistance to Nazi Germany’s occupation of Norway from 1940-45. His weekly radio speeches from London, where he and the Norwegian Cabinet in Exile were based, played a significant role in the resistance movement. In our ‘Internet Age’, it is interesting to know that there was a death penalty for keeping a radio during the war as people should be kept in the dark about the development of the war.

Queen Elizabeth II’s first state visit to a foreign country outside the Commonwealth was to Norway in 1955. She came back on two more state visits in 1981 and 2001, and a semi-official visit in 1969. There were several Norwegian state visits to the UK, and numerous official and private visits by the royals, including the Norwegian King and Queen’s annual visits; after all, they were relatives, and the Queen and the current King of Norway were second cousins.

Queen Elizabeth II undertook state visits to Pakistan in 1961 and 1997. Then there was the much-publicized visit to Pakistan by Princess Diana in 1996. But these visits and other aspects of the Pakistan-UK relations and the royals would need several separate articles, and I may try to write something another time.

At this time of the Queen’s passing, let me have a few considerations on the role of the monarchy in the one dozen or so European countries, which still have the outdated institution; the role of the head of state is inherited, not by democratic election. The Queen was the most respected of all the royals, surrounded by spin, pomp, and circumstance everywhere. The argument for keeping the institution is often that it has something lasting and constant about it in a world where so many things change.

The British institution must change and King Charles III must not stop speaking his mind, even when it will create debate. His mother never gave an interview and she remains almost a mythical figure throughout her reign. But that time is gone now. The Scandinavian monarchies have modernized, especially the Norwegian one, where the King has many times expressed important and wise opinions on current issues, such as migration and multiculturalism, religion, gender relations, and more. King Charles III said earlier that he doesn’t only want to be the official ‘head of the faith’, notably the Anglican state church, but he would rather be known as the ‘head of faith’, to include all religions.

Finally, let me mention that Queen Elizabeth II, behind the scene, contributed to the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa, at a time when some UK politicians, such as PM Margaret Thatcher, did little and delayed placing sanctions on the South African regime at that time.

It should be stressed that the top royals in their functions must always try to be on the side of the time they live in, and on the side of people and causes who need support; today, that includes environment and climate change, equality issues, and poverty reduction, peace development, and more. Princess Diana was involved in important causes, the Queen, too, and the Norwegians royals. Now it is King Charles’ turn to do things—his way—as the country’s constitutional head of state, top diplomat, and, yes, a paid civil servant. If he remains aloof, not concerned about real issues, he will gain little respect, especially not among the youth, and the institution may become less relevant and the sun will set over the UK’s kingdom.