Why are so many Americans mourning another country’s Queen?

Queen Elizabeth II will be missed, especially in America – a land that appreciated what she had to offer the world even if it didn’t want to be ruled by her

Jonathan Thomas
Monday 19 September 2022 11:19 BST
Queen Elizabeth II's playful moments

The Queen has died, and while this is a momentous occasion for the United Kingdom, it’s also turned out to be a rather momentous occasion for the country that rejected her ancestors in 1776.

Why do Americans still care so much about the Royal Family? It’s complicated.

The minute Queen Elizabeth II’s death was announced in the UK, it made the headlines here. I got the news alerts just seconds after the official BBC news alerts from the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times and others.

And while the death of a monarch is an era-changing event for Britain, it’s also the passing of an era for Americans who’ve had a fondness for the Queen her entire reign. This is a woman who has met with 13 US presidents. Thirteen! When I watched the announcement, I cried.

All across the USA, people have been commemorating the Queen and celebrating her amazing life. On the night of her death, buildings across America’s vast cityscapes changed their lights to purple to honor her. Our own president ordered official US flags to fly at half-mast.

Think about that for a second – we ordered our American flags to honor the monarch of a country we declared our independence from. I consider this our “thank you” for when she ordered the Queen’s guard to play the US national anthem the day after the 9/11 attacks.

The USA is home to hundreds of thousands of British ex-pats, and they’ve been commemorating her, most notably at America’s British-themed pubs and stores. The local British consulate has even put out an official book of condolence that people can sign, which will be sent back to Britain and go into the official archives. The US TV networks are providing wall-to-wall coverage of the funeral proceedings this week.

Why, though, do Americans care at all? She was an admirable woman – but let’s not forget that she was the figurehead of a declining empire that we left, and the symbol of the very hereditary system we abolished with our independence. We are culturally and philosophically opposed to the very idea of a hereditary monarchy. It’s un-American!

Well, strands of our Queen appreciation can be traced back to that very independence. The idea of separation from Britain was not universally supported in 1776, and according to some historians, an estimated 30 per cent of Americans didn’t want it. When we achieved our freedom, many of those Americans stayed and kept their fondness for their lost King (and perhaps hoped he would return).

But in the intervening years, a lot has changed. Most notably, the many Americans of British descent – English, Scottish, or Welsh – now number around 72 million people. So many Americans have British heritage and don’t even realise it, although they might appreciate Harry Potter, James Bond or Jane Austen. We’re a silent minority, compared to others in this country, and this pride in our heritage only really manifests itself when big royal occasions happen.

During the Second World War, American servicemen fell in love with British women, and after the war, brought them home. This led to an entire generation of children and grandchildren who had a British matriarch in their families who loved the Queen and talked about the home country wistfully.

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British culture is embedded deeply in American society, almost to the point where most people don’t notice. While American entertainment dominates the world, the second most influential cultural currency is British culture. British cultural institutions are incredibly popular in America – and while I was growing up, Roald Dahl, Mr Bean and Doctor Who were critical parts of my childhood. British culture is everywhere in America, and we love it. It’s what led me to start my own website, Anglotopia – dedicated to all things British back in 2007.

Americans will continue to commemorate the Queen in the most American way possible: by donning royalty or British-themed t-shirts and waking up in the middle of the night to watch the funeral coverage on TV from their couches. Possibly also drinking a cup of tea, or several,  depending on the hour.

The Queen – our Queen – was a permanent fixture in the world. She was someone for everyone to look up to. Her politics didn’t matter. She had an immense sense of duty and discharged those duties until the very end. She was apolitical, beloved by so many people. She was a calming yet powerful force in the world.

She will be missed, especially in America, a land that appreciated what she had to offer the world even if it didn’t want to be ruled by her. Whether those affections pass on to King Charles III remains to be seen, but I suspect they will.

Jonathan Thomas is the publisher of Anglotopia, a website dedicated to all things British, and the author of Adventures in Anglotopia and other books about British history and culture

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