LONDON — Britain may feel as though it has stopped supporting after Queen Elizabeth II’s death, but not everyone on the islands agrees that the hereditary monarch should remain the unelected head of state in modern democracies.
Polls show that a significant minority – millions of Britons – want to abolish the monarchy. Many of these people remained silent last week, out of respect for the queen, but some challenged the crowds to carry a defiant message to their newly ascended ruler: “Not my king.”
This republican commotion is nothing new. But many campaigners believed King Charles III presented a unique opportunity: They thought most royalism actually favored the much-loved queen, and he—the new, less popular king—would not inherit this endorsement.
Debate has been made for some of the fever scenes.
As thousands of people thronged Edinburgh’s historic streets to see Charles be proclaimed king of Scotland on September 11, a small group of detractors booed, held anti-royal placards and turned around declaring “disagreement.”
A woman, holding a sign reading “F—imperialism” was arrested for violating the peace. And all were greeted with ridicule, followed by chants of “God save the king!”
“We want to make it clear that there is more than one point of view about the monarchy in this country,” said John Hall, 33, one of the half a dozen protesters. “I want to be here and mark the fact that I disapprove of this procession.”
Anti-royal crew outside St. Giles Edinburgh was among a handful of protesters who filled England, popping up in London, Wales and elsewhere. They often drew angry reactions from mourners and onlookers who came out to see the queen make her final journey from Balmoral Castle, in the Scottish Highlands, where she died, to Windsor Castle, west of London, where she was buried Monday.
Many activists interviewed by NBC News across the country said they did not want to disturb the mourning period, and that they would not protest special occasions to commemorate the queen. But they felt they had no choice but to make their voices heard because Charles’ ceremonial appointment – a highly political event, they argued – was happening at the same time.
The essence of their argument is that the birth lottery has no place to determine the head of state of one of Europe’s largest economies. They also say the monarchy costs British taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds a year. (This is disputed by the monarchy, who says the royal “brand” brings a net profit from tourism and culture.)
Then there are those who do not agree with the message he sent.
While anyone, in theory, could become president of the United States, only a select few could become the head of state of the United Kingdom. For critics, it’s part of a rigid class system that silently tells Britons: No matter how hard you work, it still matters who your parents are.
These views are not as simple as the crowds and wall-to-wall coverage of the queen’s death suggest.
Monarchy is widely but not universally popular. Around 62% of people in the UK support him, but 22% – translating to more than 10 million British adults – would like to see him replaced with an elected leader, according to a poll by YouGov in June.
Abolitionism has developed gradually since the 1990s, according to the National Center for Social Research, a London-based agency that has conducted surveys of monarchies for the past 30 years.
The kingdom’s popularity has been rocked by events such as Charles’ divorce from Princess Diana, and the coldness his family felt after his death in a car crash, the agency said, as well as allegations of sexual assault against Prince Andrew, which it denies, and the decree of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess. of Sussex, to move to California amid accusations of their racism against the royal family.
“Monarchy is irrelevant today,” says Tracy Borman, a royal historian and author of “Crown & Scepter: A new history of the British monarchy, from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II.”
“But it probably has less to do with the monarchy itself and more to the younger generation who grew up in a very different world, a world where monarchies would not be equal,” he added.
Royals are clearly less popular with young people, according to the National Center for Social Research. But the gap between the young and the old remains almost the same as it was in 1994, he said, suggesting that, as formerly republican youths have grown, they are becoming more monarchical.
Charles will present a new challenge to royal legitimacy.
As Prince of Wales, he was peppered with accusations of trying to interfere in politics, from architecture to homeopathy. This is a major taboo for Britain’s constitutional monarchy and is the reason why many republicans enjoy its rule.
While the British crown has soft power—the puppet every president, sheikh and dictator would like to photograph—by design, it has little direct political power.
This power began to pass from the king to Parliament in the 1600s. The English Civil War resulted in the beheading of King Charles I, before the “Great Revolution” saw the British elite effectively elect a new king who gave more rights to MPs.
Today, the UK has what is known as a constitutional monarchy. In theory, the king appoints the government, reopens Parliament after a recess and approves new laws. But those are all ceremonial duties; So far, there’s no doubt that the crown might try to intervene.
Charles’ record of activism has led many to question whether it will create a new constitutional headache for the apolitical crown.
“We are supposed to be democrats and this is an anti-democratic institution,” said Graham Smith, chief executive of the London-based anti-monarchy Republican group. “These are institutions that fail on all principles – they abuse public money, use their privileges to lobby the government and they interfere in politics.”
Charles said he would take a different approach now that he was king.
When he was proclaimed king in London, he told an audience inside ancient Westminster Hall that “I can’t help but feel the weight of history that surrounds us, and which reminds us of the important parliamentary traditions” that define the nation.
Some observers agree that Charles should be seen from a whole new perspective because he is the king. “We all have to look at it in a completely different way now,” said royal historian Andrew Roberts.
If he did cut his own political wings, it would be another example of the royal family’s adaptability to survival that has allowed him to last for more than a millennium, historian Borman says.
“Monarchs know statesmanship is about knowing to let go of what you can no longer hold on to,” he said.