The newly crowned British king began, “I, CHARLES III,” before taking a formal oath at St. James’ Palace in London to uphold the monarchy. However, behind him was a great throne embroidered in golden thread with the cipher “EIIR,” or Queen Elizabeth II Regina.
The late queen’s head was bouncing on pieces of metal in a purse and simultaneously searched for change by a mother in a UK high street. Then, at Heathrow Airport, a traveler opened his passport for inspection. The inside cover included ornate writing that solemnly referred to “Her Britannic Majesty.”
And in one of the many Royal Mail delivery offices, a hasty employee grabbed a brand-new bag of mail with the old photo of the president looking down from the wall above. Queen Elizabeth is no more. However, her likeness and iconography continue to exist in their various forms.
Few people have been portrayed or signified as widely throughout human history as Queen Elizabeth II. Additionally, there are 14 other Commonwealth nations, the head of which is the British monarch and the UK. So there are already apparent concerns about how Charles III, the new ruler, will impose his authority through iconography and design. It has been a method of establishing dominance for millennia. But that will take time for the future king.
On September 8, David Gold, the director of external affairs and policy at Royal Mail, was standing by his phone even as word of the queen’s passing spread over the wires. Journalist after a journalist called, pleading for information regarding a straightforward query: “What will happen to the stamps?”
The queen’s head has been depicted on the great majority of UK postage stamps for the past 70 years. She has also approved each new stamp design, including a collection of Transformers figures that was just released. All symbols carrying the image of the queen are still legal tender, although Charles III’s image will ultimately appear on new logos.
Beyond postage stamps, Royal Mail must also improve its systems. According to Gold, the queen’s cipher is carried by around 53,000 Royal Mail vehicles, including lorries and delivery vans. He anticipates that these will be modified to carry the cipher of the future monarch, which is most likely to take the form “CIIIR,” even though Buckingham Palace has not yet made this announcement.
Postboxes present a slightly different set of circumstances. There are 115,000 of them scattered throughout the UK. While the majority bear the cipher of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth, some still bear the ciphers of former monarchs, including Victoria. Gold says a few hundred new postboxes are put up every year, and only those will include Charles III’s iconography.
Even if new ones eventually replace the current British coins and banknotes in circulation, the current ones will continue to be legal tender. The king will initially be shown a profile portrait of Charles III by a creative team. Following the custom of successive rulers on coins having their heads looking in different directions, his head will be facing left. This plan will be examined by the monarch, who will probably give his immediate approval for use.
But in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, to name a few nations where the British monarch is head of state, all coins, and certain banknotes still include her likeness. According to McCreery, the mere possibility of a significant alteration to these financial instruments should be enough to make people reexamine what it means to live in a monarchy. That alone might intensify the argument over whether Australia should continue to be a monarchy or become a republic.
About the situation in Canada, another of the realms that Charles III immediately inherited upon the death of his mother, Peter McNally, professor emeritus at McGill University, says that there has been a downsizing of monarchical paraphernalia and insignia that is both conscious and unconscious.
It is highly doubtful, says Maclaren, even if there may be nothing inherently stopping Charles III from adopting lime green suits or tangerine leisure wear: Charles’ influence won’t be as significant. Instead, he’ll be one of the more senior citizens. This makes his iconography and the insistence of his power through commonplace items in government buildings and in more than a dozen different countries perhaps even more critical for him than for his predecessor. Of course, the king might want institutions to save time by adopting a new cipher or distributing the royal likeness. But in the absence of such things, his profile may feel much worse when he succeeds a vibrant, long-reigning queen whose image has all but taken over the world.