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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

Great Britain readies itself for major rebranding as KCIII replaces QE2 on all things British

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

When Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, she left behind a legacy that many in Great Britain believe to be one of the single greatest monarchical reigns in history. Now, Britain has a new king. King Charles III.

Sure, there have been quite a few larger-than-life personalities in the English (and later British) royal lineage. Just to name a few, there was Victoria (known for her sponge cake and numerous television series), the 8th Henry (known for his difficulty in staying married to the same woman), Arthur (was he really an English king?), and all those Shakespearean kings, including Richard (who needed a horse), the 4th Henry (who banded together with his brothers before battle), and Lear (who went mad and wandered off). But the one thing they all had in common was that when they passed, their successor was left to rebrand everything in the kingdom.

The transition from Queen Elizabeth II to King Charles III will be no different. With such a broad range of changes needed to reflect the new monarch’s image, ranging from curio shop bric-a-brac to new pond notes and coins Sterling to the buttons on the uniforms of British military regiments, the change from Queen to King will come at a hefty price and will require the largest and most expensive rebranding effort in British history.

For example,

National Anthem. While American patriotic tunes rarely mention the President, the British anthem is built around the concept of the monarch. Luckily, the easiest transition will be the singing of the British national anthem. Instead of singing “God save the Queen,” Brits will now simply warble “God save the King” at soccer matches before brawling with one another.

Money. All currency in the United Kingdom currently carries the Queen’s portrait and will continue to do so until individual bills and coins are taken out of circulation. In the meantime, portraits of King Charles should begin appearing on UK currency sometime in 2024 and may appear on Commonwealth currency sometime after that.

Postage Stamps. Like money, many British stamps bear the Queen’s image and they will be changed to the King’s in due course. The more complicated postal transition will be the postboxes. They carry the royal cypher, as do postal trucks, vans, and other vehicles. But instead of being replaced, it is likely that new postboxes will simply feature the King’s cypher while those with the Queen’s will remain through their normal service life.

Flags. British flags often bear the sovereign’s cypher and they will likely be the first and most public place to carry King Charles’s emblem in place of the Queen’s. The same is true of the buttons on British military uniforms. And that will be a lot of new buttons to sew on.

Royal Portraits. Most Americans measure their grade school memories, in part, by which Presidential portrait hung in their homeroom class. Just as President Biden’s photograph hangs in U.S post offices, F.B.I. offices, other federal governmental buildings, and even schools, the British Monarch’s portrait hangs in similar places throughout Britain. And now that Charles is replacing Elizabeth, The Guardian has that cost to replace those portraits alone will measure in the tens of millions of pounds.

Tanks, Planes, and Warships. British warships will not require any changes (unless they carry the royal portrait onboard). By tradition, British ships are referred to by the acronym “HMS” (such as HMS Trafalgar, HMS Victory, or HMS Belfast), but there’s no need to change the acronym because it equally can mean “Her Majesty’s Ship” or “His Majesty’s Ship.” Of course, Britain’s largest warship the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will remain the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Tchotchkes. When the writer was in London last May it was the eve of the celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s 75-year anniversary and the “Platinum Jubilee” tchotchkes, knickknacks, and all around tacky souvenirs bearing her image were ubiquitous. Now, they’ll feature Charlie. Maybe I should have bought a couple while I still could.

Of course, political rebranding is nothing new. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt did it every time a new leader took power as did the Romans, the Greeks, and most other civilizations, albeit to a lesser extent. In more recent memory, fascist regimes like Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy and communist countries like Stalinist Russia and North Korea have taken national branding to such an extreme that it has permeated life in those countries.

In the U.S. we do a very soft rebranding every four (or eight) years when a new President takes office but the extent of the change to image of the new President is not nearly as great in Britain and the Commonwealth nations.

Why It Matters. Technically, concerns about where the Queen’s image appears on currency, postage stamps, and other trappings of governmental interference in our everyday lives ended in the United States way back in 1776 when we declared our independence from such nonsense. But for members of the British Commonwealth, including Australia, Canada, Grenada, and, of course, Barbados, this remains a fairly big headache as they are forced to revisit the political question or national sovereignty and the economic question of what images to change and when. And because Great Britain officially left the European Union on January 31, 2020, its currency designs will be dictated by King Charles III, not a monetary design committee in Brussels.

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