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After Queen Elizabeth II, two questions for the U.K.: What to do with the economy? What to do with the monarchy?

King Charles III and British Prime Minister Liz Truss face a pair of national traumas.

There is no getting around the fact that, from the outside, it appears odd: a modern nation mourning a 96-year-old monarch in the 22nd year of the 21st century. No doubt it also feels odd for many of Queen Elizabeth II’s — now King Charles III’s — subjects in the United Kingdom.

Protocol was strictly followed when the news came: On the BBC, anchors wore black as they announced Queen Elizabeth’s death. The tone was somber. In the center of London, outside Buckingham Palace, crowds gathered under leaden skies. Although the profound sense of loss and of something having shifted was undeniable, not all were in mourning. A young couple huddling under an umbrella on the Mall, the regal-red avenue that runs down from the palace gates to Trafalgar Square, said they had come to witness the spectacle. “We don’t really see the point of the monarchy,” the man added, unprompted by me. His companion nodded, and then said — also unprompted — that London felt a “bit bleak.”

Indeed it does, more than a “bit.” As has been noted countless times already, the passing of Queen Elizabeth II marks the end of an era. Even eras, plural; one having to do with the nation, one with the reach of the British royal family itself. The queen was a constant presence over seven decades of ups and downs in the life of her country. And as those decades passed, Queen Elizabeth’s realm evolved and shrank dramatically.

Because in addition to mournful crowds and the funereal columns of black London cabs that lined up, in another sign of respect, outside the palace on Thursday, Britain now faces a pair of enormous and very different questions about its way forward:

How, first and foremost, to deal with an economic crisis as grave as any in decades? And then what exactly is the future of the monarchy, now that the only monarch most Britons have ever known is gone?

Where royal family meets economic crisis

Obituary writers have paid tribute to the Queen Elizabeth’s ability to reassure the nation during past crises — mostly, it must be said, by just being there, a quiet, unchanging presence through all manner of upheaval.

For many here, this is what adds an extra trauma to the news of her passing.

It’s no wonder, then, that London feels “bleak.”

“Bleak” — and, as the Guardian noted, “uncertain,” for so much of what happens next is unclear. Truss has announced a plan to shield ordinary Britons from a sudden jump in energy bills. But as the war in Ukraine persists, what happens if global energy prices vault to new records? And what of Brexit? Britain’s divorce deal with Europe remains a contentious issue, with a bitter dispute over key provisions threatening to further sour relations with what remains its biggest trading partner.

What to do with the monarchy

Only a day after the queen’s death, conversations and newspaper columns in the U.K. and beyond have — if only gently — begun to take up what might be called the “life-after-Elizabeth” questions for the monarchy: Should it change? Is it still relevant? In the modern era, with its hugely popular standard-bearer gone, should it continue to exist at all?

Jasanoff’s was the more academic version of the conversational point made by that young couple on the Mall in London — namely, “We don’t really see the point of the monarchy.” Such questions and quiet debates will hang over the period of mourning and beyond. The immediate question being: What should the monarchy mean, and what should it stand for?

And if the institution is to be preserved, then how — and in what form? It might be too early to tell. There are very different models to be found not far from the British Isles, in the nations of Scandinavia in particular, where the royal families are relatively modern and more down to earth and — perhaps as a consequence — also highly popular. Monarchies from Spain to the Netherlands have made efforts to modernize as well with mixed results. Charles himself has been public about his wish to “downsize” the British monarchy.

Among the distinguishing features of the British variant is that the queen — and now king — still have “subjects” in 14 other nations. Just that sentence feels like a throwback, a vestige of the era of colonial empire, one that growing ranks of those who live in these places would no doubt agree needs to go.

As the Guardian noted in its editorial: “Let us be sensible enough, as a changed and changing nation, to recognize that the monarchy will and must change too. These will be days of solemnity. But it will soon be the right time to debate these issues seriously, with nothing ruled out, and if possible without the mesmerized self-delusion that has so often surrounded the subject.”

All of which means that long after their queen is laid to rest, Great Britain will face a period of months, if not years, in which the future of its economy and this grand old institution will be in question.

“Uncertain” only begins to describe it.

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