Julianne Schultz

Time to Let Go?

The Empire’s New Clothes: The Myth of the Commonwealth


Hurst & Co 282pp £20 order from our bookshop

As Meghan Markle made her way down the aisle of St George’s Chapel to marry Prince Harry, it was her painstakingly handcrafted silk tulle veil that most effectively captured Britain’s imperial past. The national flower of each of the fifty-three Commonwealth countries was embroidered into the 16½-foot veil. This, depending on your point of view, was either a ‘poetic moment’ (‘every single one of those countries also journeyed up the aisle with her’, the dress designer said) or an attempt to reclaim ‘the bloody history of colonialism as a point of celebration’, as one US historian put it.

The Commonwealth of Nations, long the most underwhelming of multilateral organisations, has recently regained international attention. The Brexit vote has revived fanciful political discussion of an ‘Empire 2.0’ arising from the ashes of the European experiment, while polls have shown that most Britons are not only proud of the imperial legacy but also remarkably ignorant of it.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'It would be nice to think that women will achieve equal pay in my lifetime, rather than to watch gloomily as stati… ,
    • In 1660, two of the signatories of King Charles I's death warrant fled across the Atlantic to New England. But were… ,
    • Howard Jacobson's sixteenth novel is 'a love story of sorts, one characterised not by physical desire or even conta… ,
    • 'The sudden immersion in the new and unfamiliar can lead people to write with a rare lack of self-consciousness' P… ,
    • 'Pools bend the rules. Clothes slip off, skin glistens, consciousness heightens. A dreamlike scenario unfolds' Jam… ,
    • 'Although he surely didn’t know W H Auden’s theory that every high C proclaims human freedom and our capacity to tr… ,
    • RT : With beginning tomorrow, we've uncovered a 1997 article from the archive reviewing 'Golf Dream… ,