Elizabeth II became queen in 1952 and was Britain’s longest-reigning
Ballater (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in Britain’s history and an instantly recognizable icon to billions of people around the world, died in the Scotland Highland resort on Thursday. She was 96 years old.
Charles, Prince of Wales, the eldest of her four children, who at 73 was the most visible heir in British history, immediately became king.
Royal officials confirmed that he is now known as King Charles III – the first king with that name to sit on the throne since 1685.
His mother’s death caused a torrent of condolences around the world as world leaders paid tribute to a woman whose rule spanned 70 years, spanning two centuries of seismic social, political and technological upheaval.
Hundreds of flowers and glowing candles were left on the gates of Buckingham Palace in central London, where billboards across the capital were lit up with portraits of the Queen.
In his first words as King, Charles described her death as “a moment of great sadness for me and all of my family”.
“We deeply regret the death of a dear king and a very beloved mother,” he added in a statement signed by “His Majesty the King.”
“I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, worlds, and commonwealths, and by countless people around the world.”
Buckingham Palace announced the Queen’s death in a short statement, prompting a 10-day national mourning and a global outpouring of tributes to her long life and record-breaking reign.
“The Queen passed away peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” the statement issued at 6:30 pm (1730 GMT) said.
Crowds began gathering at Buckingham Palace in central London with the news of the Queen’s death
“The King (Charles) and the Queen Consort (Camilla) will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.”
From the steps of 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Liz Truss – who learned of the death’s death two hours before it was announced – called the “second Elizabethan death” almost 500 years after the death.
She concluded her speech with words not uttered in Britain since 1952: “God preserves the King.”
– seismic change –
Queen Elizabeth II, 96, appointed her 15th prime minister, Liz Truss, at her Balmoral home on September 6.
The Queen’s death came after the palace announced earlier on Thursday that doctors were “concerned” about her health and recommended that she remain under medical supervision.
All her children – Charles and Princess Anne, 72, Prince Andrew, 62, and Prince Edward, 58 – flocked to her Scotland Highland resort, Balmoral.
They were joined by Charles’ eldest son, Prince William, and William’s estranged brother, Prince Harry.
Andrew, Edward and William were photographed praying at around 5:00 pm, after the Queen’s death. Harry, who traveled separately, arrived later in the evening.
Just two days earlier, she performed one of her primary ceremonial functions as Head of State, appointing Truss the 15th Prime Minister in her reign, which began with Winston Churchill in power.
She is seen smiling in the pictures but looks frail and uses a walking stick.
One photo of the meeting with Truss triggered an alarm, as it showed a deep purple bruise on the king’s right hand.
She ascended the throne at just 25 years old in 1952 in the aftermath of the debilitating World War II, joining a global stage dominated by political figures from China’s Mao Zedong to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and US President Harry S. Truman.
Her tenure saw the collapse of the last remnant of the vast British Empire. At home recently, Brexit divided her kingdom, and her family has suffered a series of scandals.
But all along, she remained famous and was both queen and head of state not only in the UK but also in 14 former British colonies, including Australia and Canada. New Zealand declared Charles its new king.
– tearful crowds –
King Charles III is the first king with this name to sit on the throne since 1685
She was also the head of the 56-nation Commonwealth, which includes a quarter of humanity, and supreme ruler of the Church of England, the mother church of the worldwide Anglican community.
But questions will be raised about whether the golden age of British monarchy is now over and how an ancient institution can remain viable in modern times.
Controversy revolves around whether Charles will have the same respect or rule in his mother’s shadow.
Under the skies of Buckingham Palace, emotional crowds sang a miserable “God Save the Queen” – the national anthem that is now “God Save the King” – as news of her death spread.
“I know she’s 96, but there’s still a sense of shock,” Joshua Ellis, 24, from London cried, told AFP.
“You can always look at the Queen, with a sense of stability.”
Currency broker Charlie Wollstenholme said the news was hard to bear.
“She has been the Queen as long as my parents are alive,” he added. “It’s really a very, very important part of the fabric.”
The Queen was on the throne for 70 years and was seen as a reassuring perpetual presence at a time when change was often bewildering.
Historians have described the Queen’s reign as a period of Britain’s inevitable decline from what some believe to be its greatest reference point – victory in World War II.
“We were all told that Churchill’s funeral [in 1965] was a requiem for Britain as a great power,” one historian told the Guardian in 2017.
“But in reality, it’s really going to be over when you’re gone.”
Royal writer Phil Dampier told AFP she would undoubtedly be remembered as “the longest serving but also the greatest” monarch in British history.
“She has experienced the most dramatic changes in modern times for any king… It would be impossible to follow.”
– Official mourning –
Flags lowered to half mast in tribute
Television and radio stations interrupted the regular programs of broadcasting the news, with special schedules long rehearsed to remember her long life and rule.
Play the national anthem. Flags were lowered and church bells sounded to remember a woman who was once described as “the last king of the world”.
An official notice, in black, has been posted behind glass on the doors of Buckingham Palace and other royal palaces, while the family’s official website has also been turned black.
Truss said, “It is an extraordinary feat to have presided over with such dignity and grace for 70 years. Her life in service has extended beyond most of our living memories. In turn, she was loved and admired by people in the UK and all over the world.
“Today the crown passes as it did over 1,000 years ago to our new king, our new head of state, His Majesty Charles III.”
Crowds gathered at Buckingham Palace in central London even as it got dark
The period of national mourning, which officially begins on Friday, will culminate in a final public farewell at Westminster Abbey in London.
In the United States, President Joe Biden has ordered flags to be lowered to half mast at the White House, other federal buildings, as well as military and diplomatic sites globally.
He praised the Queen as “a state lady of unparalleled dignity”.
“She helped make our relationship special,” he said, adding that he looked forward to working with her successor, noting their already “close friendship.”
– longevity –
Charles’ coronation, an elaborate ritual steeped in tradition and history, will take place in the same historical setting, as it has for centuries, at a date to be determined.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was to most of her subjects, the only Queen they had ever known – a figure fixed on stamps, banknotes, and coins.
Queen Elizabeth II was an instantly recognizable figure in Britain and throughout the world
Small in stature but a symbol of popular culture, she was at the center of it all, instantly recognizable in her brightly colored suits and matching hat, complete with pearls, gloves and handbag.
During her reign, members of the royal family transitioned from rugged, remote characters to tabloid fodder, then sprouted again in TV dramas like “The Crown,” watched by tens of millions around the world.
Her time on the throne spanned an era of remarkable change, from the Cold War to the 9/11 attacks, from climate change to the coronavirus, and “snail mail” and steamships to email and space exploration.
It came to be seen as the living embodiment of post-war Britain and a link between the modern age and a bygone era.
When the Queen was crowned in 1953, Britain was a predominantly white Christian country of 50 million people.
Upon her death, the population swelled to 66 million and more who classified themselves as British Asian, Black British, or of mixed heritage.
Now, one in seven people was born outside the UK, and it is the legacy of waves of migration, from the Caribbean and Uganda, to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from the 1950s onwards.
Mosques and temples became as common – and largely unnoticed – as churches; Diwali and Eid were celebrated alongside Christmas, and Indian food – or at least the English hybrid chicken tikka masala – vied for prominence as the national dish with fish and chips.
As the mother of Britain’s most famous family, she maintained huge public support throughout, even surviving the backlash in the wake of the horrific death of Charles’ first wife, Diana, in 1997.
Recently, the royal family has been shaken by allegations from Prince Harry and his mixed-race wife Meghan about racism in the royal family.
She was also hit by a scandal involving her second son, Prince Andrew, whose friendship with convicted sex offenders Jeffrey Epstein and Jessalyn Maxwell made him decide a civil sexual assault lawsuit in the United States.
– ‘Fighting spirit’ –
The British rushed to acknowledge the beginning of the end of her reign when in April 2021 she lost her beloved husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in April 2021.
Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has been by her side for most of her reign
However, her death had long been acknowledged by the Palace and the move to Charles had already begun.
He, Prince William, now heir, and his wife, Catherine, began to take on more official roles as the Queen.
The coronavirus pandemic and her advanced years forced her into the splendid seclusion of Windsor Castle, west of London.
But from behind its stately walls, she remained a reassuring presence, appearing on video calls with members of the public.
In a rare televised address during the first lockdown, she recalled the “blitzkrieg spirit” of Britain under siege during World War II that marked her generation.
“We’ll meet again,” she said.
She got rid of the shroud of Philip’s death and her forced confinement to resume public duties, but old age and ill health slowed her down.
After an unscheduled night in the hospital in October 2021 after undisclosed health tests, her appearances are becoming even rarer.
“None of us will live forever,” she told world leaders attending the United Nations Climate Change Summit shortly thereafter, urging them to leave a legacy for future generations.
One of her final decisive actions was to settle the question of succession unanswered, giving her her blessing to Charles’ second wife, Camilla, who would be called “Queen Consort”.