Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch in the history of the United Kingdom, died Thursday afternoon at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, her summer residence, Buckingham Palace announced at 6:30 p.m. London time. She was 96 years old and had reigned for more than 70 years.
Her son Charles, 73, has succeeded her and will be known as King Charles III — the first British king with that name since the death of Charles II in 1685. Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, 75, has become queen consort, something the queen publicly requested the day before her Platinum Jubilee in February.
“The queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” a Buckingham Palace announcement on Twitter said. “The king and the queen consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.”
In a statement released by the palace, King Charles said, “The death of my beloved mother, Her Majesty The Queen, is a moment of the greatest sadness for me and all members of my family. We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished sovereign and a much-loved mother. I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world.”
The news sent thousands of people into the plaza outside Buckingham Palace in London. Many were crying and singing “God Save the Queen” to honor the only monarch whom the vast majority of Britons have ever known. The Union Jack flag over the palace was lowered to half-staff to mark the occasion.
Charles is to make his first public address to the nation as king on Friday, his spokesman told reporters in London.
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Encomiums to the long-serving monarch poured in from across Britain and around the world as the news spread. The diminutive monarch was one of the world’s best-known figures, famed for her dignified reserve, her taste in handbags and hats, and her affection for generations of Welsh corgis who accompanied her during her reign.
The queen “was a stateswoman of unmatched dignity and constancy who deepened the bedrock alliance between the UK and US,” President Biden said in a heartfelt message noting the queen’s passage. “She helped make our relationship special.”
In Canada, where the British monarch is the country’s head of state, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saluted her “wisdom, compassion and warmth,” The Associated Press reported. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the queen “provided inspiring leadership to her nation and people. She personified dignity and decency in public life. Pained by her demise.”
“Queen Elizabeth II was the rock on which the modern United Kingdom was built,” newly installed Prime Minister Liz Truss — formally appointed just two days earlier in Elizabeth’s last official act — said outside of her No. 10 Downing St. office.
“She has been our longest-reigning monarch. … She has touched millions of lives around the world. It is a day of great loss, but Queen Elizabeth II leaves a great legacy,” said Ms. Truss, one of 15 prime ministers and 14 American presidents with whom the queen dealt during her time on the throne.
Former British Prime Minister John Major remarked during the celebrations of her 90th birthday, “If you were designing someone to be monarch here in Britain, I think you would design someone exactly like Elizabeth II.”
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No announcement of funeral services has been made, but detailed plans have been in place for the eventuality.
The queen died hours after the palace announced that she had been placed “under medical care” and that her immediate family had been notified of the situation.
Charles and his sister, Princess Anne, were already in Scotland. Their brothers, Prince Edward and Prince Andrew, along with Prince William, Elizabeth’s grandson who is now next in line to the throne, rushed to Aberdeen International Airport to make the roughly one-hour drive to Balmoral Castle. William’s wife, Catherine, remained at Windsor Castle to look after their three children, who had just started school.
Harry, the Duke of Sussex, who along with his wife, Meghan, had stepped away from royal duties in 2020, was in Germany and rushed to Scotland. Sky News reported that Harry arrived in Aberdeen after the queen had died.
The day’s rapidly moving events commenced with a midday London-time announcement from Buckingham Palace: “Following further evaluation this morning, the queen’s doctors are concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision. The queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral,” the statement said.
Elizabeth became queen in February 1952 after the death of her father, King George VI. She has reigned longer than any other monarch in British history and celebrated her 70-year Platinum Jubilee this year. Although present for several key events, the queen had to skip many of the celebrations to rest. Since last fall, she has been seen using a cane and was reported to have “mobility issues.”
Deliberations in Parliament came to a halt when House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle broke the news moments after Ms. Truss and opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer each received private notes.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the symbolic head of the global Anglican Communion, lauded the late monarch’s commitment to her Christian faith.
“As a faithful Christian disciple, and also Supreme Governor of the Church of England, she lived out her faith every day of her life,” Archbishop Welby said in a statement. “Her trust in God and profound love for God was foundational in how she led her life — hour by hour, day by day,” he added.
The archbishop recalled, “It was my great privilege to meet Her Late Majesty on many occasions. Her clarity of thinking, capacity for careful listening, inquiring mind, humor, remarkable memory and extraordinary kindness invariably left me conscious of the blessing that she has been to us all.”
Potent symbol, remarkable life
Taking the throne on Feb. 6, 1952, Elizabeth presided over a nation recovering from the trauma of World War II and the steady loss of an empire on which the sun famously “never set.”
Britain joined and then leave the European Union, dispatched troops to fight in the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan, and oversaw a growing and often unruly family marked by controversies such as the death of Princess Diana, the disgrace of her younger son Prince Andrew, the loss of her beloved husband of 73 years Prince Philip in April 2021, and the tabloid foibles and royal estrangement of grandson Prince Harry and his American-born wife.
She was slowed by advancing age and health problems in her final years but was mentally sharp and fiercely protective of the image and role of the monarchy in modern Britain. She is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Despite the loss of India and other possessions of the British Empire, Elizabeth was widely respected and remained head of state of more than a dozen countries, from Canada to Tuvalu. She headed the 54-nation Commonwealth, built around Britain and its former colonies, The Associated Press noted.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born in London on April 21, 1926, the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York, AP reported. She was not born to be queen. Her father’s elder brother, Prince Edward, was destined for the crown, to be followed by any children he had.
In 1936, when Elizabeth was 10, Edward VIII abdicated to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, and Elizabeth’s father became King George VI.
Elizabeth was barely in her teens when Britain went to war with Germany in 1939. While the king and queen stayed at Buckingham Palace during the Blitz and toured the bombed-out neighborhoods of London, Elizabeth and Margaret spent most of the war at Windsor Castle, west of the capital. Even there, 300 bombs fell in an adjacent park, and the princesses spent many nights in an underground shelter.
In 1945, after months of campaigning for her parents’ permission to contribute to the war effort, the heir to the throne became Second Subaltern Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. She enthusiastically learned to drive and service heavy vehicles.
At Westminster Abbey in November 1947, she married Royal Navy officer Philip Mountbatten, a prince of Greece and Denmark whom she first met in 1939 when she was 13 and he 18. The first of their four children, Prince Charles, was born on Nov. 14, 1948. He was followed by Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.
In February 1952, the young princess was on a visit to Kenya when she received the news that her father had died in his sleep at the age of 56 after a long period of declining health.
“In a way, I didn’t have an apprenticeship,” Elizabeth reflected in a BBC documentary in 1992 that opened a rare view into her emotions. “My father died much too young, and so it was all a very sudden kind of taking on, and making the best job you can.”
Her coronation took place more than a year later. The grand spectacle at Westminster Abbey was viewed by millions through the still-new medium of television.
In addition to her front-row seat to world events and private audiences with world leaders, the queen suffered more than her share of family troubles, even as she came to represent stability and stolid British values to the country and the world.
In what the queen dubbed the “annus horribilis” of 1992, her daughter, Princess Anne, was divorced, Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated, and so did Prince Andrew and his wife, Sarah. That was also the year Windsor Castle, a residence she far preferred to Buckingham Palace, was seriously damaged by fire.
Her reserved reaction to the subsequent death of Diana in a car crash in Paris in 1997 was one of the few serious blows to her public image and her connection to the people she ruled, but her popularity recovered and grew as she continued to shatter records for longevity in occupying the British throne. Her reputation for no-nonsense frugality — despite sitting atop an immense fortune and entitled to a string of palatial residences — only enhanced her image and standing with her subjects in her final years.
On her Golden Jubilee in 2002, she said the country could “look back with measured pride on the history of the last 50 years.”
“It has been a pretty remarkable 50 years by any standards,” she said in a speech. “There have been ups and downs, but anyone who can remember what things were like after those six long years of war appreciates what immense changes have been achieved since then.”
In 2015, she surpassed the reign of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, of 63 years, seven months and two days, to become the longest-serving monarch in British history. Her son, 73, becomes the oldest man ever to assume the throne in Britain’s long history.
Admirers called Elizabeth a rare mix of elevated class and down-to-earth instincts, a steadying presence who endured despite the passions and personalities of the day.
She noted in a 2014 statement as Scottish voters were deciding whether to depart the United Kingdom, “As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground; and never losing sight of the bigger picture.”
Scottish voters decided to stay in the United Kingdom.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.