On 8 September, the British Royal Family announced the death of Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96. Britain’s longest reigning monarch had been on the throne for 70 years, which had been marked this summer by Platinum Jubilee celebrations. She was immediately succeeded by her son Charles, who will be known as King Charles III.
The country had little warning of the monarch’s imminent death. Two days before, the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, had travelled to Balmoral in Scotland, the Queen’s summer residence, to be invited to form a government. At the time, royal sources simply said the Queen couldn’t travel to London because she had “mobility issues”, which had also limited her involvement in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. On Thursday, news filtered through that the members of the Royal Family who weren’t already at Balmoral were rushing there. A sober announcement was made that she died peacefully.
Although most Britons alive today can’t remember a time when Elizabeth wasn’t Queen, royal protocols immediately swung into place to organise a national period of mourning and her succession.
Prince Charles immediately became King and it was announced he would take the title King Charles III. His second wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, will take the title Queen Consort, according to the wishes of the late Queen. During the next ten days, King Charles will visit the four home nations. The Queen’s coffin will lie in state for several days at St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh and in Westminster Hall in London, for the public to pay their last respects, right up to Monday 19 September, when the Queen's funeral will be held at Westminster Abbey on a National Day of Mourning.
Traditionally, the new monarch’s coronation won’t take place until after a period of mourning. The late Queen’s coronation took place 14 months after her father’s death.
Tributes poured in from around the world to a monarch universally praised for her sense of duty. When Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on 21 April 1926, she was not destined to become Queen. But when her uncle King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, Elizabeth’s father became King George VI and Elizabeth became first in line to the throne. Although from that point she was prepared for her future role, no one expected her to have accede to the throne at the age of just 25, when her father died while she was on a tour of the Commonwealth on his behalf.
Despite many changes and difficulties over her seventy-year reign, the Queen remained popular in the U.K. and abroad, including the 14 other Commonwealth countries of which she was head of state. After the death of her husband the Duke of Edinburgh in 2021, it was clear that age and ill-health were slowly catching up on the monarch. Prince Charles replaced her at the State Opening of Parliament in May and the Queen had to curtail her participation in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
King Charles III
After his mother’s long reign, at 73, Charles is the oldest monarch ever to accede to the British throne. He was born in 1948, three years before his mother became Queen, the eldest of her four children and therefore the future heir to the throne. When he reached 21, he was officially invested as Prince of Wales, the title held by the heir apparent.
He qualified as a pilot and joined the Royal Navy, following in the military tradition of the family.
On 29 July 1981, Charles married Lady Diana Spencer. The country was gripped with wedding fever and great enthusiasm for the beautiful young princess. Their wedding was watched by a record 750 million people in 74 countries. The couple rapidly had two sons, William and Harry, assuring the succession. But the marriage wasn’t happy and ultimately ended in a dissolution in 1996. (Given that Edward VIII had had to abdicate to marry a divorcee, the future king could not be considered to be divorced.) The Princess tragically died in a car crash in 1997. In 2005, Charles remarried, to Camilla Parker Bowles, who was divorced.
Charles has been active in royal duties all his adult life. He has been particularly involved with helping young people into education and work through the Prince’s Trust, and with ecology. In recent years he and Prince William in particular took over many of the Queen’s engagements. The transition to a new era, when the national anthem will alter to “God Save the King”, is expected to be smooth.
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There is lots of information about the Queen and her life, and the new King, on the Royal Family website.
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House of Lords 2019 / Photography by Roger Harris
> A Historic Milestone
> The Big Jubilee Read
> Trooping the Colour
> Queen Elizabeth II: 70 Years on the Throne
> Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Resources
> Queen Elizabeth II Teaching Tools
> Marmalade Sandwich, Your Majesty?
> The People’s Portrait
> Visiting Buckingham Palace
> Queen Elizabeth II Comic Strip
> Seventy Years a Queen
> Queen Elizabeth II Comic Strip Part 2
> Biobox: Queen Elizabeth II
> Shine Bright AMC SnapFile 6 The Crown and the Houses