U.K. braced for death of Queen Elizabeth II. It still came as a shock.
LONDON — On the morning of her father’s death, on the day she would become queen, 25-year-old Elizabeth was perched in a treehouse in Kenya watching a herd of elephants at a watering opening. Due to the distance and trouble of correspondence, it required hours for her to get the news.
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On Thursday, in just one marker of how much the world changed during her 70-year reign, the news of her own sudden illness and death spread in milliseconds, by means of the imperial family’s Twitter account. Flight following information uncovered the ways of her youngsters racing to her bedside at Balmoral Palace. By the time the royal household staff posted the black-bordered death notice on the gates of Buckingham Palace, everybody knew. The BBC news anchors were already dressed in black.
It was still a shock, in its stunning, mortal rapidity.
Obituary: Queen Elizabeth II, who reigned over the U.K. for 70 years, dies at 96
As the only monarch the vast majority of Britons have ever known, she has been a constant in people’s lives — her profile on the currency, on the stamps. She was there in the midst of festivity and distress and dread. As she matured, she became more and more a grandmotherly figure of warm and fuzzy affection, even for those who don’t especially like the institution.
Her son Charles, Britain’s longest-serving monarch-in-waiting, is now finally King Charles III. His wife, Camilla, will be known as “queen consort.”
The ruddy-cheeked 73-year-old Charles, who has spent his life advocating organic farming and railing against modern architecture while wearing immaculately tailored pinstripes, will now become the 21st century’s most high-profile environmental activist, raising his voice against climate change and species devastation, if past is prologue to his reign.
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This is a moment that Britain has been bracing for, with an elaborate plan for “Activity London Extension” delineating what occurs throughout the following 10 days, incorporated the seriousness and pomp, the real emotion and choreographed kitsch, of a royal funeral and the ascension of a new monarch.
These coming days will see Elizabeth’s coffin lie in rest in Scotland and then make its way to London, where it will be processed from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall. It will lie on a raised box known as a catafalque, and members of the public, as well as VIPs, will be allowed to visit and pay their respects, ahead of a state funeral on Sept. 18.
Meanwhile, the Accession Council will meet. A proclamation announcing Charles as the new king will be read from a balcony at St. James’s Palace. Charles will travel to Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to console his subjects. And for the first time since 1952, the national anthem will be played with the words “God Save the King.” Hopefully, individuals will like him. However, that is not even close to certain.
Elizabeth was the head of state not only of the United Kingdom but also of 14 other countries, including Australia, Canada, and Jamaica, as well as a religious figure, as “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” Charles is more spiritual than devout.
Photos: The life of Queen Elizabeth II, from princess to longest-serving monarch
Her majesty led a remarkably robust life, mostly free of illness, attending official engagements, serving as a patron of charities, and projecting British power on trips around the world. She spent considerable time outdoors. She was a lifelong lover — and rider and breeder — of horses. She surrounded herself with dogs, including her famous corgis. She enjoyed shooting birds and stags.
By age 96, after the demise of her better half, Ruler Philip, and well-being and versatility gives that followed a concise hospitalization the previous fall, the sovereign was designating more while subsiding from public life. Yet, she was still near, still there — if some of the time by means of Zoom.
Just on Tuesday, two afternoons earlier, she accepted in person the resignation of Boris Johnson and ceremonially appointed Liz Truss — her 15th, now last, prime minister.
In one of her earliest public speeches, to mark her 21st birthday in 1947, then Princess Elizabeth declared “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”
At the queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, marking 25 years on the throne, she reaffirmed that pledge. “Although that vow was made in my salad days, when I was green in judgment, I do not regret nor retract one word of it,” she said.
The day Elizabeth became sovereign in a treehouse in Kenya
In her later years, the queen told a close confidant, that she would never, ever abdicate the throne, unless she suffered from severe dementia or a massive stroke. She was true to her word.
When Buckingham Palace announced to the media via email at 12:32 p.m. London time on Thursday that the queen required “medical supervision” and her doctors were “concerned,” the busy aides and huffy politicians in the Palace of Westminster briefly hushed, staring at their smartphones.
In minutes, Truss was tweeting, “The whole country will be deeply concerned by the news from Buckingham Palace this lunchtime.”
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Quickly to Balmoral Castle — via airplane and then speeding Range Rovers — came her children, the princes and princess Charles, Andrew, Edward, and Anne.
So, too, her grandchildren, Prince William, 40, now heir to the throne, followed later by Prince Harry.
By dusk, as downpour poured down in Scotland, came the second declaration from the castle, as brief as a message from quite a while in the past: “The Sovereign kicked the bucket calmly at Balmoral this evening. The Ruler and The Sovereign Partner will stay at Balmoral tonight and will get back to London tomorrow.”
The new king issued a statement, saying, “We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished Sovereign and a much-loved Mother.”
He said Britain would be entering a period of “mourning and change.”
Charles acknowledged the grief, this “moment of the greatest sadness” for him and his family, and said her loss would be “deeply felt” in Britain, the Commonwealth “and by countless people around the world.”
Messages of condolence — and celebration of her life — came in waves.
World leaders pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II
Johnson offered something right when he noticed, “there is a hurt at the death of our Sovereign, a profound and individual feeling of misfortune — undeniably more serious, maybe, than we anticipated.”
President Biden ordered flags flown at half-staff.
Pope Francis praised her “devotion to duty, her steadfast witness of faith in Jesus Christ, and her firm hope in his promises.”
The British Horseracing Authority hailed the queen as a great and influential supporter.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that “under history’s brightest spotlight,” the queen “offered a masterclass in grace and strength, power and poise.” She said Elizabeth’s life and leadership “will continue to inspire young women and girls in public service, now and for generations to come.”
Former president Donald Trump said, “What a grand and beautiful lady she was — there was nobody like her!”
The British Kennel Club hailed her as “one of the most dog-loving monarchs in history.”
Former president Barack Obama said she “captivated the world.”
The imperial biographers participated. Hugo Vickers said the sovereign “gave an environment of quiet over an extremely quick influencing world” and was an “unprecedented conciliator.”He recalled the moment when, in 2012, she shook hands with Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander who had become deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. The queen’s cousin, Louis Mountbatten, had been killed by the IRA in 1979.
In the last living public picture of the sovereign, from the progress of heads of the state on Tuesday, she is shown remaining before a thundering fire at Balmoral in a straightforward dim sweatshirt and reasonable plaid skirt, gripping her deceased husband’s cane in one hand and beaming a smile toward the camera.
She looked old, bent, frail, yes, but still standing, still ready to do her job.
Once the queen said, “I have to be seen to be believed.”
As it began, it ended.