Home Europe Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, dies aged 96

Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, dies aged 96

by Hanna Shu

Death draws to a close Britain’s second Elizabethan era and heralds the reign of her son, King Charles III

Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch in British history, has died aged 96, drawing to a close the country’s second Elizabethan era, and heralding the reign of her son, King Charles III.

The monarch, for whom abdication was never an option, died peacefully at Balmoral on Thursday afternoon two days after undertaking her final public constitutional duty, with the appointment of the 15th prime minister of her 70-year reign.

Her death means Charles now becomes king, and the Duchess of Cornwall the Queen Consort.

In a statement on Thursday evening, the King 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.

“During this period of mourning and change, my family and I will be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which the Queen was so widely held.”Queen Elizabeth II in her own words – video obituary

All four of her children had rushed to Balmoral after Buckingham Palace announced in a statement at 12.32pm that she was under medical supervision at Balmoral after her doctors said they were “concerned for her health”.

Charles was the first to arrive. As the nation awaited anxiously for news, the Duke of Cambridge, Duke of York, and Earl and Countess of Wessex flew from RAF Northolt arriving at Balmoral at around 5pm. The Duke of Sussex also travelled separately to Scotland, arriving after the other members of the family.

At 6.30pm, Buckingham Palace announced: “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and the Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.”

The Buckingham Palace flag was lowered to half mast.

Addressing the nation from outside Downing Street, the prime minister, Liz Truss, who was told of the Queen’s death at 4.30pm, spoke of “the passing of the second Elizabethan age”.

She praised the monarch’s “dignity and grace”, and a “life of service [that] stretched beyond most of our living memories”. She concluded with the words: “God save the King.”

The US President, Joe Biden, was one of several world leaders to pay tribute. A statement issued jointly with the first lady, Jill Biden, said: “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was more than a monarch. She defined an era.”

In a world of constant change, they added, she had been “a steadying presence and a source of comfort and pride for generations of Britons, including many who have never known their country without her”.

As tributes flow in from across the globe, the nation now enters a period of official mourning, which begins on Friday and will last for 10 days. As is traditional, officials brought a notice confirming the Queen’s death to the gates of Buckingham Palace. Crowds gathered outside royal residences, many in tears.

Elizabeth II will be accorded a state funeral at Westminster Abbey, expected to be held on Monday 19 September, though that has not yet been confirmed. She is expected in coming days to lie in rest for 24 hours at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, with members of the public able to file past the coffin before it is flown to London for her official lying-in-state.

As Queen of the UK and 14 other realms, and head of the 54-nation Commonwealth, Elizabeth II was easily the world’s most recognisable head of state during an extraordinarily long reign.

Coming to the throne at the age of 25, she successfully steered the monarchy through decades of turbulent change, with her personal popularity providing ballast during the institution’s more difficult times.

At her side for most of it, the Duke of Edinburgh remained her “strength and stay” during a marriage that withstood many strains imposed by her unique position.

Despite a family life lived under the often challenging glare of publicity, Elizabeth remained a calm and steadfast figure, weathering the divorces of three of her children, and the crisis precipitated by the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in a car crash in Paris in 1997.

There were undoubted low points, but the mass outpourings of affection on her silver, golden and diamond jubilees testified to the special place she held for millions.

Rarely did she publicly reveal private anguish. Her plea for a fair understanding towards the end of 1992 – her “annus horribilis”, a year rocked by royal scandal and a row over finances – was unprecedented.

A devout, churchgoing Christian, the Queen’s annual Christmas broadcast, which she scripted herself, revealed a woman of unshakable faith.

Charles speaks with his mother as he and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, leave St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
Charles speaks with his mother as he and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, leave St George’s Chapel in Windsor. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AP

She was left bereft at the loss of her lifelong companion, Philip, who died in his sleep at the age of 99 in April 2021 during the Covid pandemic. She sat alone and bereaved in St George’s chapel, Windsor Castle, during the poignant funeral, hugely scaled down because of coronavirus restrictions.

The duke’s death came during one of the most turbulent times for the Queen and her family, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex quit as senior working royals and decamped to the US to seek freedom and the ability to earn their own money.

At the same time, the Duke of York was in a storm that also threatened the institution, facing allegations from Virginia Roberts Giuffre, which he strenuously denied, that he had had sex with her when she was 17 and had been trafficked by financier Jeffrey Epstein. Giuffre filed a civil suit against the duke seeking unspecified damages at a federal court in New York, which was settled out of court in February 2022, with the duke paying an undisclosed sum.

To cap this turbulent time for the monarchy, the Queen then contracted Covid, suffering mild cold-like symptoms, shortly before she marked her platinum jubilee.

As age gradually caught up with her, and she had mobility issues, she was seen less often at public events. In April 2022 she did not attend the state opening of parliament, instead issuing letters patent, authorising the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge, as counsellors of state, to deputise for her. It was only the third time in her reign that she had missed a state opening, the other two being when she was pregnant in 1959 and 1963.

Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on 21 April 1926 at her maternal grandparents’ home at 17 Bruton Street, in London’s Mayfair district, and was not expected to accede to the throne.

But at the age of 10, the abdication of her uncle, Edward VIII, over his love for the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and her father’s rushed coronation as substitute king, changed the path her aristocratic life could have been expected to take.

The world witnessed her transformation from shy princess to young Queen, attracting the same global fascination as Diana, Princess of Wales would 30 years later.

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II look at the floral tributes left outside Buckingham Palace on the eve of the funeral of Diana in September 1997.
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II look at the floral tributes left outside Buckingham Palace on the eve of the funeral of Diana in September 1997. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

But she seemed most content in a thick jacket and headscarf, walking her corgis or tramping Balmoral’s highland moors. “You can go for miles and never see anybody; you can walk or ride, it has endless possibilities,” she once said.

Watching her thoroughbreds pass the post was another great pleasure, and her love of horse racing once subconsciously manifested itself during the 2003 state opening of parliament when she announced details of a national hunt service bill, rather than “health service”.

The image of a queen who kept cereal in plastic boxes and fed toast to her corgis while a gruff Philip breakfasted next to her listening to a battered old transistor radio did much to endear. So, too, did the two-bar electric fire she used in 2013 and beyond to heat her palace audience room, and “revelations” that her favourite TV programmes included Last of the Summer Wine and The Bill.

Illnesses were rare as she enjoyed robust health. At 85, she was still carrying out 325 engagements a year. Long-haul travel was only curtailed when she reached 87, and Philip 92.

She was the most widely travelled of any world head of state. She visited every Commonwealth country bar Cameroon, which joined in 1995, and Rwanda (2009). She visited Canada more than 20 times, Australia 16, New Zealand 10 and Jamaica six.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arriving in Sydney, Australia, in June 1970 for the bicentenary celebrations of Captain Cook’s first landing in Australia.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arriving in Sydney, Australia, in June 1970 for the bicentenary celebrations of Captain Cook’s first landing in Australia. Photograph: Reginald Davis/Rex Features

In 2011, Elizabeth became the first British monarch in a century to visit the Republic of Ireland. The following year, she shook hands in Belfast with the Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness, putting aside the personal tragedy of the IRA assassination of “Uncle Dickie”, Lord Mountbatten, her distant cousin and Philip’s uncle.

In 2002, her golden jubilee, her sister, Margaret, and mother, Queen Elizabeth, died within eight weeks of each other. Her relationship to both had been close, as they were among the few individuals in whom she could confide the pressures and frustrations of her position.

As many nations today mourn a queen, one family is mourning a mother of four, a grandmother of eight, and a great-grandmother of 12.

Source : The Guardian

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