The longest-ever reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the only monarch most of her subjects have ever known, is over. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor died Thursday at Balmoral Castle, her estate in Scotland. She was 96.
The palace issued a black-bordered statement about 6.30 p.m. local time: “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.”
Her eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, 73, immediately became King Charles III upon her death. His wife became Queen Consort Camilla.
Buckingham Palace issued another black-bordered statement from “His Majesty the King,” shortly after her death.
“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,” the statement said. “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.”
As the 41st monarch since William the Conqueror in 1066, Elizabeth was the symbol of stability as Britain and its 1,000-year-old monarchy sailed through roiling storms of the modern age, including a deadly pandemic.
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Elizabeth enjoyed robust health most of her life, but lingering “mobility issues” affected her in recent months. She increasingly handed over duties to Charles, from the recreational to the constitutional. Last week, she couldn’t attend the annual Highland Games, the Braemar Gathering, which she never missed throughout her reign.
On Tuesday she presided over the transition of one prime minister to a new one, a constitutional duty as head of state which took place at Balmoral for the first time in her reign.
But on Wednesday, the palace announced she would not be able to attend via Zoom the meeting of the Privy Council, the standing committee of senior governmental advisers, after doctors’ orders to rest.
She also missed significant appearances in June during the four days of celebration of her Platinum Jubilee of 70 years on the throne.
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In February, two weeks after marking the 70 anniversary of her ascension to the throne in 1952, the palace announced she had tested positive for COVID-19. During an audience in mid-February, the queen mentioned to her visitors that she had difficulty “moving,” leading to “ongoing mobility” issues, as Buckingham Palace put it, that prevented some appearances, including the State Opening of Parliament on May 10.
She had missed this important head-of-state role only twice before during her reign, both for pregnancies, but for the first time she officially delegated Charles to stand in for her, accompanied by his elder son, Prince William.
She was preceded in death by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, her husband of 73 years, who died April 9, 2021, at Windsor Castle at age 99, just short of his 100th birthday. He was Britain’s oldest and longest-serving royal spouse in 10 centuries.
His funeral yielded poignant pictures of the queen, alone and masked, in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor for a sublime service attended by only 30 members of his family amid COVID-19 restrictions.
At the end of March, she appeared in public for her first major in-person gathering since her COVID-19 diagnosis, leading her family, dozens of foreign royals and hundreds of Britain’s great and good in a service of thanksgiving for the life of her late husband at Westminster Abbey.
The death of a monarch is followed by a flurry of rituals, including an address to the nation by the new king and by the prime minister, followed by long-established funeral plans carried out with military precision.
For now, however, Britain prepared to mourn.
The plans include a funeral worthy of the devout and dutiful woman who pledged herself at age 21 in service to her nation and never wavered as the living symbol of the British people.