Queen Elizabeth II, longest-reigning British monarch, dies

World

(NewsNation) — Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving British monarch who reigned for more than 70 years through major political changes, has died. She was 96.

Buckingham Palace said she died on Thursday afternoon at Balmoral Castle, her summer residence in Scotland, where members of the royal family had rushed to be by her side. 

“The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” the royal family announced on social media.

According to the line of succession, the Queen’s 73-year-old son Charles automatically became King, even though the coronation might not take place for months. His office announced he will be known as King Charles III. Charles’ second wife, Camilla, will be known as the Queen Consort.

“We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished Sovereign and a much-loved Mother,” a statement from His Majesty the King said. “I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world.”

Elizabeth’s funeral is expected to be held at Westminster Abbey following the traditional observance of a national 10-day period of mourning and she is expected to be laid to rest in a private burial at St. George’s Chapel, on the grounds of Windsor Castle.

Crowds gathered at Buckingham Palace, the flag was lowered to half-staff and world leaders extended condolences and paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II following her death.

The official website of the royal family went black, displaying only a portrait of the queen and a brief message about her passing.

“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,” King Charles III said.

President Joe Biden called her a “stateswoman of unmatched dignity and constancy who deepened the bedrock alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States.”

British Prime Minister Liz Truss, appointed by the queen just 48 hours earlier, pronounced the country “devastated” and called Elizabeth “the rock on which modern Britain was built.”

“The death of her majesty the queen is a huge shock to the nation and to the world,” Truss said.

Pope Francis sent his condolences to King Charles III and the people of the United Kingdom and praised Queen Elizabeth’s “life of unstinting service to the good of the Nation and the Commonwealth.”

A revered public figure, Elizabeth ascended to the throne at the age of 25 in 1952 and would spend the next seven decades devoting herself to a life of public service.

The early years of her reign saw the continued transformation and decline of the British Empire, beginning with the decolonization of African countries in the 1960s and 1970s. Later, Canada, Australia and New Zealand severed their constitutional links with Britain in the 1980s, and Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997.

She endured through 15 prime ministers, from Winston Churchill to Truss, becoming an institution and an icon.

A queen who never expected to be one, Elizabeth traveled more widely than any other monarch and made historic visits to China, Russia and the Republic of Ireland. She gained great favor among those in many Commonwealth nations including Australia, whose voters in 1999 rejected independence.

The leader of that republican movement, Malcolm Turnbull, said 18 years after the fact when he met the queen as prime minister that “even Republicans like myself can be, and in my case are, very strong Elizabethans as well.”

When Elizabeth was 21, almost five years before she became queen, she promised the people of Britain and the Commonwealth that “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born April 21, 1926, in Mayfair, London, and was the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York, who later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

She spent her early years at 145 Piccadilly in London, and at the country homes of her paternal grandparents before moving to Royal Lodge when she was 6 years old. She was educated privately at home and grew to love horses, an affection that would come to define part of her public persona.

Upon the abdication of her uncle King Edward VIII, Elizabeth became first in line to the throne in 1937 as heir presumptive. She studied constitutional history and law as preparation for her future role.

During World War II, Elizabeth and her sister spent their days at Windsor Castle, where they would often put on pantomimes for entertainment.

She married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in November 1947, and the couple produced four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. The couple lived in Malta from 1949-1951, where Philip served as a naval officer in the Mediterranean Fleet. They were married for 73 years until his death in April 2021.

Elizabeth ascended to the throne on Feb. 6, 1952, following the death of her father, George VI, and was crowned on June 2, 1953, in Westminster Abbey.

The queen’s reign began with her longest-ever Commonwealth tour, a seven-month round-the-world trip that began in November 1953 and covered more than 40,000 miles.

Through countless public events, she probably met more people than anyone in history. Her image, which adorned stamps, coins and banknotes, was among the most reproduced in the world.

But her inner life and opinions remained mostly an enigma. Of her personality, the public saw relatively little. She rarely seemed happier than during the Royal Ascot racing week and she never tired of the companionship of her beloved Welsh corgi dogs.

Despite being one of the world’s wealthiest people, Elizabeth had a reputation for frugality and common sense. She was known as a monarch who turned off lights in empty rooms, a country woman who didn’t flinch from strangling pheasants.

A reassuring presence at home, she was also an emblem of Britain abroad — a form of soft power, consistently respected whatever the vagaries of the country’s political leaders on the world stage. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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