LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II has died aged 96, Buckingham Palace has announced.
“The Queen passed away peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and Queen consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and return to London tomorrow,” the palace said in a statement.
Flags across the UK were lowered to half mast ahead of a nationwide minute of silence and the start of an official period of mourning.
In his first statement as king, his eldest son Charles spoke of the sadness felt by his family.
“The passing of my beloved mother, Her Majesty The Queen, is a moment of the greatest sadness for me and all of my family members,” Charles said.
“We deeply mourn the passing of a cherished sovereign and a much-loved mother. I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, kingdoms and commonwealth, and by countless people across the world.
“During this time of grief and change, my family and I will be comforted and supported by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which the Queen was so widely held.”
Britain’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss – invited to form a government by the Queen just two days ago – was also due to address the nation from Downing Street on Thursday evening.
In Westminster, House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle described his death as a “terrible loss” to the nation.
“For all of us, the Queen has been a constant presence in our lives – as familiar as a member of the family, but a calm and constant influence on our country. Most of us have never had a moment when she wasn’t there. His death is not only a tragedy for the royal family, but a terrible loss for all of us.
He added: “During her 70 years on the throne… she gave our lives a sense of balance. While her reign was marked by dramatic changes in the world, Her Majesty maintained her unwavering devotion to the United Kingdom, the British Overseas Territories and the Commonwealth of Nations – and her gentle authority and reason stood felt everywhere.
As a young princess, Elizabeth first took public office during World War II, appearing on the radio and being appointed one of her father’s effective deputies as a councilor of state.
She married Philip Mountbatten in 1947, a marriage which lasted until her death in 2021 and produced four children: Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward.
She became queen in 1952 after the untimely death of her father George VI, and became both the oldest and longest-serving monarch in the country.
He is credited with revitalizing the monarchy, embarking on a seven-month world tour shortly after his accession to the throne and helping to ensure the Empire’s transition into the Commonwealth of Nations. She traveled extensively in the Commonwealth even as a growing number of African and Caribbean countries were decolonized in the 1960s and 1970s.
The 1980s and 1990s saw one of the most difficult periods of his reign as press scrutiny of the royal family intensified, with particular focus on the unhappy marriage between Charles and Princess Diana.
The family’s popularity dipped in the Queen’s annus horribilis in 1992, when Charles and Diana separated and a major fire broke out at Windsor Castle.
Following Diana’s death in a car accident in 1997, the public briefly became openly hostile to the Queen amid an outpouring of grief, before she paid a personal tribute to the Princess on a television broadcast.
She has remained a constant in the lives of all Britons and has regained her popularity to become more revered than ever, even as new scandals have engulfed the family in recent years.
In a broadcast to the nation at the start of the COVID pandemic, the Queen promised there were better days ahead. Echoing the words of a famous war song by Vera Lynn, she declared that “we will see each other again”.
The Queen has been affected by mobility issues over the past year and has drastically reduced her public appearances, including missing the official opening of parliament in May and a service of thanksgiving to celebrate her seventies years on the throne. Just this week, mobility issues meant the Queen had to appoint Liz Truss as Britain’s prime minister – the 15th of her reign – from Balmoral Castle in Scotland rather than Buckingham Palace in London.
A state funeral will be held at Westminster Abbey in ten days, which will see the nation observe a two-minute silence, before the Queen is buried at Windsor Castle.
Charles will embark on a tour of the UK, starting with a visit to the Scottish Parliament and a service at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.