LONDON (Reuters) – Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and the nation’s figurehead for seven decades, has died aged 96, Buckingham Palace said on Thursday.
Her Majesty’s children had all travelled to Balmoral during the day on Thursday to be at her side after doctors said there was cause for concern.
“The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement. “The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.”
Elizabeth’s eldest son Charles, 73, automatically becomes king of the United Kingdom and the head of state of 14 other realms including Australia, Canada and New Zealand. His wife Camilla becomes Queen Consort.
News that the queen’s health was deteriorating emerged shortly after midday on Thursday when her doctors said she was under medical supervision, prompting her family to rush to be by her side at her Scottish home, Balmoral.
The queen had been suffering from what Buckingham Palace has called “episodic mobility problems” since the end of last year, forcing her to withdraw from nearly all her public engagements.
Her last public engagement came only on Tuesday, when she appointed Liz Truss prime minister – her 15th premier.
At her palaces and at government buildings across London, flags were lowered to half-mast.
Queen Elizabeth II, who was also the world’s oldest and longest-serving head of state, came to the throne following the death of her father King George VI on Feb. 6, 1952, when she was just 25.
She was crowned in June the following year. The first televised coronation was a foretaste of a new world in which the lives of the royals were to become increasingly scrutinised by the media.
“I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust,” she said in a speech to her subjects on her coronation day.
Elizabeth became monarch at a time when Britain still retained much of its old empire. It was emerging from the ravages of World War Two, with food rationing still in force and class and privilege still dominant in society.
Winston Churchill was Britain’s prime minister at the time, Josef Stalin led the Soviet Union and the Korean War was raging.
In the decades that followed, Elizabeth witnessed massive political change and social upheaval at home and abroad. Her own family’s tribulations, most notably the divorce of Charles and his late first wife Diana, were played out in full public glare.
While remaining an enduring symbol of stability and continuity for Britons at a time of relative national economic decline, Elizabeth also tried to adapt the ancient institution of monarchy to the demands of the modern era.
“She has managed to modernise and evolve the monarchy like no other,” her grandson Prince William, who is now heir to the throne, said in a 2012 documentary.
Elizabeth was the 40th monarch in a royal line that traces its origin back to Norman King William the Conqueror who claimed the English throne in 1066 after defeating Anglo-Saxon ruler Harold II at the Battle of Hastings.
Her long reign meant she repeatedly broke records for British rulers. When she surpassed the more than 63 years her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria spent on the throne, she said it was not a landmark to which she had ever aspired.
“Inevitably a long life can pass by many milestones – my own is no exception,” she said.
Her marriage to Prince Philip lasted 73 years, until his death in April 2021, and they had four children, Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward.
She never gave a media interview and critics said she came across as distant and aloof.
But for the vast majority of her subjects, for whom she was the only monarch they have known, she was a figure who commanded respect and admiration. Her death marks the end of an era.
“In her public duties she was selfless and wise, with a wonderful generosity of spirit. That is how she lived – and how she led,” former Prime Minister John Major said.
“For millions of people – across the Commonwealth and the wider world – she embodied the heart and soul of our nation, and was admired and respected around the globe.”
Opinion polls have suggested that Charles does not enjoy anywhere near the same level of support and there is speculation that the loss of Elizabeth may see a rise in republican sentiment, particularly in the other realms.
“I think it will be an enormous shock to everybody, much more than they realise. I don’t know if it’s an exaggeration to think there will be some sort of almost national nervous breakdown,” royal historian Hugo Vickers said.
He said her reign was unlikely to be rivalled.
“I think to be quite honest, if we lived 1,000 years, we would never see anything quite like it again.”
At her death the queen was head of state of not only the United Kingdom but also of Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda.
Following is a timeline of the queen’s life and reign:
April 21, 1926 – Elizabeth was born at 2.40 a.m. at 17 Bruton Street, London, and christened on May 29 that year in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace.
Dec. 11, 1936 – She became heir apparent, aged 10, when her uncle Edward VIII abdicated and her father became King George VI.
Nov. 20, 1947 – She married navy lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, a Greek Prince, at London’s Westminster Abbey. They had four children: Prince Charles (born in 1948), Princess Anne,(1950), Prince Andrew (1960) and Prince Edward (1964).
February 1952 – Princess Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip, set out on a tour of Africa and Asia in place of her ailing father, King George VI. News of the king’s death reaches her in Kenya on Feb. 6, meaning she is the first sovereign in more than 200 years to accede to the throne while abroad.
June 2, 1953 – Queen Elizabeth is crowned at Westminster Abbey in the first televised coronation service.
Nov. 24, 1953 – The Queen’s first Commonwealth tour begins covering a distance of 43,618 miles.
1970 – During a visit to New Zealand, the queen introduces the “walkabout”, a meet-the-people tactic for royal tours.
1977 – The queen marks her Silver Jubilee – 25 years as monarch – with a tour of Commonwealth countries and lavish celebrations in Britain.
1981 – Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer in a glittering ceremony.
1982 – Charles and Diana’s first child, Prince William, is born on June 21. Prince Harry is born two years later.
1986 – Prince Andrew marries the high-spirited publishing executive Sarah Ferguson, known as “Fergie”. The couple become the Duke and Duchess of York.
1991 – The queen tours the United States and becomes the first monarch to address Congress.
1992 – Her 40th year on the throne, which she calls her ‘annus horribilis’ (horrible year), is marked by marital upsets and public dissent.
– Andrew and Sarah separate. Anne divorces Mark Phillips.
– In November, Windsor Castle is badly damaged by fire. The queen agrees to pay income tax.
– In December, Charles and Diana announce their separation.
1995 – In March, the queen makes the first address by a British monarch to a South African parliament since 1947.
– In December, Buckingham Palace confirms the queen has written to Charles and Diana urging them to divorce.
1996 – In August, Charles and Diana are divorced.
1997 – On August 31, Diana and her millionaire companion Dodi al-Fayed are killed when their car crashes while being chased through Paris by photographers on motorcycles. The queen and the royal family are criticised for their reserved response.
– In November, large crowds greet the queen and Philip as they mark their golden wedding anniversary. In an unusually frank speech, the queen acknowledges that monarchies survive only through public support.
Feb. 9, 2002 – The queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, dies at the age of 71 after a life of glamour and heartbreak.
March 30 – Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, dies at Windsor Castle aged 101.
June 1-4 – Four days of nationwide celebrations mark the queen’s Golden Jubilee.
2005 – Son and heir Prince Charles marries Camilla Parker Bowles at a civil ceremony in Windsor.
April 29, 2011 – the queen attends the wedding of her grandson Prince William and Kate Middleton.
May – Queen makes four-day state visit to Ireland, the first by a British monarch since Ireland won its independence from London in 1921.
2012 – The diamond jubilee to mark her 60th year on the throne sees four days of celebrations in June along with a nationwide tour. A million people gather for a pageant on River Thames, and millions more attend street parties.
2013 – Prince William’s wife Kate gives birth to son Prince George. Their second child, Princess Charlotte is born in 2015 and their younger brother Prince Louis is born in 2018.
June 23-26, 2014 the queen embarks on what was her last foreign state visit to Germany.
– On Sept. 9, at about 5.30 p.m. UK time, Elizabeth becomes the nation’s longest-reigning monarch overtaking her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.
April 21, 2016 – Elizabeth celebrates her 90th birthday, the first British monarch to reach such a milestone.
Aug. 2 , 2017 – Husband Philip bows out of public life after 65 years of supporting his wife.
Nov. 20 – Elizabeth and Philip celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary with a private party at Windsor Castle.
2018 – The queen’s grandson Prince Harry marries Meghan Markle, a divorced U.S. actress from Los Angeles, at a star-studded wedding at Windsor Castle.
October, 2019 – A family row between William and Harry becomes public, with the younger prince confirming the rumours of a rift.
Nov. 15 – Prince Andrew gives a disastrous interview to BBC TV in an attempt to draw a line under a sex scandal. Days later he is forced to step down from royal duties over his links to the disgraced U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was jailed in 2008 for child sex offences.
January, 2020 – Harry and Meghan announce they will no longer be working members of the royal family. They move to Los Angeles in March.
April 5 – The queen makes only the fifth special televised broadcast of her reign to rally the nation amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
April 9, 2021 – Prince Philip, the queen’s husband of 73 years, dies peacefully aged 99 at Windsor Castle.
Oct. 20 – the queen spends a night in hospital for the first time in years for what Buckingham Palace termed “preliminary investigations”.
Nov. 30 – Barbados becomes a republic, meaning the queen is now the head of state of just 15 realms.
Jan 13, 2022 – Buckingham Palace says Prince Andrew has been stripped of his military links and royal patronages and will no longer be known as “His Royal Highness” as he defends a U.S. lawsuit brought by Virginia Giuffre who said the royal sexually abused her when she was a teenager.
Feb. 6 – Queen marks her 70th year on the throne, using the occasion to give her blessing to Charles’s second wife Camilla being called Queen Consort when he becomes king.
Feb. 15 – Prince Andrew pays an undisclosed sum to settle the U.S. lawsuit, but admits no wrongdoing.
Feb. 20 – The queen tests positive for COVID-19 and is said to be suffering from mild cold-like symptoms. She soon returns to official duties.
(Editing by Alex Richardson and Angus MacSwan)
FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Queen Elizabeth waves as she leaves Manchester town hall in northern England, Britain, March 23, 2012. REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo