Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving British monarch, died yesterday at 96. Buckingham Palace reported earlier in the day that doctors were “concerned for Her Majesty’s health,” and that members of her family were all flying to be with her at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Her 73-year-old son will now take the throne as King Charles III, inheriting a vastly different Britain than his mother did seven decades ago.
It was an unprecedented reign
When a 25-year-old Elizabeth first donned the crown in February 1952, Harry Truman was president, Winston Churchill was prime minister, and NBC’s The Today Show had just debuted. She ruled during the span of 15 UK prime ministers, 14 US presidents, and nearly 30% of American history, providing a stabilizing force during geopolitical upheaval and scandals in the royal family. ~80% of all people currently living in the UK were born after Elizabeth became queen.
Buckingham Palace didn’t wing this: It had a highly orchestrated plan to announce the queen’s death, called Operation London Bridge. The plan began by alerting the current prime minister—Liz Truss, as of this week—who told officials in the overseas territories. At exactly the moment a footman pinned a black-edged notice of the queen’s death to the palace gates, the media began its well-rehearsed, multiday broadcast program that will celebrate the queen’s life and lead the country in its 10 days of official mourning.
Leaders around the world, including President Biden, responded to the queen’s death with condolences and messages of support. But…you might want to avoid Irish TikTok if you were an Elizabeth fan.
Big picture: Britain’s already waning global influence has hit a nadir after most of its colonies bucked the crown for independence. When Queen Elizabeth II first clocked in on day one, Britain held 70+ territories around the world; at the time of her death that number had dwindled to 15.
And yet, the monarchy soldiers on. The British national anthem, which had been sung as “God Save the Queen” since 1952, will get a one-word edit: “God Save the King.”