Britain’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has died at the age of 96.
Her son, the Prince of Wales, automatically succeeds her as King, ruling over the UK and more than a dozen Commonwealth nations – a role for which the 73-year-old has spent a lifetime in preparation.
The Queen died on Thursday 8 September in Balmoral, Scotland, after 70 years on the throne, outlasting all of her predecessors and overseeing monumental changes in social and political life.
The Queen faced mobility issues in recent months and used a stick at Balmoral this week.
The Queen faced mobility issues in recent months and used a stick at Balmoral this week (PA)
Buckingham Palace said: “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.”
Staff have carried a podium onto Downing Street after Buckingham Palace broke the news of the Queen’s death.
Prime Minister Liz Truss is expected to pay tribute to the nation’s longest-reigning monarch outside No 10.
Her passing comes 17 months after the death of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, to whom she was married for 73 years.
Earlier on Thursday, Buckingham Palace announced the Queen had been placed under medical supervision as doctors had become concerned for her health.
In recent months she was increasingly reliant on a walking stick to carry out her duties and was forced to cancel some appearances.
Her passing leaves a nation in mourning after decades of dedicated public service.
The Queen appointed Liz Truss prime minister earlier this week
Throughout times of national crisis, the Queen always provided a reassuring presence, notably addressing Britain during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic and reminding Britons they would all “meet again” in an echo of Dame Vera Lynn’s Second World War song.
The Queen was born on 21 April 1926 at 17 Bruton Street, London, at the height of that year’s General Strike, to her parents Albert and Elizabeth, the Duke and Duchess of York.
From her early youth, Princess Elizabeth was one of the most famous people in the world: hospital wards were named after her, a popular song was composed in her honour, her face appeared on a Newfoundland stamp and a slice of Antarctica was renamed Princess Elizabeth Land.
Queen Elizabeth II: Life in pictures
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But at home in the nursery she developed into an orderly, self-contained, disciplined child, the responsible elder sister to Princess Margaret, born four years later in 1930.
Her childhood was happy and secure, but everything changed when, in December 1936, her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson.
Princess Elizabeth’s father became King as George VI and she herself Heir Presumptive to the British throne. The family moved into Buckingham Palace, surrounded by the panoply and restrictions of British royalty.
The future Queen undertook her first public engagement at the time of her 21st birthday on 21 April 1947 on her first tour outside England, a state visit with her parents and sister to the Union of South Africa.
In November of that same year, she married the former Prince Philip of Greece, who became Duke of Edinburgh. He was the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg and related to Princess Elizabeth through both his maternal and paternal bloodlines.
Prince Charles becomes King now his mother has passed
The marriage was popular as the first royal festival to take place in dreary, post-war Britain, then in the grip of an austerity regime. Sir Winston Churchill called the wedding “a flash of colour on the hard road we have to travel”.
Within a year of her wedding, Princess Elizabeth had given birth to her heir, , Prince Charles, born 14 November 1948, and, two years later, Princess Anne, born on 15 August 1950. For two years, she and her husband enjoyed the freedom of naval life in Malta, where he was a serving officer, but the grave illness of the King brought an end to this brief period of normality.
On 6 February 1952, King George VI died suddenly in his sleep. His daughter succeeded him as Queen Elizabeth II and was crowned the following year as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Queen of her other Realms and Territories and Head of the Commonwealth.
The Queen, pictured in 1957, four years after her coronation
Her coronation on 2 June 1953 was televised, sparking the beginning of a media revolution as millions in Britain and across the world watched the ceremony crowded around early sets.
Documentary cameras were later invited behind the scenes to film The Royal Family in 1969. A hugely popular screen event, the film captured the Queen and her family, now extended to four children with the arrival of Princes Andrew and Edward in 1960 and 1964 respectively, as ordinary, relatable human beings.
The Queen’s experience of public affairs meanwhile continued to grow immeasurably and one of the most important aspects of her role, “to consult, advise and warn” her prime ministers, became one of her greatest strengths.
While it became a cliche to say that she typically fared better with Labour PMs than their Conservative counterparts, the suggestion was only partially true.
The monarch with her extended family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in 2019
She bonded with Sir Winston over their shared love of horse racing, stayed on cordial terms with the Foreign Office-trained Sir Anthony Eden by ensuring she was kept informed on the twists and turns of the Suez crisis and was regarded with reverence and affection by Harold Macmillan, who wrote her long, informative letters.
She was unquestionably closer to Labour’s Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan than to Tories Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher but Her Majesty typically managed to find common ground with all so long as they kept her confidence, a blunder only seriously betrayed by David Cameron in 2014 when he incautiously claimed she had “purred” when he informed her that Scotland had narrowly voted against independence.
Throughout her life, the Queen remained proud of her achievements in holding the Commonwealth together, unshakeable in her faith that nations are stronger united, but largely preferred to keep her personal preferences out of political decision-making, even if she privately felt strongly one way or another.
Occasionally she could be roped in against her will by others: Boris Johnson notably compromised her steady record of impartiality when he drew her into the mire by requesting the proroguing of parliament ahead of a key deadline for Brexit negotiations with the European Union in October 2019, but this was a rare exception.
Her Majesty has been a reassuring figure in British life for generations
Her instinct for keeping her head dutifully above the fray served her well but was not unerring: the British public considered her decision to stay at Balmoral following the tragic death of Charles’s ex-wife, Princess Diana, in 1997 rather than return to London callous and cold, out of tune with the national mood.
The Queen believed it was more important to comfort her grieving grandsons, Princes William and Harry, over the loss of their mother away from the intense glare of the voracious British press, but was eventually persuaded by her then prime minister Tony Blair and by Buckingham Palace advisers to change tack, an error that ultimately did no lasting damage to her popularity.
The acrimonious and bitter conclusion to Charles and Diana’s “fairytale” marriage coinciding with a devastating fire at Windsor Castle had made 1992 her “annus horribilis” and she would suffer further sorrows with the coming of the turn of the century, from the loss of her mother and sister in 2002 to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announcing their departure from the family in 2020 and Prince Philip’s passing.
His constant off-stage support and sense of humour had proven an invaluable asset without which her career of public service might not have been possible.
Elizabeth and Prince Philip viewing the floral tributes to Diana, Princess of Wales, at Buckingham Palace in 1997
The Queen was a fixture in British life for seven decades, leading the country out of empire and the aftermath of the Second World War through decades of change and upheaval with rarely so much as a day off.
Her quiet self-possession in the face of crisis, her gravity, patriotism, strong sense of duty and utter dedication to a position she simply saw as her job, has earned her a place as one of the great monarchs of her line, worthy of comparison with her role model, Victoria.