Queen Elizabeth II dies at 96 after historic 70-year reign, plunging Britain and a world that loved her into mourning for an unparalleled lifetime of ‘service, duty and devotion’ and making Charles the new King


Queen Elizabeth II dies at 96 after historic 70-year reign, plunging Britain and a world that loved her into mourning for an unparalleled lifetime of ‘service, duty and devotion’ and making Charles the new King

*   The death of Queen Elizabeth II is announced at the age of 96, ending the longest reign of any British monarch
*   Doctors became concerned about her health today with her children and grandchildren racing to Balmoral
*   World joins Britain in mourning, and celebrating, devoted sovereign who ruled the country for 70 years
*   Queen’s son Charles, the former Prince of Wales, becomes King and is expected to address the nation shortly
Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary became Queen on Feb 6 1952 aged just 25, when her father George VI died
*  Her reign spanned 15 British Prime Ministers from Sir Winston Churchill to Liz Truss and 14 US Presidents
*   And on September 9, 2015, she became longest-reigning British monarch, surpassing Queen Victoria’s record
*   Queen dies aged 96: Follow for the latest updates from Balmoral as Britain’s Elizabeth II passes

By Martin Robinson, Chief Reporter and Mark Duell and Nick Enoch and Harry Howard, History Correspondent For Mailonline

Published: 18:30, 8 September 2022 | Updated: 18:37, 8 September 2022

Queen Elizabeth II has died today aged 96.  Her son Charles, the former Prince of Wales, is now King. He will address the shocked nation imminently, as the world grieves Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.  All her children had rushed to Balmoral after doctors became ‘concerned’ for her health. Hours later she died, surrounded by her family.  At 6.30pm her death was confirmed. A Buckingham Palace spokesman 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’.

The Queen’s death will see Britain and her Commonwealth realms enter into a ten-day period of mourning as millions of her subjects in the UK and abroad come to terms with her passing.  And as her son accedes to the throne, there will also be a celebration of her historic 70-year reign that saw her reach her Platinum Jubilee this year – a landmark unlikely to be reached again by a British monarch.  Tributes are already pouring in for Her Majesty, to many the greatest Briton in history and undoubtedly the most famous woman on earth. To billions around the world she was the very face of Britishness.  To her subjects at home, Her Majesty was the nation’s anchor, holding firm no matter what storm she or her country was facing from the uncertain aftermath of the Second World War to, more recently, the pandemic. She was also steadfast as she dealt with tragedies and scandals in her own family, most recently the fallout from Megxit and the death of her beloved husband Prince Philip.  Charles will embark on a tour of the UK before his mother’s funeral with his wife Camilla, who the Queen announced would be crowned her eldest son’s Queen Consort in an historic statement to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee and 70 years on the throne on February 6.  The Queen’s passing came more than a year after that of her beloved husband Philip, her ‘strength and guide’, who died aged 99 in April 2021. Since his funeral, where she poignantly sat alone because of lockdown restrictions, her own health faltered, and she was forced to miss an increasing number of events mainly due to ‘mobility problems’ and tiredness.  In July she travelled to Scotland for her annual summer break, but cancelled her traditional welcome to Balmoral Castle in favour of a small more private event because of her health, believed to be linked to her ability to stand. And at the end of July, Prince Charles represented his mother and opened the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham with the Duchess of Cornwall. In late August Queen missed the Braemar Gathering the first time she was not at the Highland Games in her 70-year reign.  But she was well enough to meet with Boris Johnson at Balmoral to accept his resignation, before asking the 15th Prime Minister of her reign, Liz Truss, to form a Government. Her Majesty, who stood with the support of a stick and smiled as she greeted Ms Truss in front of a roaring fire, had not been seen in public for two months. It would be her final picture.  In June Her Majesty missed every day of Royal Ascot for the first time since her coronation in 1953. A month earlier she was forced to miss the State Opening of Parliament for the first time in 59 years, due to what her spokesman described as ‘episodic mobility problems’ which they said she was continuing to experience.  But despite her frailty, she continued to receive her daily Red Box from Downing Street containing Government paperwork to read and sign and continued engagements to the end most significantly with the memorial service for her late husband at Westminster Abbey at the end of March and her appearances over the course of her Platinum Jubilee weekend in early June.  Before Her Majesty’s death, the past two years had been hugely challenging and upsetting for the ageing monarch. She was forced to cut adrift Prince Andrew, reputedly her favourite son, after he initially fought then settled a civil case with Virginia Roberts Giuffre for up to £12million. Ms Giuffre, a sex slave of Jeffrey Epstein, accused the Duke of York of sexually abusing her. His mother stripped him of his titles but there was a show of support weeks later when he was with her from start to finish at Philip’s Westminster Abbey memorial service.  And there was continuing grief for the Queen because of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to quit as frontline royals and the soap opera this brought with it including the public rift with Charles and Prince William. She was however able to meet their daughter Lilibet who was named after her with the nickname used by George VI and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh when the family came to the UK for the Platinum Jubilee in June but barely took part.  However, as the Jubilee celebrations kicked off with Trooping the Colour, the Queen delighted tens of thousands of Britons who had packed The Mall by appearing twice on the Buckingham Palace balcony with senior members of her family, including Prince Charles, Prince William and Kate Middleton.  She then headed to Windsor to symbolically light the first in a chain of beacons stretching around the UK and across the world, brushing off previously announced ‘discomfort’ that forced her to miss the next day’s Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral.  And Her Majesty shocked even members of her own family by appearing alongside Paddington Bear in a sketch to kick off the Platinum Party at the Palace gig on June 3.  On the last day of the Jubilee celebrations, after a majestic pageant depicting every decade of Her Majesty’s reign had processed a long a two-mile route, the Queen appeared for a final time on the Buckingham Palace balcony, delighting the millions watching on in person and on TV.  As Charles put it on her 80th birthday, his beloved ‘mama’ had been ‘a figure of reassuring calm and dependability an example to so many of service, duty and devotion, in a world of sometimes bewildering change and disorientation’. As king his reign begins at a time where the monarchy will be destablised by his mother’s death after her seven decades on the throne. He plans to slim down the number of taxpayer-funded royals because he realises that the public don’t want to pay for a huge Monarchy, insiders have said.  The Queen acceded to the throne on February 6, 1952, thrust on the rather shy and tentative 25-year-old while on a royal tour of Kenya with her beloved husband and soul mate Prince Philip following the death of her father George VI, who was her idol.  Later in life, Elizabeth looked back to her young adulthood, when she faced the daunting prospect of, in the near future, leading a Britain still reeling after the Second World War.  ‘When I was 21, I pledged my life to the service of our people, and asked for God’s help to make that vow,’ she recalled. ‘Although that vow was made in my salad days, when I was green in judgement, I do not regret nor retract one word of it.’

Nobody could have predicted that she would have reigned for 70 years, helping steer the country through crisis after crisis as well leading the Windsors through choppy waters that at times threatened the future and integrity of the Royal Family right up until her death.  Charles will now face the difficult task of following his mother.  Those who knew the Queen as a child described a serious and loyal daddy’s girl who idolised her father, who at the time of her birth had no desire to be King George VI or make his beloved eldest daughter his heir to the throne.  Baby Elizabeth, with her blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, entered the world at 2.40am on April 26 1926 in a Mayfair townhouse to her proud parents Prince Albert, Duke of York, and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Within a decade the Yorks would be Britain’s most reluctant king and queen after the abdication of Edward VIII.  Her Majesty was a curious and bright girl, described by Winston Churchill as a ‘character’ at the age of two, while her governess later wrote of a love of animals and dedication to responsibility that would see her reign for seven decades.  In fact, when she went on her first overseas tour, accompanying her parents to Africa in 1947, she famously said: ‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.’

Nobody could have predicted that she would have reigned for 70 years, helping steer the country through crisis after crisis as well leading the Windsors through choppy waters that at times threatened the future and integrity of the Royal Family right up until her death.  And after Prince Philip’s passing, Her Majesty’s health quickly began to suffer.  In October 2021 the Queen spent a rare night in hospital after doctors sent her for tests, forcing her to apologetically miss a visit to Northern Ireland.  She had worked ten of the previous 20 days, and was back at her desk within hours of being discharged, despite having to cancel an appearance at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.  Concerns for the nation’s longest reigning sovereign had been heightened in recent months given her age, frailer appearance of late and positive Covid-19 test on February 20, 2022.  She had to cancel a series of engagements including virtual audiences after suffering from ‘mild, cold-like symptoms’.  The Queen had to rest for three months on doctors’ orders and had also been regularly seen using a walking stick. She remarked during a Windsor Castle audience in February 2022: ‘Well, as you can see, I can’t move.’

She would later admit that Covid had left her exhausted.  But even while suffering from poor health, she continued with ‘light duties’ as head of state – including working from her red boxes, sent to her every day and containing policy papers, Foreign Office telegrams, letters and other State papers which had to be read and, where necessary, approved and signed.  There were also countless virtual engagements.  When she missed the State Opening of Parliament, it was the first time she had done so since 1963, when she was pregnant with Prince Edward. The only previous occasion was when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew in 1959.  In her place, Prince Charles, who was accompanied by Prince William, read her speech for the first time as the Queen watched on TV from Windsor Castle, but the Sovereign’s Throne in the House of Lords remained symbolically empty.  Days after missing the State Opening of Parliament, the Queen was clapped and cheered as she attended the Royal Windsor Horse Show over successive days, watching an all-star line-up that included Dame Helen Mirren, Tom Cruise and Katherine Jenkins perform.  Her Majesty, who looked cheerful and well, was given a standing ovation as she walked to her seat despite her recent frailty, surprising those who believed she may miss the event altogether.  The monarch then caused further surprise just a couple of days later when she unexpectedly visited Paddington Station in London to officially open the Elizabeth line with her youngest son Prince Edward, who had been scheduled to attend on his own.  Her Majesty used a walking stick but was steady on her feet as she was shown how to top up an Oyster card.  At the Chelsea Flower Show, the Queen refused to let her mobility problems stop her from attending as she toured the event in a chauffeur-driven golf buggy.  But it was over the Platinum Jubilee weekend in early June that the Queen really displayed her commitment to duty.  On the day of Trooping the Colour on June 2, 2022, she appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony with senior royals including Prince Charles and Prince William.  Also present was the Duchess of Cambridge and her and William’s children Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis.  Her Majesty beamed as 71 aircraft took part in a flypast above Buckingham Palace as part of the tributes to her.  In a sign of the toll that the appearances had had on her, a spokesman said later that day that due to ‘discomfort’ she had suffered, she would miss the next day’s Service of Thanksgiving.  But she was still able to head to Windsor Castle that evening to symbolically launch more than 3,500 flaming tributes to her 70-year reign.  The event formed part of a dual ceremony with her grandson the Duke of Cambridge, who was waiting 22 miles away at Buckingham Palace where the centrepiece of the beacon chain a 68-foot ‘Tree of Trees’ sculpture was illuminated.  The next day, The Queen watched on television as her family and hundreds of other guests packed into St Paul’s to pay tribute to her.  It was Harry and Meghan’s first joint engagement in two years, but the couple were kept apart from Prince William, Kate, Prince Charles and Camilla and left separately.  It was announced that day that Her Majesty, a keen horse racing fan, would also miss the Epsom Derby, an event she has attended on dozens of occasions throughout her reign.  On the final day of the celebrations, a two-mile pageant told the story of her life, and the nation, with an eccentric and imaginative carnival-like display.  The Queen appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony at the end of the day, where she watched a stirring rendition of the National Anthem.  Her Majesty was seen turning to Prince George and asking: ‘Wow! Did you expect that?’ after the anthem rendition.

In a message of thanks after her appearance, she acknowledged her absences in previous days but said her ‘heart’ had been with well-wishers.  In a further sign of her devotement to duty, she also said she remained ‘committed to serving’ the nation to ‘the best of my ability’ a promise she kept.  Her reign will define the British monarchy for centuries. In 2015 she passed Victoria to be Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and at her death was both the longest-reigning and the oldest-ever ruler in the 1,100-year history of the English crown. Her 73-year marriage to Philip was the longest for a sovereign.  The Queen took such records in her stride. On turning 80, she quoted Groucho Marx:  ‘Anyone can get old,’ she said. ‘All you have to do is live long enough.’

Through such longevity Elizabeth inevitably experienced personal lows as well as great national highs but won deeper admiration for the stoicism she showed in the face of adversity and her ability to remain untainted by scandals that occasionally engulfed her family.  She famously declared 1992 her ‘annus horribilis’, after it saw a devastating fire gut Windsor Castle and the marriages of her children Anne, Charles and Andrew all falter.  Five years later she steered the Crown through its gravest crisis since the abdication of her uncle, Edward VIII, when Princess Diana was killed in a Paris car crash.  And in the last years of her life she faced her grandson Harry exiting royal life and entering into a war of words with ‘The Firm’ after moving to California with wife Meghan rather than continue living in Frogmore Cottage in Windsor.  The Sussexes also carried out a bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021, and Harry is planning to release a tell-all book.  In January 2020 the Duke and Duchess of Sussex shocked the world by announcing their intention to step down as senior royals.  Buckingham Palace said all were ‘saddened’ by their decision to permanently step down as working royals, but they remained ‘much loved members of the family’.

A statement added that the Queen had ‘written confirming that in stepping away from the work of the Royal Family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service’.

But the Sussexes hit back with a statement of their own, saying: ‘We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.’

Sex allegations dogged her second son Andrew, the Duke of York, who settled his legal battle in New York with accuser Virginia Giuffre in February 2022 without the civil case having to go to trial. But the Queen also had to ensure he was removed from royal life and stripped him of his honorary military titles.  Besides his appearance at the memorial service for Prince Philip, Andrew was not seen in public at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. He had been set to attend the Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s but then pulled out after testing positive for coronavirus.  The disgraced Duke of York was also listed on the order of service during Garter Day but did not appear at the actual event. It was later reported that Prince William and Prince Charles had lobbied the Queen to ensure he did not feature in public.  Despite the turbulence with members of her family family, the Queen remained a steadfast figure throughout.  She was composed, pragmatic and private, relying on her unshakable Christian faith to support her through the darkest moments.  And she also calmed the nation when faced with the global coronavirus pandemic, assuring Britons in March 2020 that the nation’s history ‘has been forged by people and communities coming together to work as one’.  Born in Mayfair on April 21, 1926, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York was niece of the King, third in line to the throne and unlikely ever to ever be crowned. That afforded ‘Lilibet’ and her sister Margaret a sheltered if privileged upbringing.  But in 1936, when she was just 10, her uncle abdicated, making her father King and changing her destiny forever.  Just 16 years later, Elizabeth came to the throne as a rather shy 25-year-old, ruling over a nation that had lost much of its power in the world and an empire that was crumbling fast.  Yet, she surprised many by emerging stronger than ever from the winds of change, steering the monarchy safely through an era of storm as well as calm.  She refused to be panicked as public weariness at the antics of some younger members of her family led to a deeply damaging collapse in popularity and threatened to undermine the old-fashioned values of stability, honesty and hard work embodied by the Queen.  Through trials and tribulations, the Queen never lost her overwhelming sense of duty to the nation and it repaid her with an appreciation that often stood in marked contrast to its view of other royals.  The Queen recognised the worth of traditional values in a changing world but refused to be bound by them.  As a long reigning constitutional monarch, her knowledge and professionalism were unparalleled.  Fourteen prime ministers came and went during her reign, from Sir Winston Churchill to Boris Johnson. Liz Truss was her 15th.  She was Head of State, the Armed Forces, the Commonwealth and the Church of England, but also a wife, a mother of four and Granny to eight grandchildren and Great-Granny to 11 great-grandchildren.  Her whole world, family and daily surroundings were steeped in British history.  The Queen spent more than two-thirds of her life on the throne and in September 2015 at the age of 89, she became Britain’s longest ever reigning monarch, overtaking her royal ancestor Queen Victoria.  Like Victoria, the Queen celebrated a Diamond Jubilee, becoming only the second British monarch to complete 60 years on the throne.  She was the longest reigning still serving monarch in world taking the title after the death of the revered Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej in October 2016.  Critics saw the Queen as remote, out of touch, less modern and less approachable than other European royals. But supporters heralded her as a great British institution and deserving of respect.  Public adoration peaked during the Silver Jubilee of 1977, the Golden Jubilee of 2002 and Diamond Jubilee of 2012.  However, the Queen’s 50th year on the throne in 2002 saw her suffer the devastating double blow of losing both the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret within weeks of one another.  With the death of her beloved mother, it was left to the Queen to take on the role as the Royal Family’s matriarch.  As monarch, she served as a focus of national pride through conflicts in which British servicemen paid the ultimate price in her name.  She was a figure of continuity as her country changed in the 20th century, through the Millennium and in the 21st century, from new technological advances to a succession of British governments of different political persuasions.  Lately, the Queen had begun to make a number of concessions to her advancing years including cutting down completely on long-haul travel and getting other members of the family to undertake investitures on her behalf which involved her standing on her feet for more than an hour at a time.  A temporary handrail was installed in the steep steps outside St Paul’s Cathedral for the Queen and Prince Philip, then 95, to use at a service to celebrate the monarch’s 90th birthday in 2016.  She was also seen using a walking stick at some of the last engagements but has reportedly dismissed any talk of her using a wheelchair.  The Queen also relinquished more than two dozen of her most high-profile patronages as she took another step back from royal duties, with Charles, Prince William, Prince Edward, Princess Anne and their partners taking up the slack.  During her lifetime there was unprecedented change. Penicillin was discovered, man landed on the Moon, Britain got its first woman prime minister and the internet was invented. She was a constant for the UK and the Commonwealth in those times.  The public looked to the Queen in times of crisis or tragedy September 11, the London bombings, the death of Diana and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.  After the Princess of Wales was killed in a Paris car crash in 1997, millions of mourners were left wondering why the Queen took so long to speak publicly about the tragedy.  The royals were perceived as being unemotional and criticised for their reserve.  At the time, the Queen was doing her duty as a grandmother, consoling the heartbroken Princes William and Harry at Balmoral.  Aides acknowledged important lessons were learned in terms of what the public expected from the royals in times of grief.  Ironically, it was probably the Queen’s early recognition that the monarchy needed to be modernised as the traditional class barriers of British society were eroded that led to its later difficulties.  Soon after acceding the throne on the premature death of her beloved father, George VI, in 1952, she began to sweep aside some of the more open signs of class distinction and royal mystery.  The Queen introduced the idea of ‘walkabouts’ haphazard but happy meetings with people in the crowds thronging the streets around official visits and refused to drop them despite security worries.  The annual ‘coming out’ presentation of debutantes at Buckingham Palace was ended in 1958 and garden parties, receptions and lunches were extended to an ever wider cross-section of society.  Gone for ever was the long accepted idea that ‘society’ was confined to the few people suitable for presentation at Court.  A significant watershed and probable beginning of the idea of the royals as soap opera came in the late 1960s with the filming of the TV documentary Royal Family.  Smashing viewing records around the world, it gave the first intimate glimpse of the Queen and her relatives at play as well as at work.  But it also whetted the appetite of a royal-crazy world for public revelations about long-protected private lives.  The prolonged silence observed by the press barons of the 1930s over the affair of Edward VIII, then Prince of Wales, and American divorcee Wallis Simpson became inconceivable in the modern day.  If the Queen presided over a sea-change in the way the Royal Family was perceived, she also handled with great skill and statesmanship the massive social and political upheavals of the post-war world.  She helped steer the transition of the British Empire into a looser grouping of Commonwealth nations bound together by ties of friendship as well as tradition.  Many newly independent states chose to drop her as Queen, but she undertook the titular role of Head of the Commonwealth and attached great importance to its work.  Like the 14 prime ministers who served her at home, dozens of Commonwealth heads of state drew on her great experience for help and advice, gathered over several decades of extensive overseas trips.  Prince Philip stepped down from doing public engagements in 2017 but was still by the Queen’s side throughout his final years before his death in April 2021.  Now the huge job of leading the country has been left to her son Prince Charles, who has an enormous challenge on his hands and will certainly not be monarch for anywhere near the length of time as his devoted mother.

July 2024