What happens when Queen Elizabeth II dies?

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Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for 67 years since the death of her father on February 6, 1952.

She’s the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

Now 93 years old, the Royal Family has to face a hard truth: that someday soon, the Queen will die.

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When she does, Buckingham Palace will begin operation ‘London Bridge,’ a plan which has reportedly been in place since the 1960s and updated several times per year since.

It’s typical for code names to be used in an effort to avoid alerting the public before other procedures have been set in motion. According to an article in The Guardian, George VI’s death was called ‘Hyde Park Corner.’ When the Queen dies, it will reportedly be announced that ‘London Bridge is down.’

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Royal historian Carolyn Harris can’t verify the Queen’s code name, but she is certain Buckingham Palace will be ready — whether the Queen dies today or in 10 years.

Location, location, location

In the minutes and hours following the Queen’s passing, everything that happens next will depend on her location.

“If the Queen were to pass away during her summer holiday at Balmoral Castle, for instance, there would first be a Scottish ceremonial,” Harris told Global News. “She would lie to rest at the palace at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, and there would be a service of reception at St. Giles’ cathedral.”

Then, the Queen would be transported by royal train to London for the lying-in-state. According to the U.K. parliament, the lying-in-state period is when the deceased lies in a coffin on a raised platform in the middle of Westminster Hall. It’s given only to the Sovereign, the current or past Queen Consort and occasionally former prime ministers.

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During this time, members of the public are permitted to visit the deceased and pay their respects. Each corner of the platform is guarded at all times.

When the Queen Mother died in 2002, an estimated 250,000 people visited her during the lying-in-state.

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A few days after the lying-in-state, a funeral will take place at Westminster Abbey.

The announcement

A major difference between monarchs who have come before Queen Elizabeth II is social media.

“News will travel much faster,” said Harris. “When King George VI passed, there was a delay of about four hours before the public was aware.” George was found by his valet at 7:30 a.m. local time, but the BBC didn’t broadcast the news until after 11:00 a.m..

In fact, news travelled so slowly that Queen Elizabeth, who was on tour in Kenya with her husband Prince Philip at the time, was one of the last to know about her father’s death.

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“[He] died in his sleep, so it took over the course of the next day for the knowledge to spread before it was officially announced by the BBC,” said Harris. “[This time], we will see the announcement take place much more quickly.”
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For this reason, Harris also thinks the BBC won’t have as much of a monopoly on coverage of the death as it has in the past.

“There will be widespread retrospectives around the world, looking back at the Queen’s reign,” said Harris. “For many people, this is the only monarch that they remember… so there’s going to be a real outpouring of interest in the Queen’s life, reign and death.”

Prince Charles’s accession 

Charles, Queen Elizabeth’s eldest son, will be declared King immediately after his mother’s passing is announced.

“The Accession Council will meet and various proclamations will be made,” said Harris. The Accession Council is comprised of the Privy Council, the Lord Mayor and Alderman of the city of London, as well as the High Commissioners of Realm Commonwealth countries.

According to the Royal Family, the Accession Council will meet with Charles at St. James’s Palace.

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After the proclamation is made, Charles reads a declaration and takes the oath to preserve the Church of Scotland. The public will first be informed of Charles’s accession by public proclamation at St. James’s Palace.

“One of the things that the public may be interested in is Camilla’s title,” said Harris. “He’s the Duke of Cornwall as well as the Prince of Wales… so technically, she’s entitled to use Princess of Wales, but doesn’t do that. She has been using the title of the Duchess of Cornwall, one of Charles’s other titles.”

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This is likely out of respect for Charles’s deceased ex-wife, Princess Diana.

“There will be immediate interest in whether Camilla is immediately described as Queen or as Princess Consort,” said Harris.

“The more time passes and the more that Camilla builds up a public profile within the Royal Family, the more likely it is that she will be proclaimed Queen.”

The Prince’s Vigil

When the Queen Mother passed in 2002, her four grandsons — Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and Viscount Linley — stood vigil at the four corners of their grandmother’s coffin for 20 minutes.

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The vigil is an unofficial tradition in the Royal Family. When King George V died in 1936, his four sons also held vigil in the same hall.

Harris said it’s likely there will be a vigil for Queen Elizabeth, comprised of “several members of the Royal Family… it may include female members of the Royal Family, as well.”

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Afterward, it will be time to bury Queen Elizabeth. Harris said this will happen at Windsor Castle.

“That’s where George VI and the Queen Mother are buried… as well as more recent British monarchs,” said Harris.


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