For as long as most everyone can remember, the queen of England has been that little old lady with the pastel suits and the corgis. But after a record number of years on the throne, her reign ended with her death on Thursday.
Since the vast majority of people on Earth have never known another ruler of England—or lived through the coronation of a new one—it’s thrown us all for a bit of a loop. What happens now? Who’s watching over England? And most importantly, who’s watching the dogs?
What happened, where, and when?
Queen Elizabeth II, who ruled the United Kingdom for 70 years, died on Thursday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. The royal family has not yet disclosed the cause of death. She was 96. Though the queen has been in ill health for the past few years, her condition worsened enough at the end that a note was delivered to Parliament earlier on Thursday relaying her doctors’ concerns, so everyone knew it must be pretty serious and possibly imminent. Her passing means that the U.K. is about to get a new ruler: her eldest son, Charles, himself 73 years young.
She was queen a long time. Was she a good one?
She was not only her country’s longest-serving monarch, having several years ago surpassed her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, whose reign lasted 63 years, but the whole modern world’s longest-serving monarch. When she took the throne in 1952 at 25 years old following the death of her father, King George VI, the prime minister was Winston Churchill and the president of the United States was Harry S. Truman. She remained a steady, and studiously politically neutral, presence as 14 U.S. presidents and 15 prime ministers cycled through office. Though the territory she presided over shrank significantly during her reign due to decolonization, and though the British royal family endured reams of scandals, she is considered a very successful monarch, beloved by the people of the U.K. who aren’t vehemently opposed to the monarchy and even a few who are.
OK so what happens … immediately? Is Charles already King?
For practical purposes, Charles is already king. The family statement came from a “King Charles” and he’s being universally referred to as such. But technically, he hasn’t been officially proclaimed king. That happens at something called the “Accession Council,” a special meeting that involves the Privy Council, which is itself a ceremonial body composed mostly of senior politicians.
The Accession Council is supposed to take place at St. James’ Palace in London within 24 hours of the previous monarch’s death, and apparently, this will be the first time it’s televised. (Televisions were only just becoming common household items when Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952.) At the meeting, Penny Mourdant, the conservative leader of the House of Commons and the leader of the Privy Council, will announce the queen’s death; a clerk will read out the Accession Proclamation; it’ll be signed by several Important British People, and that’ll be that. A second meeting, a day or two later, will involve Charles and will tie up some loose ends (including a special oath to preserve the Church of Scotland).
What are all of the fancy protocols?
At that second Accession Council meeting, there will be a bit more of the fancy stuff. Here’s what the BBC says:
After a fanfare of trumpeters, a public proclamation will be made declaring Charles as the new King. This will be made from a balcony above Friary Court in St James’s Palace, by an official known as the Garter King of Arms.
Then that Garter King of Arms will call out “God save the King,” and the national anthem will play with those words subbed. And then there will be gun salutes and proclamations read around the UK.
What do we know about the queen’s funeral?
According to the Guardian and others, the United Kingdom is now in an official period of mourning. In the next couple days, the queen’s coffin is expected to leave Balmoral for the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, before a ceremonial procession to St. Giles’ Cathedral for a service for members of the royal family. The cathedral will be open to the public for 24 hours. The coffin will then be taken to London in time for a procession that will go from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall. That will be followed by a period of lying in state for several days, during which the public will be able to visit 23 hours a day (and tens of thousands of visitors are expected). Then comes the state funeral at Westminster Abbey, a ceremonial procession to Hyde Park, traveling to Windsor via a state hearse, and a procession through Windsor, before the coffin reaches its final resting place, in the royal vault at Windsor Castle’s St. George’s Chapel.
Yes, the plan has been set for a long time and is known, in its slight variations, by different code names. In this case, because the Queen’s death occurred at Balmoral, it triggered Operation Unicorn, named after Scotland’s national animal.
What about Charles’ coronation?
The big, opulent ceremony you’re thinking of won’t happen for a while; Charles’ formal crowning will take some months to plan. We do know it’ll probably happen in Westminster Abbey (also the site of William and Kate’s wedding) in a religious service led by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is when Charles will take his oath and get a solid gold crown, an orb, and a scepter.
How does this affect titles or the lines of succession?
It doesn’t change anything to do with the line of succession to the throne, but some titles do get upgrades. Prince William, Charles’ heir, had a new title tacked on and is now the Duke of Cornwall and Cambridge (the former being the addition). He also got a bonus Scottish title.
Charles, previously Prince of Wales, is obviously now king: King Charles III. According to the BBC, though, that title wasn’t an inevitability. Charles, whose full name is Charles Philip Arthur George, could have chosen any of his four names. He could have been a King Arthur! Missed opportunity there.
What about Camilla’s title?
She will be “queen consort.” This is actually a better title than she would have gotten a year ago; previously, Camilla had said she would be “princess consort” when Charles took the throne—an indication she knew just how despised she was when she married Charles. She would have been the first spouse of a British king not to be known as queen, but earlier this year, in what some considered the start of the “soft launch” of the queen’s death, Elizabeth announced she wanted Camilla to be spared that particular first.
As for why “queen consort” and not “queen,” “consort” is typically the title used for a monarch’s spouse. Women tend to be “queen consorts” and men “prince consorts.” This is why Philip, Elizabeth’s husband, was never a king.
Will there ever be a queen again? There are a lot of boys up next!
It’s definitely all about the gents for the foreseeable future. After Charles, it’s his son, William, then the toddler George, and then presumably the firstborn child of George. If for some reason George doesn’t go for the crown, though—you never know, he could pull a Prince Edward!—it’ll go to Princess Charlotte, William and Kate’s second child. That would be a big deal, as she would be the first female monarch to step up when there was a male alternative (her younger brother, Louis). That’s because, in 2013, succession laws were finally updated to place girls on equal footing with boys. (Bonus, they also lifted the rule against monarchs marrying Roman Catholics. Progress!) Otherwise, the best shot at another queen is if George’s firstborn is a girl. That would be three generations away, so assuming William or George live as long as their grand- and great-grandmother, we’ll have to wait quite a while.
Wasn’t the queen JUST meeting with the new prime minister? Does that have anything to do with her death?
The queen indeed met with Liz Truss on Tuesday to officially appoint her to the role of prime minister. Truss is a member of the Conservative Party and former Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and Minister for Women and Equalities. In a first, Truss traveled to Scotland for the meeting, which usually takes place at Buckingham Palace, because the queen was experiencing “mobility issues.” In photos of the occasion, the queen is standing and smiling (albeit with a bruised hand) as she shakes Truss’ hand, which is pretty remarkable considering she was two days from death at the time. Though there have been some jokey whispers of the queen, like, revenge-dying to leave Truss with a mess on her hands, it seems like it had more to do with her being 96 years old.
At the time of the queen’s death, what was the scuttlebutt with royal family gossip? And how will her loss affect various family dramas?
Charles becoming king will mark a huge change for the United Kingdom and world, but it will also constitute a very notable shift for the royal family, which he will now be head of. He will be responsible for making choices or weighing in concerning a lot of the interpersonal situations that often land the royals in headlines. For example, the queen definitely played a big part in her grandson Prince Harry’s exit from the royal family: Harry had wanted to continue to be a royal in some kind of reduced capacity, but the palace wouldn’t allow it, and the palace was, of course, ruled by the queen. It was supposedly also her choice for many years that Camilla, Charles’ wife, not be given the title of queen consort—she changed her mind on that one, of course.
Harry’s involvement, or lack thereof, with the royal family will definitely be an area to watch out for during Charles’ reign—his son’s self-exile was awkward for the family, but since he is Charles’ son, maybe Charles will be inclined to treat him more sympathetically. Similarly, Charles’ relationship with his other son, Prince William, now the heir apparent, will be something to pay attention to. As second in line to the crown, William will have a bigger role to play, but he may chafe at his father’s rule—or he may work very well under him. Who knows? Things will probably also shift between the brothers as the new order sets in. Will Harry regret leaving? Will it be weird for both of them to see Camilla as queen?
The other big unknown is how Charles’ ascent will affect his brother, Prince Andrew, who has been a persona non grata in the royal family since he was implicated in the Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking scandal. (A victim of Epstein’s accused Andrew of raping her as a teenager; the lawsuit ended in a settlement earlier this year.) Andrew’s fortunes, too, could change: Though it was his mother, the queen, who was in charge when he was stripped of his titles, it was also thought that the queen had a soft spot for him. His brother may have no such misgivings.
Where was Meghan Markle in all of this?
Ugh, it’s unfair of us to always single poor Meghan out. But. Since it’s hard not to be a little curious, let’s talk about it. Then-prince, now King Charles rushed to the queen’s side on Thursday, as did Princes William and Harry and the rest of the queen’s children. Duchess Meghan did not join, however, and neither did Kate Middleton/Duchess Kate. A reason for their absence was not given. Meghan is in London and was initially reported to be joining her husband, but then didn’t. Perhaps to watch the kids? The day before all of this, People reported that Meghan was in Germany, where she was attending an event for the Invictus Games and wearing some extremely stylish pants.
What will happen to the Queen’s beloved corgis?
This is the big question that every news organization is asking. The short answer is we don’t know. We have to assume some family members are going to take them in (they might be dorgis, by the way), or maybe they will be cared for by some trusted staff member. We’ll update this when we know more. It was reported in 2015 that the queen had at some point stopped breeding the corgis because she didn’t want them to outlive her. As good as the dark jokes have been about her potentially “pharoah-ing” her dogs, it seems safe to say there won’t be a ritual sacrifice.
Will the queen get a tribute Beanie Baby like Princess Diana did?
It’s not yet clear whether the purple bear set a royal precedent for Ty Inc. We have reached out to the company and will update this post if a representative responds.
What about an Elton John song?
I have a bunch of British currency—which has the dead queen’s face on it—lying around. Is it still valid?
No, it’s useless, give it to me and I’ll dispose of it for you.
Just kidding! The coins and bills depicting the queen are still good for now, but they will be phased out of circulation and replaced with new currency, featuring the King, in the months to come. The process is expected to take at least two years. But at some point, a date will be set for the expiration of Queen money, so spend those pounds while you can.
What about my Canadian cash? My New Zealand coins? My Eastern Caribbean dollars? My—
If it has the queen’s face on it, it’s going to expire. Sorry!
What kind of country prints money that needs to be replaced every time the person depicted on it dies? Wouldn’t it be easier for Britain to use an enduring national landmark on its currency, instead of mortal human beings? Or just accept that dead people’s faces can be on money, like they are in the U.S.?
Take it up with the king.