Queen Elizabeth: What happens when the queen of England dies?


Queen Elizabeth, the longest-ruling monarch in the history of England, turned 92 last month.

And while she has enjoyed excellent health during her life, no one lives forever.

So what happens when the inevitable day comes and the queen passes into history? A story published in The Guardian last year laid out in detail what will happen when that day comes. No one interviewed in the Guardian story would go on the record about what will happen, so guarded are the plans for her funeral and the succession of Prince Charles to the throne.

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Obviously, there has been a plan in place. It is scripted and set down to the minute in some parts. Here are some of the details about what will happen in England and around the world in the minutes, hours and days after Elizabeth’s death.

1. Prince Charles immediately becomes king. While the coronation for a monarch takes place months after he or she assumes the throne, the country requires a ruler and on the death of a queen or king, his or her successor is automatically the monarch. His siblings will kiss his ring soon after the queen’s death.

2. The queen’s private secretary will inform the prime minister of her passing. A secret code phrase (many believe it is “London Bridge Down”) will be used to alert the governments of 15 other countries of which the queen is the head of state. She is also the symbolic figurehead of 36 other nations. 

Those governments will be notified as well.

3. The news will be shared with the world when the palace releases confirmation of the queen’s death to the British Press Association then other media outlets across the world.

4. At the moment the news is released to media outlets, a footman, dressed in mourning clothes, will pin a black-edged death announcement to the gates of Buckingham Palace.

5. The palace website will show a single-page announcement that is the same as the notice posted on the palace gate.

6. Parliament will be recalled. The thrones at the House of Lords – one for husband, Phillip, and one for the queen -- will be replaced with a chair that features a cushion with the outline of a crown on it.

7. All flags will be placed at half-staff and condolence books will be distributed throughout the country for anyone wishing to express sympathy may do so.

8. If the queen does not die at Buckingham Palace, her body will be brought there as soon as possible after her death. The coffin will be placed in the throne room of Buckingham Palace to lie in state.

9. Charles will make his first address as head of state on the evening of his mother’s death. At 11 a.m. on the following day, he will be proclaimed king of England. The Accession Council will hold a meeting to declare Charles king and will read a formal declaration to that end. Camilla, Charles’ wife, by law will become queen.

10. After the proclamation is read, trumpets will sound and a 41-gun salute will be fired off in Hyde Park near Buckingham Palace.

11. The new king will then go on a four-day tour of the country, attending services and meeting his subjects.

12. The queen will lie in state for four days at Buckingham Palace then will be moved to Westminster Hall to lie in state for another four days. Moving the body to Westminster will involve a military parade. The queen’s remains will reach Westminster at precisely 11 a.m. Big Ben will ring out at that moment. Mourners will be able to pay their respects 23 hours a day on those four days.

13. On the ninth day, the funeral will be held. Jewels placed on the coffin will be taken off and cleaned. Shops and business will be closed and much of the country will be off from work. The stock market will be closed.

Big Ben will strike at 9 a.m that morning, it’s hammer padded so the sound will be muffled. The queen’s service will be in Westminster Abbey – the first for a monarch since 1760. The Abbey holds 2,000 people. At 11 a.m. precisely, the coffin will reach the Abbey’s doors and activity in the country is to stand still and fall quiet.

Following the service, the coffin will be placed on a gun carriage and taken to a waiting hearse. The hearse will drive the queen’s body to Windsor Castle. She will be buried in the royal vault at the family chapel in a private service. 

As her body is lowered into the vault, Charles will reach into a silver bowl and get a handful of red earth to drop onto the queen’s coffin.


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