Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, is not going to live forever.
Since ascending to the throne in 1952, the monarch has seen 13 prime ministers serve Britain and lived through another 13 US presidents. She’s now 92. At some point – not for many years yet, we hope – Queen Elizabeth II’s reign will come to an end.
But what happens then?
For at least 12 days – between her passing, the funeral and beyond – Britain will grind to a halt. The chaos will cost the UK economy billions in lost earnings. The stock markets and banks are likely to close. And both the funeral and the subsequent coronation will become formal national holidays, each with an estimated economic hit to gross domestic product of £1.2 billion to £6 billion ($US1.6 billion to $US7.9 billion), to say nothing of organisational costs.
But to focus on the financial disruption doesn’t begin to describe the sheer magnitude of the queen’s death. It will be an event unlike anything Britain has seen since the end of World War II.
There will be trivial disruptions – the BBC will cancel all comedy shows, for example – and jarring cultural changes. Prince Charles may change his name, and the words of the national anthem will be changed too. The British Commonwealth might even unravel completely.
The deaths of Princess Diana and the queen mother both brought on waves of public mourning and hysteria. But that of Queen Elizabeth II, due to her longevity and fundamental place atop British society, will be on a whole new level.
Most British people have simply never known life without the queen.
It will be a strange, uncertain time.
The queen has been around for a long, long time — living through the rule of everyone from Adolf Hitler to John F. Kennedy.
In the hours after the queen’s death, much will depend on the manner of her passing.
If the death is expected (say, from a long illness), then detailed plans will have been put in place for handling and announcing it.
These plans are already being made. Inside Buckingham Palace, arrangements for after the queen’s passing and the subsequent succession are known as the “Bridge.”
But if the death is sudden or unexpected, the news could get out immediately in an unplanned and uncontrolled fashion.
This is what happened when Princess Diana died following a car crash in Paris in 1997.
Either way, most staff members at the palace and associated institutions will be immediately sent home.
The royal court has a staff hotline for distributing news and instructions to employees in the event of occasions like this.
Many of the details in this story were provided to Business Insider by a former staff member of the palace.
If the queen’s passing was expected, the news will spread at first via the main TV channels.
All BBC channels will stop programming and show the BBC1 feed for the announcement. The other independent channels won’t be obligated to interrupt their regular programming, but they almost certainly will.
According to The Daily Beast, if her death were to happen overnight, it would be announced at 8 a.m.
The BBC actively practices for the eventuality of the monarch’s passing so it won’t be caught unaware …
The BBC News anchor Peter Sissons was heavily criticised for wearing a red tie to announce the queen mother’s passing, and the BBC now keeps black ties and suits at the ready at all times.
… but this can backfire.
BBC presenters run drills in which they’re required to make sudden “spoof” announcements that are never broadcast.
In 2015, a BBC journalist who didn’t realise a rehearsal was going on tweeted that the queen had died – on the same day she was visiting a hospital, no less – and the “news” was subsequently picked up by foreign outlets.
“A journalist working for the BBC’s language services, who had not been sent the email, saw an internal TV monitor which was showing the rehearsal,” the BBC Trust said at the time, referring to an email informing staff members about the rehearsal. “A number of tweets were sent from her Twitter account. The first stated that the Queen was being treated in hospital, the second stated that the Queen had died; the tweets included a link to BBC World’s official Twitter feed.”
All comedy programs will be cancelled.
The last death of a monarch was in 1952, and the BBC stopped all comedy programs for a period of mourning after the announcement.The Daily Mail reports that the BBC plans to do the same when Queen Elizabeth II dies, cancelling all comedy until after the funeral.
CNN has prerecorded packages on the queen’s life ready to be aired at a moment’s notice, we’re told – and so does every other major news channel.
Businesses will close.
The London Stock Exchange is likely to close if the announcement happens during working hours, and other businesses may too.
The protocols government bodies will follow will emanate from the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (though they may also originate from the palace).
But it’s hard to predict how the government will react.
The immediate official government response – beyond the expected statements of condolences – will be hard to predict, the former palace employee we spoke to said.
The last death of a monarch was in 1952; procedures that seemed apt then may be woefully antiquated in the 21st century.
Mourners wore black armbands to show respect for King George VI, for example, but would similar public displays of mourning be employed today? It’s impossible to know until it happens.
Flags will fly at half-mast, and Britain will go into shock.
Flags will be flown at half-mast until 8 a.m. the day after the funeral, according to guidance from the Greater London Lieutenancy, with the exception of Proclamation Day (more on that shortly). Churches may also toll their bells either on the day of the death or the day after.
Whatever happens formally, the shock on the day of the queen’s passing will see Britain effectively cease to function. The day of the funeral, about two weeks later, will be declared a bank holiday, but shell-shocked mourning will continue throughout this time.
There will be a brief resurrection of the British Empire.
Given the queen’s international significance, her death will almost certainly be the top news story across the entire world. It’s likely to trend globally on social media. After all, Britain has a massive overseas presence – through its embassies, its former colonies and the Commonwealth (which swears loyalty to the crown), and, more informally, any country where English is spoken.
The British Empire once covered a quarter of the Earth’s landmass, and for a brief, surreal period it is likely to feel as if the empire still exists, as all its former subjects will turn toward Britain for the news.
It’s not clear what will happen at Britain’s overseas outposts.
A former ambassador we spoke to said that what would happen overseas would depend on the manner of the queen’s passing. If it has long been expected, there will be detailed plans and procedures in place. If it’s sudden, overseas posts will look to the Foreign Office for urgent guidance.
A few things will definitely happen overseas. Social functions will be cancelled. The Union Flag will be flown at half-mast until after the funeral; this will also happen in the UK. Officials will enter a period of mourning and dress appropriately. Condolence books will be prepared for visitors to leave messages.
But the ambassador also stressed that there is a lot of uncertainty about what will actually happen. It has been more than 60 years since a monarch died. Society has changed a huge amount in that time.
Behind closed doors at the palace, an “Accession Council” will convene.
Once most staff members are out the way and the public tourist attractions are closed, an Accession Council will be held at St. James’s Palace to formally declare the successor: Prince Charles, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
The Accession Council will be attended by privy councillors, lords, the lord mayor of the city of London, and high commissioners of certain Commonwealth countries, among others.
This council is not required, however, to make Queen Elizabeth II’s successor “official,” as Charles will become the monarch from the moment of her passing. There is never not a sovereign on the throne. This is also why the Royal Standard is never flown at half-mast, unlike the Union Flag.
The new monarch will swear loyalty to Parliament at the council, and an “Access Proclamation” will be issued.
At the council, the new monarch (presumably Charles) will swear loyalty to Parliament and to the Church of England. He will also become the new supreme governor of the church. (Catholics cannot ascend to the throne.)
The council will also make a Proclamation of Accession to be read on Proclamation Day, soon after the death, in London, Edinburgh, Windsor, York, and other towns and villages throughout the country.
This was the most recent proclamation, from when Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne:
“Whereas it has pleased Almighty God to call to His Mercy our late Sovereign Lord King George the Sixth of Blessed and Glorious memory, by whose Decease the Crown is solely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary:
“WE, therefore, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of this Realm, being here assisted with these His late Majesty’s Privy Council, with representatives of other Members of the Commonwealth, with other Principal Gentlemen of Quality, with the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Citizens of London, do now hereby with one voice and Consent of Tongue and Heart publish and proclaim that the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is now, by the death of our late Sovereign of happy memory, become Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of all Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, to whom Her lieges do acknowledge all Faith and constant Obedience with hearty and humble Affection, beseeching God by whom Kings and Queens do reign, to bless the Royal Princess Elizabeth the Second with long and happy Years to reign over us.”
And politicians will swear allegiance to the new monarch.
Both houses of Parliament will sit, or be recalled if necessary. Members will have the opportunity to take a new oath of allegiance to the new monarch. All members of Parliament must swear allegiance to the present monarch, though some republican MPs might cross their fingers when making the 500-year-old oath.
Members of both houses will also present addresses of condolences and loyalty to the new sovereign, a House of Lords representative told me, in a format that is yet to be determined.
After this, both houses will be suspended until after the official state funeral.
Charles (or whoever the new monarch is) could change his name.
Charles – assuming it is he who ultimately succeeds Queen Elizabeth II – won’t necessarily become “King Charles.”
Upon ascending to the throne, royals may pick their regnal name from any of their Christian or middle names.
Arthur Bousfield and Garry Toffoli wrote that when Queen Elizabeth II was asked what she wanted her regnal name to be, she said, “My own of course – what else?”
But if Charles felt inclined to change, as Charles Philip Arthur George, he could also be King Philip, King Arthur, or King George.
No, Prince William is not going to become king.
It’s also worth discussing the possibility of the crown “leapfrogging” Charles in favour of his son William, a possibility that has repeatedly been discussed in the media.
This would cause a constitutional crisis and definitely will not happen. William himself has said there is “no question” of it happening.
Instead, William will become the new Prince of Wales, Charles’ current role.
Charles has waited and prepared for this job for his entire life. And his mother’s longevity means he’s no longer young either – he will be at least 69 when he takes the throne, past the British age of retirement.
“Impatient? Me? What a thing to suggest! Yes of course I am,” he said in 2012. “I’ll run out of time soon. I shall have snuffed it if I’m not careful.”
The queen’s body will “lie in state.”
As these discussions are ongoing, the queen’s coffin will be prepared to lie in state – that is, to be presented for public viewing so people can pay their respects.
The queen’s body will lie in state in Westminster Hall. There will be a short ceremony to mark the coffin’s arrival, after which people will be able to file past and pay their respects. The hall will be open all but a single hour a day, the representative said.
There may be a new “Vigil of the Princes.”
When the queen mother lay in state for three days, her grieving grandsons relieved the official guard to stand guard over the coffin for a short period; it was called the Vigil of the Princes. Something similar happened for King George V.
While it’s a formal ceremony, it’s likely that a similar act of remembrance would be accorded to Queen Elizabeth II.
More than 200,000 people paid their respects as the queen mother lay in state, and the scale of mourning for the queen is likely to easily eclipse that.
There will be mass public grief — and perhaps even hysteria.
Throughout this period, there will be a massive outpouring of public grief. It won’t just be sombre dress and a minute of silence at sports games – it will be a punch to the gut of the national psyche.
When Princess Diana died, the public turned out in tens of thousands to lay flowers outside Buckingham Palace. By some estimates, as many as 1 million bouquets were left. A memorial appeal raised £20 million. People queued for 10 hours or more to sign memorial books.
Though the day of her funeral wasn’t a national holiday, one person described it to the BBC as “everything closed, saturation TV coverage, no one at work.”
There were “scenes of unbelievable grief,” said another, adding: “It was as though all of these people had lost someone incredibly dear to them and their emotion was genuine. It worried me hugely – especially after days of mounting hysteria on the streets of Kensington, people walking into the road blinded by tears, etc. – people appeared to be losing their grip on reality.”
The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland wrote that many Britons felt “forced to close their shops or cancel sporting events on the day of the funeral, lest they feel the rage of the tear-stained hordes outside.”
Given the queen’s stature and how intrinsically she is woven into the fabric of modern Britain, there is likely to be even greater public mourning for her passing.
This will be followed by an incredibly star-studded funeral.
Queen Elizabeth II’s body will continue to lie in state until the day of the funeral, which will be a public holiday. The Daily Mail says this is likely to happen 12 days after her death.
The coffin will then be transported to Westminster Abbey by gun carriage for a state funeral.
It will probably be the best-attended funeral of all time. World leaders from across the globe will flock to attend. She’s the most senior head of state in the world, having been on the throne for more than 66 years.
The queen has been actively involved in planning parts of her funeral.
According to The Daily Beast, the British monarch has a “sanguine” view of her mortality. The service will be led by Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and the second-most senior figure in the Church of England (after the monarch).
Billions of people around the world will watch the funeral.
On the day of Princess Diana’s funeral, “over a million people lined the route of the funeral cortege to the abbey,” according to the BBC, with 30 million Brits tuning in to watch it. Worldwide, there were as many as 2.5 billion viewers.
The viewership of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral is likely to be equivalent, if not even more.
We don’t know where the queen will be buried — but we can make some educated guesses.
After the funeral, it will be time for the burial.
Queen Elizabeth II may well have already decided where she will be buried, in which case it may be at Sandringham or Balmoral in Scotland. These two properties are unique in that they belong to the queen personally, rather than to the crown.
Alternately, she could be buried at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, the gravesite of King George VI, her father.
A year later, it’s time for a coronation!
After a certain appropriate period of mourning – up to a year or so – there will be a coronation. It’s a highly ceremonial affair, though the new monarch technically has the ability to do whatever they want.
Charles’ authority as sovereign will not derive from the ceremony, so he could choose to eschew it altogether, should he desire.
But assuming Charles does not wish to totally break with tradition, it will, again, be held at Westminster Abbey and officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The coronation will cost Britain billions of pounds.
The entire event will be broadcast on television and streamed online, and there will be parties throughout the country, just like after the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.
As a national holiday, that wedding lost the economy between £1.2 billion and £6 billion, and the coronation will be similar – in addition to the direct cost to the taxpayer of holding the largest British ceremonial event since the 1950s.
There will be hundreds of changes up and down the country in the weeks and months after the queen’s death.
New currency will be printed and minted immediately.
British currency bears images of the monarch, and the portraits of Charles will already have been made in preparation.
The entire stock of currency won’t be replaced overnight, however, but take several years, much like how older notes and coins are gradually removed from circulation today.
The British national anthem will change.
“God Save The Queen” will get some new lyrics – or some old ones, rather. It will become “God Save The King,” as it was before Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne.
Police officers will need new uniforms — as will soldiers.
Police will need new insignia on their helmets, which currently display the queen’s initials and regnal number.
Likewise, a great deal of military insignia will require updating.
And plenty more will need to change.
Passports, too, will need a refresh – the British passport currently “requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance.”
Stamps will also need updating to show the new king’s head.
These small changes matter more than you would expect.
After the queen was crowned, her regnal number, II, caused controversy in Scotland, which she also rules, as there was never a Scottish Elizabeth I. When postboxes bearing her cypher were erected in Scotland, some were attacked and vandalised.
As signs of the queen’s reign are slowly erased, she will also be memorialised.
The fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, in London, is currently dedicated to temporary statues and works of art, but former London Mayor Ken Livingstone said his understanding was that “the fourth plinth is being reserved for Queen Elizabeth II.”
The death of the queen might prompt the eventual end of the Commonwealth.
The 53-country organisation includes 16 countries where the British monarch is officially the head of state, including Australia, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, and Barbados. It’s a remnant of the British Empire, which today exists mainly as a trade and political organisation. It has few formal powers but carries the weight of symbolism. Many of these countries were part of the empire against their will, and almost all declared independence long ago.
With Queen Elizabeth II gone, some may choose to end this union with Britain once and for all.
Australia has already flirted with the idea of becoming a republic, holding a referendum in 1999.
It was relatively close, with the republicans ultimately losing 45% to 55%. But much support for the monarchy arguably derives from personal affection for the queen. With her gone, many Commonwealth nations may decide the time has come to separate. In Canada, for example, there is speculation that the death of the queen might prompt a severing of ties.
“I think Charles might solve the problem,” Steve Parish, the mayor of Ajax, Ontario, told The Guardian in 2015.
This also depends on the time of the queen’s death. Many politicians in Commonwealth countries – like former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott – are staunch monarchists, certain to try to block any attempt at republicanism on their watch.
But if the queen dies when politicians less enamoured with the monarchy are in office, resurgent republicanism may find a more receptive audience.
Depending on Charles’ reign, republicanism may grow in prominence in Britain too — but there’s no chance of Britain becoming a republic anytime soon.
Support for the monarch is deeply entrenched in the nation’s psyche. In one 2013 survey, 66% of respondents said Britain was better off as a monarchy, while just 17% said they opted for a republic.
Queen Elizabeth II is now a record-breaking ruler.
On September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II broke the record set by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, becoming the longest-reigning British monarch.
She’s 92 and lightening her workload accordingly.
In December 2016, the queen announced she would step down as patron of several organisations she has supported, including charities and academic institutions. And in August, 96-year-old Prince Philip, her husband, retired from public life.
Though the queen’s death is hopefully a long way off yet, it is definitely coming — and with it the end of an epic chapter in Britain’s history and the start of a strange new one.
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