The Queen of England, head of state for the UK and 14 countries in the Commonwealth, has passed away at the age of 96 at her home at her Scottish estate of Balmoral. She achieved the status of Britain’s longest reigning monarch.
Over recent weeks, the Queen’s health has been deteriorating, with a number of engagements called off on advice of her doctors. Today, news first appeared that things were not looking good when it was revealed that all of her children, as well as Prince William and Kate, Prince Harry and Meghan, were all taking flights to Scotland to be by her side.
There is every possibility that she died earlier than was announced as the Palace were waiting for the family to arrive at Balmoral before making the news public.
Coming to the throne in 1952 and reigning for 70 years of vast cultural change, Queen Elizabeth leaves her son Prince Charles as the heir to the throne. There has long been discussion about why she did not abdicate earlier to allow Charles, now 73, a chance to take on the crown, as well as thoughts concerning whether the crown might skip Charles to be taken on by the more popular William.
In a statement, Buckingham Palace 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.”
Her rule has seen 15 prime ministers come and go, with the exception of Liz Truss whom the Queen appointed this week. Born in 1926, the Queen had witnessed the Second World War, including joining the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service in February 1945, learning to service and drive ambulances. It is unlikely she actually got to fulfill her role given the war soon ended. She lived through post-war austerity, through the swinging 60s, and on to the technologically and socially very different 2020s.
Prince Phillip, her husband since 1947, died last year at a time when lockdown famously saw the Queen sitting at his service alone. In her life, she visited every Commonwealth member country at least once and also saw countries and the public start to question the place of the monarchy in modern society.
Queen Elizabeth was probably most renowned for the stability she provided at the center of a royal family that wasn’t always featuring favorably in the news cycles. From Princess Diana to Harry and Meghan, Prince Andrew’s disgraced friendship with Jeffrey Epstein to Princess Anne’s intimate letters leading to her divorce, the Queen was able to navigate the royal ship through choppy waters.
As head of the Church of England, a sign of changing times came about when she was required to absent herself from the register for the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. Two divorcees marrying would once have been scandalous, but not so then.
The legacy she leaves is a royal family that has modernized and that play an important cultural role in the UK. But perhaps it is more a case of passing the baton, with much work still to do to maintain the monarchy’s place as a relevant institution across the UK and the Commonwealth.
But with that aside, it is worth remembering that she was the heart of a family, leaving four children, eight grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren to mourn her passing with the rest of the nation and the wider world.