Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and a rock of stability across much of a turbulent century died Thursday after 70 years on the throne. She was 96.
The palace announced she died at Balmoral Castle, her summer residence in Scotland, where members of the royal family had rushed to her side after her health took a turn for the worse.
A link to the almost-vanished generation that fought World War II, she was the only monarch most Britons have ever known.
Her 73-year-old son Prince Charles automatically becomes king, though the coronation might not take place for months. It was not immediately known whether he would call himself King Charles III or another name.
The BBC played the national anthem, “God Save the Queen,” over a portrait of her in full regalia as her death was announced, and the flag over Buckingham Palace was lowered to half-staff as the second Elizabethan age came to a close.
The impact of her loss will be huge and unpredictable, both for the nation and for the monarchy, an institution she helped stabilize and modernize across decades of huge social change and family scandals.
In a statement, Charles called the death of his mother “a moment of the greatest sadness for me and all members of my family,” adding: “I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world.”
World leaders extended condolences and paid tribute to the queen.
In Canada, where the British monarch is the country’s head of state, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saluted her “wisdom, compassion and warmth.” In India, once the “jewel in the crown” of the British empire, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “She provided inspiring leadership to her nation and people. She personified dignity and decency in public life. Pained by her demise.”
British Prime Minister Liz Truss, appointed by the queen just 48 hours earlier, pronounced the country “devastated” and called Elizabeth “the rock on which modern Britain was built.”
The queen’s life was indelibly marked by the war. Princess Elizabeth, she made her first public broadcast in 1940 when she was 14, sending a wartime message to children evacuated to the countryside or overseas.
“We children at home are full of cheerfulness and courage,” she said with a blend of stoicism and hope that would echo throughout her reign. “We are trying to do all we can to help out gallant soldiers, sailors, and airmen. And we are trying, too, to bear our share of the danger and sadness of war. We know, every one of us, that in the end, all will be well.”
Since Feb. 6, 1952, Elizabeth reigned over a Britain that rebuilt from war and lost its empire; joined the European Union and then left it; and transformed from an industrial powerhouse to uncertain 21st century society. She endured through 15 prime ministers, from Winston Churchill to Truss, becoming an institution and an icon — a fixed point and a reassuring presence even for those who ignored or loathed the monarchy.
She became less visible in her final years as age and frailty curtailed many public appearances. But she remained firmly in control of the monarchy and at the center of national life as Britain celebrated her Platinum Jubilee with days of parties and pageants in June 2022.
The same month she became the second longest-reigning monarch in history, behind 17th-century French King Louis XIV, who took the throne at age 4. On Tuesday, she presided at a ceremony at Balmoral Castle to accept the resignation of Boris Johnson as prime minister and appoint Truss as his successor.
When Elizabeth was 21, almost five years before she became queen, she promised the people of Britain and the Commonwealth that “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”
It was a promise she kept across more than seven decades.
Despite Britain’s complex and often fraught ties with its former colonies, Elizabeth was widely respected and remained head of state of more than a dozen countries, from Canada to Tuvalu. She headed the 54-nation Commonwealth, built around Britain and its former colonies.
Married for more than 73 years to Prince Philip, who died in 2021 at age 99, Elizabeth was matriarch to a royal family whose troubles were a subject of global fascination — amplified by fictionalized accounts such as TV series “The Crown.” She is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Through countless public events, she probably met more people than anyone in history. Her image, which adorned stamps, coins and banknotes, was among the most reproduced in the world.
But her inner life and opinions remained mostly an enigma. Of her personality, the public saw relatively little. A horse owner, she rarely seemed happier than during the Royal Ascot racing week. She never tired of the companionship of her beloved Welsh corgi dogs.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born in London on April 21, 1926, the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York. She was not born to be queen — her father’s elder brother, Prince Edward, was destined to be followed by any children he had for the crown.
But in 1936, when she was 10, Edward VIII abdicated to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, and Elizabeth’s father became King George VI.