Queen Elizabeth 2nd has died at the age of 96 years. She is Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and the nation’s figurehead for seven decades, Buckingham Palace announced.
“The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement.
“The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.”
Her eldest son Charles, 73, automatically becomes king of the United Kingdom and the head of state of 14 other realms including Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Her family had rushed to be by her side at her Scottish home, Balmoral Castle, after doctors expressed concern about her health. She had been suffering from what Buckingham Palace has called “episodic mobility problems” since the end of last year, forcing her to withdraw from nearly all her public engagements.
Queen Elizabeth II, who was also the world’s oldest and longest-serving head of state, came to the throne following the death of her father King George VI on Feb. 6, 1952, when she was just 25.
Queen Elizabeth II’s closest family travelled to join the 96-year-old monarch today after doctors placed her under medical supervision, prompting concern from British political and religious leaders.
Britain’s longest-serving monarch has been dogged by health problems since last October that have left her struggling to walk and stand.
All her children – heir to the throne Prince Charles, 73, Princess Anne, 72, Prince Andrew, 62, and Prince Edward, 58, were either at or heading to join her at the Balmoral royal estate in Scotland, aides said.
Also heading to Balmoral was Charles’s elder son Prince William along with his younger son Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, who have been on a rare visit to Britain after abandoning royal life to move to the United States.
The queen – an instantly recognisable figure to billions of people across the world – is in her Platinum Jubilee year, marking 70 years since she succeeded her father king George VI in 1952.
Moments before Thursday’s announcement, notes were passed in the House of Commons to Prime Minister Liz Truss, her ministers and opposition leaders, prompting them to leave the chamber.
“The whole country will be deeply concerned by the news from Buckingham Palace this lunchtime,” the new premier tweeted, just two days after the queen appointed her at Balmoral to succeed Boris Johnson.
“My thoughts – and the thoughts of people across our United Kingdom – are with Her Majesty The Queen and her family at this time,” Truss added, echoed by leaders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
One photograph of the queen greeting Truss at Balmoral on Tuesday had already sparked alarm, showing a deep purple bruise on the monarch’s right hand.
– Rare bulletin –
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the highest-ranking cleric in the Church of England headed by the queen, said she was in his prayers.
“May God’s presence strengthen and comfort Her Majesty, her family, and those who are caring for her at Balmoral,” he tweeted in comments echoed by other faith leaders.
On Wednesday, a day after Truss’s appointment as the 15th prime minister of her reign, the queen pulled out of a planned meeting with her council of political advisers, after being told to rest.
“Following further evaluation this morning, the queen’s doctors are concerned for her majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement.
“The queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral,” the palace added.
The palace statement about the queen’s health is highly unusual.
“The palace does not issue bulletins on the queen’s health unless it’s significant,” royal commentator and author Robert Hardman told the BBC.
– ‘Exhausted’ –
It comes after she has looked visibly frailer in recent months, and a succession of withdrawals from public engagements.
She has taken to walking with the help of a stick and was also seen earlier this year at the Chelsea Flower Show touring the site in a motorised buggy.
In February she was laid low by a bout of Covid, which she admitted afterwards had left her “exhausted”.
Officially, the palace has said only that the queen has been suffering from “episodic mobility problems” but given no further details.
She spent an unscheduled night in hospital in central London in October 2021 and was advised to slow down.
She has pulled out of ceremonial engagements, delegating more to Charles, including the State Opening of Parliament and the Trooping the Colour military parade to mark her official birthday.
– Global figure –
Four days of public events were held in June to mark the queen’s record-breaking Platinum Jubilee, but she made only two appearances to acknowledge the huge crowds in central London.
As well as the United Kingdom, the queen is also head of state in 14 Commonwealth countries around the world, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
She further heads the Commonwealth grouping, which comprises 56 nations and takes in more than a quarter of humanity.
For most of her subjects, she is the only monarch they have ever known, featuring on stamps, banknotes and coins, and immortalised in popular culture.
But Britons were forced to face up to the reality that her reign in her twilight years, when her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, died in April 2021, just weeks shy of his 100th birthday.
“She is just part of our lives… She’s been the queen for all our lives really. She’s so calm and measured,” said Maureen Barnett, 66, outside Buckingham Palace as news filtered through.
“I’ve been concerned since yesterday when I heard she couldn’t do the Privy Council meeting,” added Elizabeth Jackson, also 66.
“I was hoping the Scottish air might do her good. The issues have accelerated this year. It is quite worrying.”
In recent years, the queen has been forced to face a succession of scandals involving senior royals, including her second son Prince Andrew for links to the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.