Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and one of the most enduring royal personalities the world has known, has died at the age of 96. Buckingham Palace confirmed that the queen died Thursday at Balmoral Castle, her official residence in Scotland.
“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,” the palace said in a statement.
The news came after palace officials issued a statement earlier in the day saying the queen had been put under “medical supervision” at Balmoral as her doctors were “concerned for Her Majesty’s health.” All of the senior members of the royal family quickly traveled to be by her side.
The queen and the British people, along with the Commonwealth nations, had been celebrating a historic milestone: 2022 marked the monarch’s Platinum Jubilee, 70 years on the throne. But the queen made only a few brief appearances at events in her honor to mark the anniversary in June, citing mobility issues and discomfort.
Health troubles prompted her to cancel a number of other plans in recent months. But until late this summer, the queen had remained an active presence in public life, returning to regular engagements just a few weeks after the death of her husband Prince Philip in the spring of 2021.
She came to the throne through an accident of history — and the romantic storylines of her family would sometimes make her reign seem like a soap opera — but Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, Queen Elizabeth II, may have single-handedly reinvented and saved the British monarchy.
Elizabeth wasn’t born to be queen. She only became the heir to the throne when she was 10 years old, in 1936, because her uncle Edward VIII abdicated to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson, and Elizabeth’s father, George VI, took his place.
As the first of the then-new generation of royals, Elizabeth rapidly became a public favorite.
During World War II, the young Princess Elizabeth not only worked to raise the country’s morale, appealing to her fellow Britons on public radio to “make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place,” she also served as a volunteer in the war effort — training as a mechanic in the women’s auxiliary service; volunteer No. 230873.
After the war, her marriage to Philip Mountbatten, an anglicized member of the Greek royal family, did more than give a war-weary country something to celebrate. The children the marriage produced — first Charles and then Anne, Andrew and Edward — re-established the royal line. Her marriage to Philip lasted 73 years, until his death on April 9, 2021 at the age of 99.
Elizabeth came to the throne in February 1952 following the death of her father, George VI. Her coronation in June of the following year was the first ever to be televised. With all of its tradition and glitter, it also seemed to reinforce the impression that all was as it should be. Duty was the royal family’s ethos under Elizabeth’s reign.
“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service,” she once told the nation.
But behind the scenes, the family she presided over had its problems. One by one, royal marriages broke down around her: her sister Margaret’s, her daughter Anne’s and her son Andrew’s all ended in awkward divorces, but none more spectacularly than Prince Charles’ marriage to Diana Spencer.
The long, very public unraveling of the marriage of the heir to the throne shook the foundations of the entire royal enterprise.
Royal life seemed to be going up in flames, as symbolized by a fire that badly damaged Windsor Castle.
“Nineteen-ninety-two is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” the queen said in summation. “In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘annus horribilis‘.”
But Elizabeth managed to ride out that “horrible year.”
After the Windsor fire and public complaints over repair costs, she agreed to pay taxes on her income.
The queen showed that she could change with the times — but only as much as she had to.
Amid the national outpouring of grief following the sudden death of Princess Diana in a 1997 car crash, she acknowledged the princess’ stature with a subtle but significant bow to her coffin.
Years later, when Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles, despite any misgivings the queen might have had, she graciously hosted the reception. More recently, she said that when Charles eventually ascends to the throne, she would like Camilla to be honored with the title Queen Consort.
Under Elizabeth’s watchful eye, the next generation of royalty, Prince William and his wife Kate, and Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, took their places in the spotlight, bringing a modern touch to age-old traditions.
When Harry and Meghan decided to step away from royal life and spoke out about its uglier side in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the queen offered public reassurances that they would always be “much loved family members.”
Over her seven decades on the throne, Elizabeth redefined the monarchy, remaking it for a less deferential, more accessible age.
Now it will fall to her oldest son and heir, Prince Charles, and after him, Prince William, to carry on that legacy in the challenging times ahead.