Unless you are more than 70 years old, Queen Elizabeth II has been the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom and its other Common Wealth realms for your entire life. She is the longest living and longest-reigning British monarch in history. It’s hard to imagine England with anyone else on the throne. The reality, however, is that the Queen is 95 years old. The question that’s increasingly on many people’s minds is: What happens when Queen Elizabeth dies? This is what we know about the process.
What Happens When Queen Elizabeth II Dies?
Queen Elizabeth II took the throne of the British Empire after her father passed away in 1952. She was just 25 years old. She has been the sovereign leader of many “firsts” – including having the first-ever televised coronation. Of course, it has also been the only ever televised coronation in British royal history because she has remained queen ever since. (1)
At 95 years old, it is natural that many people may be wondering what will happen when she passes. Yes, we know that Charles will take the throne, but it isn’t just a simple switch-a-roo. There is a reasonably lengthy and complex chain of events that will occur when Queen Elizabeth eventually goes to her final resting place.
Operation London Bridge
The code name for the queen’s death is Operation London Bridge. While many of us have only really started thinking about this in recent years, Buckingham Palace has been for several decades. The palace created Operation London Bridge in the 1960s. The Queen herself helped plan it. (2)
Step One: London Bridge Is Down
The first thing that will happen the day the Queen dies, known as D-day, is a phone call to the prime minister. The Queen’s private secretary, The Right Honorable Edward Young, will send a message to whoever the prime minister is at the time saying “London Bridge is down”. It is then the Prime Minister’s job to set Operation London Bridge in action.
The first people that the Prime Minister will call are the 15 governments of countries where the Queen is still the head of state. After that, they will inform the 36 other countries of the commonwealth. The message will read something like: “We have just been informed of the death of Her Majesty The Queen.”. The governments will be informed that extreme discretion is required.
The next step is to inform the media. Buckingham Palace will hang a black-edged notice of the Queen’s passing on the front gates. Simultaneously there will be a worldwide alert of the news using a special alert light that all news outlets have. The BBC will stop broadcasting all of their shows and run a feed purely dedicated to the news. There is black clothing always ready at news stations so broadcasters can change at a moment’s notice. Newspapers, television, and radio all already have days worth of pre-formulated coverage prepared.
The public will be informed by official notice. Pilots will be informed so that they can notify passengers who may be in the air at the time.
Step Two: Get The Queen Home
If the Queen dies anywhere other than Buckingham Palace or Balmoral in Scotland, her body will be immediately transported to the Palace. She will be transported via the Royal Train. If she dies while at her Scotland home, she will still be transported by the train, known as Operation Unicorn, though it may not be immediate. If by train isn’t possible, then they will use the royal plane. Regardless, the Prime Minister and senior ministers will be there to greet the coffin.
Step Three: Charles Becomes King
Across the UK, business, shops, the stock exchange – everything – will close for the day. Parliament will also close, but for a full 10 days. While everything closes for a day of respect, a major change will take place: Prince Charles will immediately become king. Though his coronation won’t take place for several months, the Queen’s eldest son will now be officially the new head of state.
The day after the Queen’s death (D-day +1), Charles will make his first official speech as King. This speech will be live-streamed, likely around the world. The British government will then swear their allegiance to the new monarch with a 41-gun salute in Hyde Park, in London.
The King will shortly after (D-Day +3) set off on a tour of the UK. He will meet with the leaders of Edinburgh, Belfast, and Cardiff. TV channels will play the many already-made documentaries about the Queen’s life. The BBC will pause all comedy programming until after the Queen’s funeral.
Step Four: Operation Feather
On D-Day +4, the involved parties will rehearse the procession of the Queen’s coffin from the Palace to the Palace of Westminster. The real ceremony will take place on D-Day +5, when there will be a service in Westminster hall.
Here, Operation Feather will begin. This refers to the queen’s coffin staying in Westminster for three days. During this time, Charles, his family, and dignitaries will come to pay their respects.
Step Five: The Funeral
The Queen’s funeral will likely take place on D-Day +10 at Westminster Abbey. At noon that day, there will be a two-minute-long moment of silence across the country. There will be processions both in London and Windsor. A committal service will take place at St George’s Chapel and the Queen will then be buried at the King George VI Memorial Chapel in Windsor.
This day will be an official bank holiday and everything will shut down again, including the stock market. Two thousand specially-invited guests will attend the funeral.
Step Six: Crown The New King
The exact date of King Charles’ (if he chooses to go by that name) coronation is not known. It will likely be within the year after his mother passes. This day will be another bank holiday. All told, it is estimated that the Queen’s death will cost the UK billions of pounds due to the number of days businesses and the stock market will be closed.
Changes For The UK
A new currency will need to be printed that features the new King’s picture and not Queen Elizabeth’s. Stamps, passports, police, and military uniforms will all be changed to picture the new King. The national anthem, which has been “God Save the Queen” for the last seven decades, will change to God Save The King.
The Queen’s death could also bring about some major changes to the commonwealth. There are some countries that are divided over whether or not to remain a part of the commonwealth. The death of the long-standing monarch could bolster support for that. If one country leaves, this could cause others to follow suit. The British monarchy would become smaller and weaker as a result.
One thing is for certain: This will be the largest and most impactful funeral for many around the world.