Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving British monarch who has held the throne for 70 years, died Thursday, Buckingham Palace announced. She was 96.
“The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” the monarchy said in the statement. “The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.”
With her death, her eldest son, 73-year-old Charles, will become king, making him the oldest monarch at the time of his coronation in British history.
“The death of my beloved Mother, Her Majesty The Queen, is a moment of the greatest sadness for me and all members of my family,” Charles said in a statement.
“We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished Sovereign and a much-loved Mother. I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world.
“During this period of mourning and change, my family and I will be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection in which The Queen was so widely held,” Charles’ statement said.
Elizabeth, also the longest-serving female head of state in history, presided over some of the most significant events in the United Kingdom’s history, including the dissolution of the British Empire and its replacement with the Commonwealth of Nations; the Suez crisis of 1956; the decades of sectarian and political violence in Northern Ireland known as “the Troubles”; and both the U.K.’s entrance in and exit from the European Union.
Her reign also covered one of the most culturally influential periods in British history, with artists of all stripes achieving extraordinary fame and success worldwide.
She has also seen public support for the Royal Family erode amid a wave of scandals and tragedies — including the divorce of Charles and his first wife, Diana, and then Diana’s tragic death in a car accident in 1997 at age 36. More recently, she has endured a scandal surrounding her middle son, Prince Andrew, who has been accused of child sexual abuse in his associations with the late American financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
New British Prime Minister Liz Truss held a brief press conference shortly after news broke of the queen’s death.
“Queen Elizabeth II was the rock on which modern Britain was built,” Truss said. “Our country has grown and flourished under her reign. Britain is the great country it is today because of her.”
Truss said Elizabeth was “the very spirit of Great Britain — and that spirit will endure.”
“Through thick and thin, Queen Elizabeth II provided us with the stability and the strength that we needed,” Truss said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who learned of the news from media Thursday while holding her regular news conference, said “our hearts and our thoughts go to the family members of the queen.”
“Our relationship with the people of the United Kingdom – and this is something that the president has said himself — has grown stronger and stronger,” Jean-Pierre told reporters. “And it is one of our — the United Kingdom is one of our closest allies.”
Born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary in April, 1926, Elizabeth was the oldest child of Prince Albert, second in line to the British throne, and at birth was considered unlikely to become queen herself. However, after her uncle Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, Albert took his place and adopted the name George VI, making Elizabeth next in line to the throne.
In November 1947, she married Philip Mountbatten, with whom she had four children – Charles (Prince of Wales), Anne (Princess Royal), Andrew (Duke of York) and Edward (Earl of Essex). Her marriage with Prince Philip lasted 73 years until his death in 2021 at age 99.
When her father, King George VI, died in February 1952, the 25-year-old Elizabeth became queen regnant of the seven Commonwealth countries of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon. On June 2, 1953, she was coronated the Queen at Westminster Abbey, a televised event that helped popularize the use of TVs in England.
The queen’s health had been declining in recent years as she scaled back public appearances. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.K., the Queen moved to Windsor Castle and sequestered as a precaution. Last year, she began to use a walking stick for balance in public and, at one point, briefly hospitalized.
In February 2022, Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II had tested positive for COVID-19. The Palace statement said that she was “experiencing mild cold like symptoms but expects to continue light duties” at Windsor Castle, adding that she had received three doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
Elizabeth’s reign has been recounted many times in film and TV, including the Emmy-winning Netflix series “The Crown,” whose upcoming fifth season will depict events in the late 1990s as the marriage of Charles and Diana collapsed. In 2008, Helen Mirren won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the monarch at various ages in the film “The Queen.”