Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history and Canada’s head of state, has died.
The queen, 96, died Thursday at her Scottish residence, Balmoral Castle, with several members of the royal family, including Charles, who is next in line to the throne. The royal family announced this in a Twitter post on Thursday.
“The Queen passed away peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral tonight and return to London tomorrow,” the post read.
LIVE: Queen Elizabeth II has died. Here’s what we know
LIVE: Queen Elizabeth II has died. Here’s what we know
News of her death came after Buckingham Palace officials took the rare step of issuing a public comment on her health, saying doctors had recommended she remain under medical supervision as they were concerned about her health.
She has been experiencing “episodic mobility problems” since late last year.
A woman born into the royal family, she was never expected to become queen.
Born on April 21, 1926, her life took a wild turn – one of immeasurable consequence – when her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in 1936 and handed the crown and all its duties to his brother, young Elizabeth’s father.
In one fell swoop, she was next in line to the throne.
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Her accession in 1952 came earlier than many expected, as she was only 25. Her father had succumbed to his many illnesses, including lung cancer, leaving the throne vacant for his young daughter.
She would go on to become the longest-reigning British monarch – 70 years on the throne – leading her kingdom and Commonwealth through the Cold War and Space Race, revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe, the rise of the internet, the British Invasion, the War on Terror and the London Tube Bombings , and the establishment of the European Union, not to mention in her later years SARS, Brexit and COVID-19.
“You can name what she has seen the 20th century firsthand,” said Our Queen author Robert Hardman.
In Canada, Louis St. Laurent Prime Minister when the Queen ascended the throne and became this country’s sixth sovereign since Confederation. She went on to meet almost every subsequent prime minister – at least those who stayed long enough. There was a special moment in 2015 when she met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom she had met as a child decades earlier when his father was prime minister.
The Queen visited Canada frequently, marking 22 official visits that included many extraordinary moments: she signed the Canadian Constitution in 1982, celebrated Canada Days, opened the Montreal Olympics in 1976, twice opened Parliament and read the Throne Speech, and the year before she became Queen, merrily square danced in Rideau Hall.
“My mother once said that this country felt like a home away from home for the Queen of Canada,” said the Queen, after six decades as the country’s head of state, during a visit in 2010 – her last to our shores. “I’m happy to report that it still does, and I’m happy to be back among you all.”
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A perhaps less pleasant encounter with a Canadian came in 1995, when Elizabeth II was the target of a funny phone call. A radio host from Quebec impersonating then-prime minister Jean Chretien got through the palace’s phone system and connected with the queen.
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She made the phone call under the impression that the prime minister was reaching out for help, fearing that Quebec separatists would win the upcoming referendum and leave Canada.
Rather than embarrass her, the potential prank only helped prove that Elizabeth II was willing to do whatever it took to encourage Quebecers to vote “no.” She even happily agreed to do a TV broadcast.
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Her patience and clear willingness to act in support of the Canadian government during a stressful period recalled a promise a young Elizabeth made as a princess on her 21st birthday in 1947.
“I declare to all of you that my whole life, whether long or short, shall be devoted to your service,” she said in a speech broadcast from Cape Town.
“She made that speech … and said she would dedicate her life to the country and the Commonwealth,” said Phil Dampier, a royal writer. “And she stuck to it. And I think that’s why people admire her, because she’s really kept her word.”
Her devotion to duty and country was a hallmark, even before her accession. When Europe went to war, Elizabeth, still a teenager, begged her father to let her help.
She started reading radio broadcasts and then joined the service as a mechanic and driver. During the war she met a distant cousin, Philip, who served in the British Navy in the Mediterranean and Pacific.
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For seven years, Elizabeth and Philip, five years her senior, exchanged letters. When the couple married in Westminster Abbey in 1947, the lavish affair was broadcast on BBC Radio to 200 million people around the world.
At the time, the two could never have expected that they would be preparing for Elizabeth’s coronation within half a decade, when they would be thrust onto the throne and into Buckingham Palace after the king’s sudden death.
“For the Queen it must have been devastating,” said Alistair Bruce, a royal commentator. “She was out in Kenya with no expectation that there would be news. And she knew that everything was going to change – her life, her family. And that would be duty from now on.”
But with her duty, Elizabeth II also embraced change and the modern era.
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Her coronation a year into her reign perfectly demonstrated that attitude, as it was one of the first televised public events. A few years later, in 1957, she turned again to television and began her annual tradition of delivering her Christmas message through the fledgling medium.
Television and later the Internet gave the Queen the opportunity to reach millions at once. In March 2019, she posted on Instagram for the first time: a photo of a letter from the royal archive.
Throughout Elizabeth II’s reign, at least 25 countries declared independence from the monarchy and others, including Canada, loosened their ties. Most recently, Barbados severed ties with the Queen in November 2021.
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Despite the abolition of the monarchy in some nations, Elizabeth II’s personal popularity remained strong and is often credited with the monarchy’s survival through modern times.
However, public admiration was briefly on shaky ground in 1997 when her eldest son’s ever-popular ex-wife, Diana Spencer, colloquially known as Princess Diana, died tragically in a car accident.
The Queen at first refrained from joining in the public outpouring of grief and sorrow. Soon, however, she bowed to public pressure, giving a heartfelt public speech on television and appearing as the elder stateswoman.
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On the occasion of her 90th birthday in 2016, the Queen appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace flanked on all sides by her family – children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Longtime royal watchers said at the time that they had never seen Elizabeth II look so happy. “All the effort she’s put in over the decades has paid off,” Dampier said. “And the future looks certain.”
In April 2021, just a few months before his 100th birthday, her beloved Philip died, leaving the Queen to rule on her own for the first time, which she did for just over a year.
“He has simply been my strength and stay all these years, and I and all his family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever demand, or we will ever know ,” she had said of her husband of more than 70 years in a speech on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997.
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After Philip’s passing, the Queen continued, as she always did, to attend functions and perform royal duties as best she could, despite declining health.
She contracted COVID-19 in February 2022 at the age of 95, but managed to fend off the virus after experiencing only “minor” symptoms.
She marked her platinum jubilee a few months later – celebrating 70 years on the throne – and her entire family, even grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, met in London for a ceremonial week of events.
Queen Elizabeth II, up on the Buckingham Palace balcony celebrating her jubilee, looked happy and content as millions of people below her and around the world celebrated her rule and longevity.
In terms of reign, Elizabeth II lags behind only the French King Louis XIV, who sat on the throne for 72 years.
Mobility problems dogged the Queen in her final months, and she delegated most of her official duties to Charles and his wife Camilla, as well as Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Elizabeth II is survived by her children: Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
As of this writing, no information has been released about public memorials or ceremonies, although more are expected in the coming days.
— With files from Amy Minsky
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