The Queen has died – so what happens next?

An inevitable day has finally happened.

The Queen viewing a display of artefacts from British craftwork company, Halcyon Days

The Queen’s extraordinary reign – 70 years and 214 days – has drawn to a close, making her the second longest reigning monarch in history, behind Louis XIV of France, whose record of 72 years and 110 days.

But records are irrelevant. The Queen has died and whether you’re a monarchist or not, over the next few days we will see public grief and mourning that will never likely again happen in the same way in our own lifetimes.

‘The Queen remains comfortable’ said the official statement. I wonder if anyone picked up on the hidden meaning in that line…’remains comfortable….’. Many, myself included, haven’t experienced the death of a monarch before.

So what happens now?

The death notice to the Duke of Edinburgh shortly after his passing in April 2021.

Operation Unicorn will come into play. A few years ago, Operation London Bridge received national attention: plans for most senior figures in the Royal family are prepared years in advance so the actual order of things is hardly a surprise. For example, Queen Victoria wrote down what she wanted to be put in her coffin in 1875, 26 years before she actually died. Operation Unicorn is a more nuanced plan of action compared to London Bridge, which was penned in the 1960s and will deal with her death as it occured in Balmoral, rather than in Windsor.

Her body will be taken to Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh and then onwards to St. Giles’s Cathedral on the Royal Mile, before being taken to Waverley station and then onward to London aboard the Royal Train. The death train will be a British Rail Class 67 diesel electric locomotive.

Eventually, she will be taken to the throne room of Buckingham Palace. Royal Undertakers Leverton and Sons (who have been the official undertakers to the Royal family since 1991), who will begin making arrangements alongside the Duke of Norfolk (the incumbent of whom has always planned the funeral of the monarch in a tradition dating from the 17th century) for the funeral.

A coffin made from oak from her estate in Sandringham, Norfolk, will likely be made. You can expect the funeral to happen in ten days time, give or take.

Guards stand by the coffin of the Queen Mother in 2002. Shutterstock

It is too early to say at this point, but it is highly likel her body will then lie in state in the historic Westminster Hall, like her father did in February 1952 and her mother in 2002. Members of the public will file past in their thousands to pay their last respects – over 200,000 saw her mother: one can only imagine how many will repeat the ritual when tickets are made available to the public. The coffin being taken to Paddington and then onward to Windsor for the final service and commital. She will eventually be buried alongside her parents and The Duke of Edinburgh in St Georges chapel in Windsor.

A recollection of the coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth by Queen Elizabeth II herself as young girl. © Royal Archives 2021

The Queen was several things. A former student of constitutional history and law. A truck driver and mechanic during The Second World War. The owner of all swans and dolphins in British waters. And a monarch who was never expected to be one: her birth place was not a palace but a (large) house in Mayfair on Bruton Street, which is now a Cantonese Restaurant.

The Queen was someone who knew how to craft an image, and one of her first portraits as monarch was shot by Dorothy Wilding – the first woman to hold the role of Royal photographer – showing Elizabeth at the age of 25. So potent was this image it formed the basis of her image on postage stamps until 1971.

© National Portrait Gallery, London
Commissioned to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee and 800 years of Jersey’s links to the British Crown, Her Majesty had this holographic portrait created by artist Chris Levine.

I cannot profess to be an ardent supporter of The Royal Family – I’m somewhat indifferent to them, but I realise their role as heads of state and the unwaivering work that a woman of 97 years has given to public service. Will her death affect our day to day life? Of course it won’t for the vast majority of us, but for a mainstay presence since 1952 to make way for the impending reign of Charles III, or whatever name he chooses to rule by, is a hugely symbolic part in our recent national history.

Inevitably we will see forms of public mourning we’ll likely never see again in our own lifetimes. The cancellation of sporting events, a curtailing of jubilation, at complete odds to the Platinum Jubilee celebrations that happened earlier this year. And then the slow de-Elizabethanism of things such as money, stamps and the National Anthem, which again will be very odd to deal with.

The Queen is dead. Long live the King.

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