What Plans Are in Place For When the Queen Passes?

This is one thing royal watchers don't want to think about. But the palace has a plan for exactly what will go down when Canada's beloved head of state passes on.

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Queen Elizabeth II at 25
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When the Queen passes away, Operation “London Bridge” will go into effect

Queen Elizabeth II has been around for most everybody’s entire lifetime. At 95 years old, she is the longest-reigning British monarch, having taken the throne at the age of 25 in 1952. So understandably, it’s hard to imagine what will happen when she is no longer with us. Although her father died at a relatively young 56, her mother lived to the ripe old age of 101, so longevity is in her blood. But death is undefeated, and—as is the British way—there are careful plans for Elizabeth’s passing to assure the situation is handled gracefully, respectfully, and full of the tradition, pomp, and ceremony the Queen deserves. This plan, the Guardian reports, is called “London Bridge.”

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Code word London bridge is down
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Code words will be spoken

According to the Guardian‘s in-depth investigation, after receiving the news from the Queen’s doctor, the Queen’s private secretary—currently Edward Young—will call the Prime Minister, currently Boris Johnson, and say “London Bridge is down.”  Then Britain’s Foreign Office will call the 15 governments where the Queen is head of state (including Canada) and the 36 nations in the Commonwealth, an association of independent former colonies where she remains a symbolic figurehead, to let them know the sad news.

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Traditional death notice of Queen Mother
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People will find out in ways both modern and ancient

Once all the really important people know, everyone else across the United Kingdom and the world will find out—you’ll probably remember for the rest of your life where you were when you hear the news. All press outlets will be informed at once, the Guardian reports, with a news release. At the same exact moment and in keeping with tradition, a footman in mourning clothing will post a black-edged notice to the gates of Buckingham Palace. Also at the same time, the royal family’s official website will show the announcement on its homepage. All of this needs to fall into place precisely so that no false info gets out—as happened in 2017 when the press passed around a rumour the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, had died (nope, he was just retiring at that time). Sadly, he did pass away in April 2021, just a few months shy of his 100th birthday.

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Media coverage for Queen Mother's death
Photo: Nils Jorgensen/Shutterstock

The press have their own plans in place

Most major outlets have obituaries and news stories ready to go for public figures who are getting up there in years. As morbid as it sounds, it just makes sense to be prepared—and coverage of the Queen’s death is even more important for the British press to get right. (One BBC newscaster who wasn’t properly informed in time of the Queen Mother’s death in 2002 was criticized for wearing a maroon tie instead of black.) The Guardian reports its deputy editor has a list of prepared stories for the Queen’s death pinned to his wall. Royal experts have already been lined up with news stations to go live on TV.

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Elizabeth Tower at Houses of Parliament, London
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The bells will toll

In London, the ceremonial traditions for which we so admire the British will begin. Flags will be lowered to half-mast. Bells will toll in churches around the city. Westminster Abbey’s famous tenor bell, rung in the event of royal deaths, will be heard; as on most solemn occasions, Westminster’s bells will be muffled. St. Paul’s Great Tom will toll as well. Businesses, theatre, and some sporting events will likely close or be cancelled. People will begin to gather outside Buckingham Palace as the nation enters a 10-day period of mourning before the funeral.

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British Parliament leaving Buckingham Palace

Parliament will convene

The Queen is officially head of state, so the government will also be involved. At the moment of her death, Prince Charles will become King, but to ensure a smooth transition, all members of parliament will gather to swear allegiance to the new monarch. This was also done hours after Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, died in 1952.

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Sandringham Estate - What will happen when the Queen dies
Photo: LizCoughlan / Shutterstock.com

What happens if the Queen isn’t in London

The Guardian reports that if the Queen dies while abroad, a plane from the Royal Air Force will send a coffin with royal undertakers to bring her back by air. If she dies in England but outside of London—such as at her private estate Sandringham House in Norfolk (above)—a car will transport her body to Buckingham Palace, where she will be placed in the throne room and watched over by four Grenadier Guards (the ones who wear the big bearskin hats and red coats).

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Balmoral Castle in summer
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If she is at Balmoral

The most complicated situation will be if the Queen passes while at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where she spends every summer, and where Scottish rituals would take place after her death. She would be moved to Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, then be carried up the city’s Royal Mile to St. Giles Cathedral for a service before being placed on the Royal Train to London. Her subjects will likely wait along the route to throw flowers and pay their respects as her train passes by.

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Prince Charles carrying an umbrella
Photo: Bart Lenoir / Shutterstock.com

Charles will take the throne

Several rituals will take place to solidify the new monarch’s position. “There are really two things happening,” one of his advisers told the Guardian. “There is the demise of a sovereign and then there is the making of a king.” Charles is scheduled to make a speech on the evening of the Queen’s death to address the people. The next day, at 11 a.m., Charles will be proclaimed King, and he will swear an oath called the accession declaration. Heralds will read a proclamation throughout the city, trumpets will sound, the flag will be raised back up, and cannons will go off in a royal salute. The coronation, however, won’t happen for months to allow time for a mourning period and preparation of the ceremony.

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Prince Charles and Camilla
Photo: Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Charles will pick his name

British monarchs are allowed to pick their own ruling name when they take the throne. Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, was born Prince Albert and known as “Bertie,” but he chose to be King George after his father, King George V. Elizabeth had a far easier choice, since her birth name recalls another of England’s great queens, Elizabeth I. There had been speculation that Charles would choose a different name—perhaps George after his grandfather or Philip after his father—because the first two King Charles were associated with the English Civil Wars. But chances are, Charles will keep his given name and become King Charles III. Although there has also been debate about the title of Charles’ wife, she will potentially be named Queen Camilla.

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Prince William
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Could William be king?

Past rumours have suggested that Charles will abdicate in favour of his younger, more popular son. That possibility was explored in the recent play King Charles III (which also featured a conniving Duchess Kate scheming to get her husband on the throne). But despite all the talk, it’s likely Charles will take up the job he has waited longer for than any other British heir: he’s been heir apparent since he was just three years old, and will also be the oldest monarch to begin his rule.

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Prince Charles
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King Charles will tour the home nations

Once Charles is proclaimed king, it will be time to get to work, even before his mother’s funeral. He is planning to embark on a tour of the “home countries” of the British Isles, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, to meet with leaders and attend services. Charles will also go out and meet the people. “From day one, it is about the people rather than just the leaders being part of this new monarchy,” one of his advisers told the Guardian. “Lots of not being in a car, but actually walking around.”

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Royal Funeral Procession Queen Mother's
Photo: Shutterstock

The Queen will lie in state

A few days later, after Charles makes his way back to London, the Queen’s coffin will travel to Westminster Hall in a slow procession from Buckingham Palace. For the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002, 1,600 servicemen and women were involved in the procession, where Beethoven’s Funeral March was played and a royal gun salute sounded off. After arriving at Westminster, the public will be allowed to visit and pay their respects to the Queen for several days. The Guardian reports half a million people are expected.

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Queen Mother's funeral service
Photo: Murray Sanders/Daily Mail /Shutterstock

We can all watch the funeral

For the people of England, the Queen’s funeral will likely be a national holiday. Big Ben’s hammer will be padded so it strikes in muffled tones. The Queen will be moved from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey for the service, which will be televised, but cameras will refrain from showing the grieving faces of the royal family during prayers, reports the Guardian. Then the coffin will be placed on a gun carriage and pulled by Royal Navy sailors (a tradition that began after Queen Victoria’s unruly funeral horses almost bolted). After the London procession, a hearse will bring Queen Elizabeth to Windsor Castle, where she will be buried; she will most likely join her parents (their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) and sister (HRH The Princess Margaret) in the King George VI Memorial Chapel.

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Royal line of succession
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The line of succession will change

As Charles becomes King, William will move up and take the position of heir apparent. He’ll likely also take the title Prince of Wales, which is traditionally given to the next-in-line to the throne. This would make Kate the Princess of Wales, but because this was Diana’s title, she may opt for another out of respect for her late mother-in-law. The Queen’s death would put Will and Kate’s children at second (George), third (Charlotte), and fourth (Louis) in line to the throne.

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British Monarchy and Commonwealth
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Monarchy will remain, but the Commonwealth is uncertain

Although there is much debate about what will happen to the monarchy after the long-reigning Elizabeth, chances are everything will stay the same. According to a recent poll, almost 70 per cent of Brits are in favour of having a monarchy. And with Charles likely to have a short reign due to his age, the monarchy will continue to grow and modernize as the popular younger generation then takes the reins. Slightly less clear is what will happen to the Commonwealth, the voluntary association of independent former colonies that accounts for over a third of the world’s population. At a Commonwealth meeting in April 2018, the Queen asserted it was her “sincere wish” that Charles carry on as head of the Commonwealth. The other government leaders soon agreed, officially announcing to the press he would take her place when she passes.

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