'An unparalleled life of service and devotion:' Britain mourns after Queen Elizabeth II dies peacefully aged 96

8 September 2022, 18:32 | Updated: 8 September 2022, 20:27

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II dies aged 96, Buckingham Palace confirms

By Asher McShane

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has died at the age of 96, Buckingham Palace has announced.

In a statement, Buckingham Palace said: "The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.

"The King and the Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow."

King Charles III, whose regnal title was confirmed shortly after the Queen's death, said: "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.

"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."

Prime Minister Liz Truss said she was a "personal inspiration" to her and said outside Downing Street: "She was the very spirit of Great Britain, and that spirit will endure.

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Crowds gather to pay respects to the Queen

"Her life of service stretched beyond most of our memories. In return, she was loved by the people of the United Kingdom and all around the world."

Ms Truss, who was appointed Prime Minister by the Queen at Balmoral on Thursday, said: "Earlier this week at 96, she remained determined to carry out her duties as she appointed me as her 15th Prime Minister.

"Throughout her life she's visited more than 100 countries and she's touched the lives of millions around the world.

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"In the difficult days ahead we will come together with our friends across the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the world to celebrate her extraordinary lifetime of service.

"It is a day of great loss but Queen Elizabeth II leaves a great legacy."

The monarch died at Balmoral, her estate in Aberdeenshire, with her four children Prince Charles, Princess Anne, the Duke of York and the Earl and Countess of Wessex all at her bedside.

Prince William was also at Balmoral and Harry arrived shortly before 8pm.

Mourners left tributes at Windsor
Mourners left tributes at Windsor. Picture: Getty

The flag at Buckingham Palace was lowered to half mast at 6.30pm.

People among the crowd - numbering some 1,000 just before the Queen's death was announced - gathered outside the gates began crying and taking pictures as a single helicopter circled the skies above.

Some broke out into choruses of "God Save the Queen".

The royal family's official website now carries the message: "Queen Elizabeth II 1926 - 2022" along with the official statement issued by Buckingham Palace.

A statement on the site says: "The official website of the Royal Family is temporarily unavailable while appropriate changes are made."

Former prime minister Boris Johnson left a heartfelt tribute and said: "Though our voices may still be choked with sadness, we can say with confidence the words not heard in this country for more than seven decades: God save the King."

Crowds broke out into choruses of "God Save the Queen" at Buckingham Palace
Crowds broke out into choruses of "God Save the Queen" at Buckingham Palace. Picture: Getty

Tony Blair said it had been an "honour" to be her Prime Minister and said: "We will mourn her. We will miss her. But our overwhelming sentiment will be of gratitude, profound, heartfelt and sincere thanks for what she did, what she stood for, for the life she lived and for what she gave us, her grateful subjects. Her reign was indeed glorious."

Leaders of the devolved administrations paid tribute, with Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying her death is a "profoundly sad moment for the UK, the Commonwealth and the world", and praised Elizabeth's "extraordinary dedication and service".

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said she "firmly upheld the values and traditions" of the monarchy.

When Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on 21st April 1926, nobody suspected she was destined to rule. But at the age of 10, the course of her life changed. Her uncle's abdication to marry a divorcee saw her father, the Duke of York become king and Elizabeth his heir.

She began her public duties at 14 amid the Second World War and this provided the backdrop for her first public broadcast.

Flowers have been left at Windsor in tribute to the Queen
Flowers have been left at Windsor in tribute to the Queen. Picture: Getty

In it, she said: “We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen. And we are trying too to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war."

Indeed she did her bit for the war effort, as she passed her test as a fully-qualified motor driver and mechanic.

And like thousands of others, had a sweetheart in the forces, her third cousin Prince Philip of Greece. They married at Westminster Abbey in November 1947. The following year, the couple's first child, Prince Charles, was born and two years later, Princess Anne.

But George VI's health was failing and while the royal couple were in Kenya, the news came through that the King was dead. At the age of just 25, Elizabeth was Queen and Britain entered a new Elizabethan age.

As the nation prospered, the royal family grew, first with the arrival of Prince Andrew and then Prince Edward.

While she was Head of State, Philip was head of the family. He said of it: "Tolerance is the one central ingredient of any happy marriage. You can take it from me that the queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance."

The Queen's death was announced via a board at Buckingham Palace
The Queen's death was announced via a board at Buckingham Palace. Picture: Getty

It was a quality she needed more than ever in the 1990s when the marriages of two of her children collapsed. The 1992 fire at Windsor Castle seems to symbolise the deterioration of the Royal family's esteem. She said of the year: "It has turned out to be an annus horribilus".

But there was worse to come with the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

The Queen was criticised for her reserved response and ultimately was forced to make an unprecedented live broadcast.

In it, she said: "I admired and respected her, her energy and her commitment to others. And especially for her devotion to her two boys. I, for one, believe there are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death."

In 2002, the Queen had to cope with the loss of her sister Princess Margaret and then Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, two months later.

But that summer, sympathy turned to celebration as the Queen marked her Golden Jubilee. Golden became Diamond a decade later making her only the second British monarch in history to reach such a milestone.

On 6th February this year Her Majesty became the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years of service.

Mourners gathered at Windsor Castle
Mourners gathered at Windsor Castle. Picture: Getty

The Queen thanked her loved ones: "During these years as your Queen, the support of my family has, across the generations, been beyond measure. Prince Philip is, I believe, well known for declining compliments of any kind. But throughout he has been a constant strength and guide."

But during four days of celebrations to mark the Queen's 60-year reign, which included the largest flotilla ever assembled on the River Thames, her family was quick to return the compliments.

Prince Charles famously addressed her: "Your Majesty. Mummy. As a nation, this is our opportunity to thank you and my father for always being there for us, for inspiring us with your selfless duty and service and for making us proud to be British."

That selfless duty was never more apparent than when the Queen paid an extraordinary visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011.

For so long out of bounds due to the Troubles, this visit was the first by a British monarch in 100 years. Speaking in Gaelic at the State Banquet paved the way for an act once deemed unthinkable. During her Diamond Jubilee tour of Northern Ireland, the Queen shook hands with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a former commander in the IRA, the group which killed her cousin Lord Mountbatten in 1979.

On 9th September 2015, she became the longest-serving monarch Britain had ever seen when she surpassed the reign of her great-great-grandmother Victoria.

And she celebrated her 90th birthday on the throne with a spectacular concert at Windsor Castle and a happy birthday message from the then Prime Minister David Cameron. He said: "Rarely has anyone in public life served for so long, served so brilliantly, worked so hard and brought so many people together. And in this modern Elizabethan era in which so much all around her has changed.

“Her Majesty has been steadfast, a rock of strength for our nation, for our Commonwealth and on so many occasions, for the whole world."

The Queen wasn't afraid to show her sense of humour at times. In a 2018 documentary with Sir David Attenborough, she informally discussed her love of trees. On a walk around the Palace gardens, she was happy to make light of something he'd noticed - a sun dial placed in the shade.

Like many of her subjects the last few years have been challenging for The Queen.

In January 2020, her grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle left the royal fold to pursue a private life in the US. And over the last few years she has been forced to deal with the scandal surrounding Prince Andrew.

Her private life was deeply affected by the Covid-19 crisis, as contact with members of her family was greatly reduced during the pandemic.

Last May the nation was heartbroken by the sad sight of The Queen forced to sit alone at Prince Philip’s funeral a month after the Duke had died aged 99.

In October 2021, the Queen spent a night at King Edward VII Hospital for tests and was advised to reduce her busy schedule of events.

She was advised to rest for two weeks by doctors on 29th October, leaving her unable to attend the Festival of Remembrance on Saturday 13th November.

Her Majesty travelled to Sandringham on 23rd January, a month after cancelling her traditional Christmas plans in Norfolk due to the rapid spread of Omicron.

Then on February 20, 2022, Buckingham Palace announced the Queen had tested positive for Covid-19 and had cold like symptoms. The Palace said she would continue with light duties while ill.

Nearly a third of the planet look to the Queen as leader of the Commonwealth and skilfully she balanced life as Head of State, while seeing her family grow. She leaves behind four children, eight grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren.

She embodied old-fashioned values of virtue, faith and self-restraint, honouring to the very end the pledge she made when she was just 21: "I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall we devoted to your service."

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: 1926 - 2022.