What Happens Now As Charles Prepares To Be King

The end of Queen Elizabeth II's reign will reverberate through our lives. From the state funeral to the seismic long-term implications of a new monarch, Elle Hunt explains what to expect.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles attend the State Opening of Parliament in 2019

by Elle Hunt |
Published on

When Queen Elizabeth IIacceded to the throne in 1952, then 25, she was hailed as 'the hope of our nation': a shining light over post-war Britain. Now that light has gone out, with Her Majesty’s death on 8 September 2022 at age 96.

The closely-guarded plan for the Queen’s death – Operation London Bridge - dates back to the 1960s, and was refined at the turn of the century, and leaked to the Guardian in 2017. It reveals details around the '10 days of sorrow and spectacle' commemorating her 70-year reign. Because the Queen died in Scotland, it's believed a modified plan, named Operation Unicorn, will now be in action.

Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams quotes the words of the Queen’s Mother upon the death of her husband, King George V, in 1936: 'The sunset of his death tinged the whole world’s sky'. 'I think this is a moment where people will remember where they were when they heard,' he says.

So what next, for a nation in mourning?

Per the report by Sam Knight for the Guardian on the plans for Operation London Bridge, both houses of Parliament will sit immediately following the Queen’s death. Flags across the country – even those on beaches – will be flown at half-mast. Bells will toll.

Every broadcasting platform, down to hospital radio and in-flight announcements, will give themselves over to coverage. And in provincial cities, big screens will be erected for people to come together to follow the events to come in the capital.

Prince Charles will go on to make his first address as head of state and flags everywhere will go back up. Then, at St James’s Palace, in front of some 10,000 invited guests, Charles will be proclaimed king.

He has waited longer than any other British heir to assume the throne; now Charles’ duties will begin immediately, with a tour of Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff to attend remembrance services and civic receptions, and to meet the heads of governments.

He has waited longer than any other British heir to assume the throne; now Charles’ duties will begin immediately

Fitzwilliams says Charles will have to ‘radically alter’ his public presentation to rule as King. In the past, he has advocated on controversial subjects, such as for homeopathy and against genetically-modified crops; and snubbed China over its treatment of the Dalai Lama. ‘There is no role for an activist king,’ says Fitzwilliams. ‘Any royal must be above politics.’

It speaks to the many challenges that lie in store for Charles as he comes to terms with his new role, under the world’s spotlight and while mourning the loss of his mother.

‘She’s an impossible act to follow,’ says Fitzwilliam. ‘One of the problems that Charles will face as king is I don’t think many people will be able to imagine what a new reign will look like.’

One long-standing question which appears to have been settled in advance of the Queen’s death is the title of Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. In February 2022 the Queen said it was her ‘sincere wish’ that Camilla be known as Queen Consort when Prince Charles becomes King - paving the way for Queen Camilla.

Of course, as Fitzwilliams says, ‘the immediate consideration will be to mourn the passing of someone whose life has been dedicated to duty.’ Indeed, the ceremony will be on a scale not seen since Winston Churchill’s death in 1965.

Four days after the Queen’s death, her coffin is expected to be taken from the throne room of Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, where she will lie in state for four full days.

Her funeral is thought to be planned for ten days after her death (on what is referred to in planning as 'D+10'). Most of the country will be granted a day off, with shops either closing or observing bank holiday hours; some will have attended church services the night before.

The stock market will not open. Football stadiums may, to host memorial services.

The Queen’s coffin will be taken the few hundred metres from Westminster Hall to the Abbey for 11 o’clock, when a moment’s silence will be observed. Even train stations will stop making announcements; buses will pull over to the side of the road.

Then another procession will lead her hearse 23 miles by road from Hyde Park Corner to Windsor Castle where her body will be interred.

That will conclude the ceremonial component of Operation London Bridge. But the reverberations from Her Majesty’s death will be felt for far longer.

Currency and postage stamps bearing her iconic profile will be gradually phased out and replaced with new designs – though, bearing what, remains to be seen.

It speaks to the essential challenge of imagining the monarchy – if not the world – without the Queen, says Fitzwilliams: 'She is better known than any other head of state, whether it’s portraiture or stamps.'

'She is better known than any other head of state'

Currency in Canada, Australia and New Zealand may also be replaced, depending on how those countries respond to the passing of the Head of the Commonwealth. That particular title of the Queen’s is not hereditary.

'She kept the Commonwealth together almost entirely,' says Fitzwilliams. Some countries may now choose to pursue relaxing ties with the monarchy, or even severing them.

The future ascension of Prince William to the throne may dissuade some territories from becoming republics, he suggests, given the popularity of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children with the public.

But many of these questions are, as yet, unanswerable as Britain comes to terms with a seismic loss.

Queen Elizabeth II is Britain’s longest-reigning monarch by some distance, having surpassed her great-great grandmother Victoria to the title in 2015. If the repercussions of her death are unclear, it speaks to the challenge of imagining the monarchy - if not the world – without her.

'Life without the Queen will have an “unthinkable oddness”,' says Fitzwilliams, quoting Knight’s report on Operation London Bridge. 'Almost nobody can remember a time when she was not on the throne.

'There is a sense that, in a world that has changed so constantly and consistently, the Queen has been a symbol of something you could rely on – somebody who was constant.'

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