What Happens After the Queen Dies? All the Royal Protocols

queen elizabeth ii king charles iii royal protocol death of monarch

Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest reigning monarch, has died aged 96. So what happens now? Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of official protocols in place for such an event, and a lot of them are already in motion.

When the Queen died, it launched “Operation London Bridge”, the not-so-secret code name for the events that are unfolding, and will continue to unfold, from here on out. There are also sub-sections of this plan, which were in place for each location that the Queen may have died in. When Queen Elizabeth II passed away at Balmoral in Scotland, “Operation Unicorn” was triggered. More on that later.

The Guardian reported in 2017 that in the moment that the Queen passed, her eyes would be closed, Charles would be King, and that “his siblings will kiss his hands”.

Queen Elizabeth II’s private secretary, Sir Edward Young, first notified newly appointed British Prime Minister Liz Truss with a message that read “London Bridge is down”.

Truss then set Operation London Bridge into motion, and notified the 15 governments of the Commonwealth (including the UK) of the news.

Once all the governments were notified, the news was released to the public, as the Palace posted the news on the gates of Buckingham Palace.

The media was also alerted to the news, and the BBC halted its broadcast to announce the news to the public. The news presenters changed into black, marking the somber occasion, and rather than the red banner they usually use for breaking news, they used a black banner, to mark the period of mourning.

During the period of mourning, the BBC will screen documentaries and features about the Queen, and will refrain from playing any comedy series as a sign of respect and loss. This will continue until after the funeral.

All the flags in the UK have been lowered to half-mast.

Related: Australia Might Become a Republic Following the Queen’s Death — Here’s What That Would Mean

Related: Peek All 775 Rooms in Buckingham Palace With This Complete Floorplan

King Charles III

In regards to King Charles III, he became King the moment that Queen Elizabeth II passed away, but it’s expected that he will be officially proclaimed King on Saturday, September 10. This proclamation will happen at St James’ Palace in London, in front of a ceremonial body known as the Accession Council.

He actually could have chosen any one of his four names, Charles Philip Arthur George, to be the name he went by as King, and going by King Charles III is his first decision as King. He is expected to make his first speech as King today, Friday, September 9. He has already released his first official statement as King.

When King Charles III makes his first speech as King, the government will swear its allegiance to him, and there will be a gun salute to mark the occasion.

Following that, King Charles III will embark on a tour of the United Kingdom, visiting Edinburgh, Belfast, and Cardiff, before returning to London.

What Is Operation Unicorn?

Operation Unicorn is the name of the protocol that everyone was to follow in the event that the Queen passed away at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, so it’s the sub-plan that’s in motion now.

In 2017, The Guardian wrote that Operation Unicorn is actually “the most elaborate” of the plans in place in the event of her Majesty’s passing.

First, the Queen’s Coffin will be taken to her smallest palace, Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. The Royal Company of Archers will guard her body, before the coffin is carried up the Royal Mile to St Giles’ cathedral. 

It was initially believed that the Queen’s Coffin would travel via Royal Train down the East Coast Main line, but the Palace later confirmed that she would instead be flown from Edinburgh to London.

“On the afternoon of Tuesday 13th September, The Queen’s Coffin will travel from Scotland by Royal Air Force aircraft from Edinburgh Airport, arriving at RAF Northolt later that evening. The Coffin will be accompanied on the journey by The Princess Royal,” read a press statement.

What Happens Next?

The Queen’s body will be transported to the throne room at Buckingham Palace. During this time, bells will toll and flags will come down.

Per The Guardian: “In 1952, Great Tom was rung at St Paul’s every minute for two hours when the news [of King George VI’s death] was announced. The bells at Westminster Abbey sounded and the Sebastopol bell, taken from the Black Sea city during the Crimean war and rung only on the occasion of a sovereign’s death, was tolled 56 times at Windsor – once for each year of George VI’s life – from 1.27pm until 2.22pm.”

On the fourth day after her death, the Queen’s coffin will be transported via military procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall. Here, King Charles III, the royal family, and dignitaries will all pay their respects, before the doors are opened to the public. It is expected that hundreds of thousands will flock to Westminster Hall.

Related: Queen Elizabeth II Has Passed Away Aged 96

The Funeral

The date of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it’s expected to take place between 10-to-12 days after her death.

At 11am, Big Ben will chime, and the Queen’s coffin will be taken into Westminster Abbey for the funeral. After that, she’ll be taken to St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where she will be laid to rest, likely next to her father, King George VI. Her late husband Prince Philip was also laid to rest at St George’s Chapel after his death in 2021.

After the Funeral

At some point, King Charles III will have his official coronation, but don’t expect it to happen any time soon — Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation took place 14 months after her father’s death.

New currency will be introduced with King Charles III on it, and the same will be the case for stamps, passports and the like.

The UK’s national anthem, “God Save the Queen”, will be officially changed to “God Save the King”, which mourners have already begun singing in the wake of the Queen’s passing.

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