"What happens when the queen dies?" It's a question no one enjoys asking, as we can't imagine a world without Queen Elizabeth II. But as she's ruled the United Kingdom since the early 1950s and is already in her 90s, we know that the day is coming when, sadly, the queen will die and one of her family members will inherit the throne. And if you thought the palace was just going to play it by ear when the time comes, think again; there's definitely a well-thought-out plan in place for when the queen dies.
In the minutes, hours and days following her death, incredibly detailed plans that have been in place for years will unwind with clocklike precision, marking the passing of one monarch into the grave and the ascension of another to the throne. Although the life and death of the queen will be both mourned and celebrated, the country will be welcoming its new king at the same time: Charles (as long as nothing happens to him in the meantime!).
Here's how the 10 days between the queen's death and her funeral will go down.
Immediately upon the queen's death, Charles will become king, and his siblings will kiss his hands.
Using a code phrase, thought to be "London Bridge is down," the news of the queen's death will be conveyed from the Foreign Office's Global Response Center to the 15 other governments across the globe of which the queen is the head of state and the 36 nations of the Commonwealth of which she is still a symbolic figurehead.
An announcement will go out as a newsflash to the British Press Association and the rest of the world's media simultaneously.
At the same moment, a footman dressed in mourning clothes will pin a black-edged death announcement to the gates of Buckingham Palace, in stark contrast to the joyous birth announcements placed similarly when princes and princesses enter the world. The many pages of the official palace website will temporarily shut down, to be replaced with a single page with the same announcement as on the gates. News organizations will begin airing and printing their pre-produced obituaries and memorial montages. In between news announcements, radio stations will air specially prepared playlists of music befitting the mood.
"If you ever hear 'Haunted Dancehall (Nursery Remix)' by Sabres of Paradise on daytime Radio 1, turn the TV on," wrote Chris Price, a BBC radio producer, for the Huffington Post in 2011. "Something terrible has just happened."
According to The Telegraph, Radio 4 listeners are expected to hear the solemn words, "This is the BBC from London." This is said to summon a spirit of national emergency.
If the queen dies abroad, her body will be flown back to London in a BAE 146 jet from the Royal Air Force's No. 32 Squadron, in a specially made coffin kept ready for emergencies.
If she dies at Balmoral, she will lie in rest at Holyroodhouse, guarded by the Royal Company of Archers, then be carried to St. Giles Cathedral for a service of reception. Then, she will be taken by the Royal Train back to London as crowds throw flowers at the cortege from crossings and station platforms along the way. Upon her return to London, her body will be placed in the throne room of Buckingham Palace to lie in state. News crews will begin to assemble in their prearranged sites next to the Canada Gate in Green Park.
The government team will assemble at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to coordinate security, police, transportation and armed forces.
About 10,000 tickets will have to be printed for invited guests for the various ceremonies involved, including the funeral itself and the proclamation of the king.
Charles (we assume) will make his first address as king on the evening of the queen's death, which will be broadcast worldwide on television, radio and the internet. It is a speech that has likely been written for years already.
Parliament will be recalled, and both houses will sit within hours of the queen's death. MPs will begin swearing oaths of allegiance to their new head of state. The two thrones at the House of Lords — one for Elizabeth and one for Prince Phillip — will be replaced with a chair and cushion designed with the outline of a crown.
Condolence books will be placed at all town halls, libraries and museums, featuring loose-leaf pages so any inappropriate messages can be easily removed. Big screens will be erected in provincial cities so the public can follow the events in London, and mayors will cover their public decorations.
Charles will be formally proclaimed king (although his coronation will likely not take place for several months, at least). The Accession Council will hold a meeting of the "Lords Spiritual and Temporal of this Realm," and a clerk will read out the formal declaration. Charles' first official duty will be to swear to protect the Church in Scotland. Camilla will, by law, become his queen, regardless of her current courtesy title of Princess Consort.
Trumpeters from the Life Guards will step onto the roof overlooking the Friary Court and give three blasts of their instruments, and the Garter King of Arms will begin the ritual proclamation of the king.
He will then travel to the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square to read out the news again. A 41-gun salute will be fired off from Hyde Park. Outside the Royal Courts of Justice, a red cord will hang across the road marking the boundary of the old City of London. The City Marshall will be waiting to admit the Garter King of Arms and his heralds to make more formal announcements of Charles' accession.
After the proclamation, Charles will leave St. James Palace for a four-day tour of the country. He will attend services of remembrance for his mother and meet with leaders of government — visiting Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff — as well as the public.
Multiple receptions will be held at the palace to welcome the hundreds of heads of state and diplomats descending upon London. But these are not to be seen as entertainment; rather, there is some serious business to attend to. For example, while the queen is Head of the Commonwealth to 36 nations, that title is not hereditary and will not automatically pass to Charles. Many of these receptions will be lobbying opportunities for this issue.
The floor of Westminster Hall will be covered in 1,500 meters of carpet, and hundreds of candles will be brought over from the Abbey. Streets will be converted to ceremonial spaces, with bleachers erected in areas like the Horse Guards Parade and Carlton House Terrace. Ten pallbearers will be chosen and will begin practicing carrying the quarter-ton lead-lined coffin.
The queen's body will be moved to Westminster Hall, where it will lie in state for another four days.
The procession from Buckingham Palace will be a huge military parade — a similar procession, when the Queen Mother died in 2002, stretched for half a mile. The route holds half a million people, and crowd control is based on the plan from the 2012 London Olympics. The queen's corgis could possibly lead the procession (in 1910, mourners of Edward VII were led by his fox terrier). The parade will arrive at the hall precisely on the hour, and Big Ben will begin to ring as the queen's funeral carriage pulls up in front.
Mourners will be allowed to pay their respects for 23 hours a day as the body lies in state. The palace expects half a million people to line up in those four days. (The Queen Mother's death saw more than 200,000 people visit in person.) Four soldiers will stand vigil in 20-minute shifts. Various children and grandchildren of the queen will also stand watch.
The royal jewels will be removed from a special glass case on the coffin, where they were viewable by the public, to be cleaned. The stock market will be closed and most of the country will be on bank holiday. Big Ben will strike at 9 a.m., and then the hammer will be covered with a leather pad to muffle the ringing.
The queen's coffin will be moved a few hundred meters from the hall to the Abbey, arriving at precisely 11 a.m. The entire country will go silent. The service will be broadcast on television, with the cameras studiously avoiding the faces of the royals.
The queen's coffin will be placed on the same green gun carriage used to carry her father's coffin.
Another procession will walk through to the mall. The queen will then be carried by hearse 23 miles to Windsor Castle. As the cloister gates close, broadcasting will cease. Her body will be placed in the royal vault in the family chapel in a private ceremony, and as her coffin descends, Charles will drop red earth from a silver bowl onto the casket.
And so we shall say goodbye not just to an icon but to an entire age.
A version of this article was originally published in March 2017.
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