Queen Elizabeth II, whose 70-year reign spanned wars, a pandemic, 14 presidents and the winding down of Britain’s vast empire, has died. Her eldest son, Charles, is now king.
“The queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” the royal family said in a statement. “The king and the queen consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.”
The longest-serving British monarch was 96.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor is also survived by her other children, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, and their spouses. Prince William, next in line to the throne, and Prince Harry are among her eight grandchildren. She has a dozen great-grandchildren.
The death of a monarch whose life spanned era-defining events, from the discovery of penicillin to the ubiquity of the internet, casts the United Kingdom into the unknown.
It’s “a really shocking and discombobulating moment for a lot of Brits,” NBC royal commentator Daisy McAndrew said before the queen’s death. “Everybody realizes that when she dies, it’s going to be a very big deal. But I don’t think that we really know the shockwaves that it’s going to send.”
“It’s going to make us, as a nation, look at ourselves and think: Everything’s changed,” she added.
The queen’s official title spoke to the world she was born into in 1926: Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Back then, her country was near the peak of the British Empire, spanning India, swaths of the Caribbean and Africa, Canada and Australia — a territory about equal to the Moon’s surface.
A speech on the day of her coronation June 2, 1953, spelled out the 27-year-old’s understanding of her outsize role as a constitutional monarch.
“I have behind me not only the splendid traditions and the annals of more than a thousand years but the living strength and majesty of the Commonwealth and Empire; of societies old and new; of lands and races different in history and origins but all, by God’s Will, united in spirit and in aim,” she said.
Shorn of that empire in the previous and over the following decades, the U.K. increasingly came to rely on the queen’s emblematic status for its international relevance. Throughout, Elizabeth was courted by world leaders who vied for her time and to be photographed alongside her practiced smile.
Elizabeth’s financial and property holdings made her one of the world’s richest women. While she also owned a spectacular and priceless jewelry collection, it was her bright, color-coordinated outfits, upper-class, countryside style accessorized by trademark hats, handbags and her companion Corgi dogs that are widely emulated, as well as caricatured.
But while world famous, the queen was also scrupulously careful about what she shared with the public. In fact, it was this silence that made her a potent figurehead who appeared to transcend partisan politics and became a kind of avatar onto whom millions could project their own expectations.
During her reign, 15 British prime ministers served in office and she met 13 American presidents — every United States leader during her time on the throne, apart from Lyndon B. Johnson.
“She is an astonishing person and a real jewel to the world and not just to the United Kingdom,” then-President Barack Obama said when visiting the U.K. in April 2016.