Britain awoke Friday without its queen for the first time in 70 years. And, as the country entered a lengthy period of national mourning following her death, it entered this uncertain new era already plagued by economic crisis and the latest bout of political upheaval.
Crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace to lay flowers and witness history as the nation’s well-rehearsed plan for bidding farewell to one monarch and welcoming another swung into action. Buckingham Palace issued guidance Friday morning on where the public can leave floral tributes, as is customary.
Later Friday, gun salutes will fire 96 rounds — one for each year of Elizabeth’s life — in nearby Hyde Park and at the Tower of London. Flags on government buildings are flown at half-staff. At noon (7 a.m. ET), the bells of St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey rang out, which was echoed by church bells across the country.
At the age of 73, King Charles III, the longest-serving heir to the throne, is finally assuming his birthright. He will lead the country in a series of royal events based on centuries-old traditions.
On Friday, Charles returned to London from Balmoral, the Scottish castle where the royal family rushed to be by the queen’s side in her final hours. Later that day, he will address the nation for the first time as king.
Given her age and recent health issues, Queen Elizabeth II’s death on Thursday at the age of 96, shortly after Buckingham Palace announced she was under medical supervision, came as no surprise. However, with the country facing unprecedented economic hardship as a result of spiraling energy costs and inflation, her absence may be felt even more acutely as Britain faces a crisis without her for the first time in seven decades.
A large but respectful crowd gathered to pay their respects and witness history. As tourists and royalist Britons mixed with curious passersby, multiple languages could be heard. Gardeners were busy trimming royal lawns in preparation for the upcoming pageantry.
Amy Lodge, 30, a history teacher from Twickenham in southwest London, was pushing a stroller with her sleeping 4-month-old daughter, Esme-Lilly, in it. “Obviously, I was devastated by the news. “But because my grandmother is the same age as the queen and my auntie in Canada is a huge royalist, I almost had to come and pay my respects on their behalf,” she explained.
The changes in the monarchy and the prime minister ship come at a critical juncture in British political and economic life, with many families concerned about how they will afford rising energy bills as a cost-of-living crisis intersects with Russia’s war in Ukraine and the fallout from the country’s exit from the European Union.
Only days after the queen invited Liz Truss to be prime minister, Charles will meet her soon. The pair will then meet once a week for the monarch’s traditional weekly audience with the prime minister — and one issue will almost certainly take precedence.
Hours before the queen’s death was announced, Truss told the House of Commons that she would freeze energy bills at £2,500 ($2,900) per year until 2024, a massive intervention that would have dominated national debate if not for the news that interrupted debate in Parliament.
Inflation of more than 10% has fueled a summer of widespread strikes but planned action by the Royal Mail and railway workers on Friday has been canceled in light of the queen’s death. Sporting and cultural events were also canceled, and some businesses were closed as the country observed a 10-day period of mourning.
Because of the gravity of the national mood, the Bank of England announced on Friday that it would postpone its decision on whether to raise interest rates — a decision that could have far-reaching consequences.
The bank’s monetary policy committee was scheduled to meet Thursday but has been rescheduled for September 22.
The first post-Elizabeth national crisis may turn out to be one of the worst in recent memory, but the days ahead will be spent remembering her contributions to public life.