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15 Things That Will Happen Once Queen Elizabeth II Dies

This is one thing the British people—and royal watchers across the pond—don't want to think about. But the palace has a plan for exactly what will go down when their beloved monarch passes on.

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Queen Elizabeth II at 25Scotland/Shutterstock

Operation “London Bridge” will go into effect

Queen Elizabeth II has been around for almost everybody’s entire lifetime. At 95 years old, she is the longest-reigning British monarch, having taken the throne at the young age of 25 in 1952. So understandably, it’s hard to imagine what will happen when the queen dies. Although her father died at the young age of 56, her mother lived to the ripe old age of 101, so longevity is in her blood. But death is undefeated, and—as is the English way—there are careful plans for the Queen’s passing to assure the situation is handled gracefully, respectfully, and full of the tradition, pomp, and ceremony the Queen deserves. This plan, the Guardian reports, is called “London Bridge.” Read more facts about Queen Elizabeth II that you may not have known before.

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth IIVICTORIA JONES/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Code words will be spoken

According to the Guardian‘s in-depth investigation, after receiving the news from the Queen’s doctor, the Queen’s private secretary will call the Prime Minister, and say “London Bridge is down.”  Then Britain’s Foreign Office will call the 15 governments where the Queen is head of state and the 36 nations in the Commonwealth, an association of independent former colonies where she remains a symbolic figurehead, to let them know the sad news. Find out the ways Queen Elizabeth sends her staff secret messages.

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Traditional death notice of Queen MotherRay Tang/Shutterstock

People will find out in ways both modern and ancient

Once all the really important people know, everyone else across the United Kingdom and the world will find out—you’ll probably remember for the rest of your life where you were when you heard the news. All press outlets will be informed at once, the Guardian reports, with a news release. At the same exact moment and in keeping with tradition, a footman in mourning clothing will post a black-edged notice to the gates of Buckingham Palace. Also at the same time, the royal family’s official website will show the announcement on its homepage. All of this needs to fall into place precisely so that no false info gets out—as happened in recent years when the press passed around a rumor the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, had died (nope, he was just retiring at the time). Check out these Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip photos that most people haven’t seen before.

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Media coverage for Queen Mother's deathNILS JORGENSEN/Shutterstock

The press have their own plans in place

Most major outlets have obituaries and news stories ready to go for public figures who are getting up there in years. As morbid as it sounds, it just makes sense to be prepared—and coverage of the Queen’s death is even more important for the British press to get right. (One BBC newscaster who wasn’t properly informed in time of the Queen Mother’s death in 2002 was criticized for wearing a maroon tie instead of black.) The Guardian reports its deputy editor has a list of prepared stories for the Queen’s death pinned to his wall. Royal experts have already been lined up with news stations to go live on TV. In the United States, we may expect a bit less of a to-do, but not by much as the Queen is well-loved in this former colony. If you’re curious, check out the British royal family’s net worth.

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The bells with toll

In London, the ceremonial traditions for which we’ve come to admire the British will begin. Flags will be lowered to half-mast. Bells will toll in churches around the city. Westminster Abbey’s famous tenor bell, rung in the event of royal deaths, will be heard; as on most solemn occasions, Westminster’s bells will be muffled. St. Paul’s Great Tom will toll as well. Businesses, theaters, and some sporting events will likely close or be canceled. People will begin to gather outside Buckingham Palace as the nation enters a ten-day period of mourning before the funeral. We know the royal family can get a little confusing so we created a royal family tree to help you out.

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British Parliament leaving Buckingham PalaceFACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/EPA/Shutterstock

Parliament will convene

The Queen is officially head of state, so the government will also be involved. At the moment of her death, Prince Charles will become King, but to ensure a smooth transition, all members of parliament will gather to swear allegiance to the new monarch. This was also done hours after Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, died in 1952.

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Royal Sandringham HouseShutterstock

What happens if the Queen is not in London

The Guardian reports that if the Queen dies while abroad, a plane from the Royal Air Force will send a coffin with royal undertakers to bring her back by air. If she dies in England but outside of London—such as at her private estate Sandringham House in Norfolk—a car will transport her body to Buckingham Palace, where she will be placed in the throne room and watched over by four Grenadier Guards (the ones who wear the big bearskin hats and red coats). Here are some more facts about the Queen’s guard.

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Balmoral CastleMARTIN CLEAVER/AP/Shutterstock

If she is at Balmoral

The most complicated situation will be if the Queen passes while at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where she spends every summer, and where Scottish rituals would take place after her death. She would be moved to Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, then be carried up the city’s Royal Mile to St. Giles Cathedral for a service before being placed on the Royal Train to London. Her subjects will likely wait along the route to throw flowers and pay their respects as her train passes by.

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The Duke And Duchess Of Rothesay Visit BallaterChris Jackson/Getty Images

Charles will take the throne

Several rituals will take place to solidify the new monarch’s position. “There are really two things happening,” one of his advisers told the Guardian. “There is the demise of a sovereign and then there is the making of a king.” Charles is scheduled to make a speech on the evening of the Queen’s death to address the people. The next day, at 11 a.m., Charles will be proclaimed King, and he will swear an oath called the accession declaration. Heralds will read a proclamation throughout the city, trumpets will sound, the flag will be raised back up, and cannons will go off in a royal salute. The coronation, however, won’t happen for months to allow time for a mourning period and preparation of the ceremony. Find out some fascinating facts about Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.

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Prince Charles and CamillaTim Rooke/Shutterstock

Charles will pick his name

British monarchs are allowed to pick their own ruling name when they take the throne. Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, was born Prince Albert and known as “Bertie,” but he chose to be King George after his father, King George V. Elizabeth had a far easier choice since her birth name recalls another of England’s great queens, Elizabeth I. There had been speculation that Charles would choose a different name—perhaps George after his grandfather or Philip after his father—because the first two King Charles’ were associated with the English Civil Wars. But chances are, Charles will keep his given name and become King Charles III. Although there has also been a debate about the title of Charles’ wife, she will potentially be named Queen Camilla.

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Prince CharlesShutterstock

King Charles will tour the home nations

Once Charles is proclaimed king, it will be time to get to work, even before his mother’s funeral. He is planning to embark on a tour of the “home countries” of the British Isles, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, to meet with leaders and attend services. Charles will also go out and meet the people. “From day one, it is about the people rather than just the leaders being part of this new monarchy,” one of his advisers told the Guardian. “Lots of not being in a car, but actually walking around.”

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Queen Mother's funeral serviceMurray Sanders/Shutterstock

The Queen’s coffin will be open to the public

For the people of England, the Queen’s funeral will be held 10 days after her death and called a “day of national mourning.” Although this will not be an official holiday, it will be left up to employers on whether or not they want to give their employees a day off. Big Ben’s hammer will be padded so it strikes in muffled tones. The Queen will be moved from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster where the coffin will sit on a raised box. This will be open to the public for 23 hours a day for three days, according to the Guardian.

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Royal line of successionDAVID HARTLEY/Shutterstock

The line of succession will change

As Charles becomes King, William will move up and take the position of heir apparent. He’ll likely also take the title Prince of Wales, which is traditionally given to the next-in-line to the throne. This would make Kate the Princess of Wales, but because this was Diana’s title, she may opt for another out of respect for her late mother-in-law. The Queen’s death would put Will and Kate’s children at second (George), third (Charlotte), and fourth (Louis) in line to the throne. Prince Harry will remain below them in fifth place. Learn more about what will happen when Prince Charles becomes king.

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British Monarchy and CommonwealthShutterstock

Monarchy will remain, but the Commonwealth is uncertain

Although there is much debate about what will happen to the monarchy after the long-reigning Elizabeth, chances are everything will stay the same. With Charles likely to have a short reign due to his age, the monarchy will continue to grow and modernize as the popular younger generation then takes the reign. Slightly less clear is what will happen to the Commonwealth, the voluntary association of independent former colonies that accounts for over a third of the world’s population. Last April at a Commonwealth meeting, the Queen asserted it was her “sincere wish” that Charles carry on as head of the Commonwealth. The other government leaders soon agreed, officially announcing to the press he would take her place when she passes.

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blacked out laptop screen after Queen Elizabeths deathNora Carol/Getty Images

There will be a social media blackout

You read that right. There are plans to change the royal family’s website to a black screen with a short message regarding the Queen’s death, according to The Guardian. The website along with all other social media pages from the government will portray a black banner. New content will not be published unless it is urgent and retweets as a whole will be banned unless they are approved by the government’s head of communications. Now that you know what happens when the queen dies, find out 50 more things you didn’t know about the British royal family.

Tina Donvito
Tina Donvito is a regular contributor to’s Culture and Travel sections. She also writes about health and wellness, parenting, and pregnancy. Previously editor-in-chief of Twist magazine, Donvito has also written for Parade Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Parents Magazine online, among others. Here work was selected by author Elizabeth Gilbert to be included in the anthology Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir. She earned a BA in English and History from Rutgers University.

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