172. What Happens When the Queen Dies? (English Vocabulary Lesson)



The UK is currently preparing for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away last week at the age of 96. While the death of the Queen came as a shock, the government and Royal Family have been preparing for this moment for decades. Today, let’s discuss what happens when a British monarch passes away!



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Vocabulary List

Accession (n) – the time when someone starts a position of authority, especially a king or a queen

1952 was the year of Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne

Half-mast (n) – a flag that is at half mast has been brought down to a point halfway down the pole as an expression of sadness at someone’s death

The flags at Buckingham Palace were all flying at half-mast

Sombre (adj) – serious, sad, and without humour or entertainment

The funeral was a sombre occasion

Oath (n) – a promise that you will tell the truth or that you will do what you have said

Presidents take an oath to uphold the constitution

Proclamation (n) – an official announcement

The proclamation of the new king was announced around the UK  

To pay (one’s) respects (idiom) – to offer or express one’s condolences or sympathy, particuarly to someone’s family following their death

Thousands of people are expected to pay their respects to the Queen

Procession (n) – a line of people who are all walking or travelling in the same direction, especially in a formal way

The funeral procession will start at 10am

To line a street (idiom) – if people or things line a road, they are present in large in numbers along its edges or sides

Millions of people will line the streets of London

 

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On Thursday September 8th, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II passed away at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. The moment she died a meticulously designed plan came into action. The plan was designed to ensure a number of different things: to make sure that the news of the Queen’s death was broken respectfully; to ensure the next monarch’s accession to the throne goes smoothly; and to make sure the Queen is commemorated.

While the plan has never officially been published, we have known about for many years – and its name “Operation London Bridge” is very famous. “Operation London Bridge” details every single event that occurs after the death of the queen – so what happens when the Queen dies?


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London Bridge is Down

“London Bridge is down” – this is the code word issued by the queen’s private secretary to indicate that the monarch had died. This message is sent to the prime minister and then spread through other senior political figures. The leaders of each of the countries of the UK are told, as are the Prime Ministers of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries in which she was head of state. The leaders of other Commonwealth nations are also informed.

At the moment of the queen’s death, her son Charles automatically became King Charles III. Flags around the country were lowered to half-mast. A notice was posted at the gates of Buckingham palace in London and official messages were also spread across social media.  

The BBC, Britain’s national broadcaster, has a major role in breaking the news of the Queen’s passing. Unlike usual breaking news announcements, reporting of the Queen’s death was regularly practiced by BBC news readers to ensure that they break the news in a calm, respectful, and sombre manner. News reporters all wore black and TV schedules were changed to remove certain comedies and satire.

The Queen’s family, including her four children and King Charles’ two children, travelled to Scotland shortly before her death was announced. The fact that the queen died in Scotland triggered a second plan – with the codename “Operation Unicorn.”

The Next Days

The date of the Queen’s funeral is September 19th – 11 days after her death. During these 11 days a number of significant and important events are taking place throughout the United Kingdom.

On the Saturday after the Queen’s death, a group known as the Accession Council convened at St James’s Palace in London. This Accession Council includes many senior political and religious figures from the United Kingdom including former Prime Ministers. Their role is to formally announce the death of Queen Elizabeth II and declare King Charles III accession to the throne.

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During the meeting, the new king will need to make a number of statements, promises, and oaths. One of the more interesting oaths included promising to protect the Church of Scotland – a promise that has been made by every monarch since George I in 1714. A number of documents are signed and then officially recorded.

Importantly, the Accession Council do not choose the new king. As I mentioned, King Charles III became king the moment his mother died. Instead, the group’s job is the ceremonial announcement of the new monarch.   

From the balcony of St James’ Palace, the proclamation announcing the new king is read and the UK national anthem will be sung. An interesting feature of the British national anthem is that it changes depending on who is monarch. For the first time since 1952, the words of the national anthem are now “God Save the King.” This proclamation is then read in central London, the capital cities of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and then towns and cities across the UK.

King Charles III met with the Prime Minister as monarch for the first time, and later gave his first broadcast to the country. Flags were also returned to full mast for 24 hours to celebrate the accession of a new king, before being lowered again until the queen’s funeral.

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Final Journey to London

The Queen began her final journey to London on Sunday 11th September. Her coffin was taken by road from Balmoral castle, through the beautiful Scottish countryside, to the palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh – the 100-mile journey took around 6 hours as thousands of people lined the streets to witness the historical event and show their respect to the queen.

On Monday, a ceremonial procession was held through the centre of Edinburgh, as the Queen’s coffin was moved to St Giles’ Cathedral for a religious service. The car transporting the queen was escorted by a military guard; the King and his siblings walked behind the coffin through the centre of the city.

After the religious service in the cathedral, the queen’s coffin was left for 24 hours in a period known as lying at rest. During this time, members of the public were able to visit and pay their respects: in 24 hours over 20,000 people did so.

The coffin was then flown by the Royal Airforce to a military base in Northwest London, and then taken by car to Buckingham palace. The new King, in the meantime, visited the Scottish Parliament and the flew across to Northern Ireland. He will also visit Wales a few days before the Queen’s funeral.

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Lying in State

On Wednesday 14th September, the Queen’s coffin will be moved from Buckingham palace to Westminster Hall. A procession will follow the coffin and will include the King and other senior members of the Royal Family. Again, thousands of people are expected to line the streets.

Once it reaches Westminster Hall, the coffin will be placed on a raised platform and guarded by soldiers at all times. From 5pm, members of the public will be able to pay their respects to the Queen’s coffin. The hall will be open 24 hours a day for 4 days and it is expected hundreds of thousands of people will travel to the capital city.

This is a process known as lying-in-state. In the UK, it is an honour usually reserved for the death of a King, Queen, Queen Consort (wife of a King), and important prime ministers. While lying-in-state, the coffin is placed on public view before the funeral

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20 years ago, 200,000 people visited the coffin of the Queen Mother who was the last member of the Royal Family to lie in state – and it is anticipated many more will visit this year. Extra trains are being scheduled to get people to and from London, and there is a very high level of security across the city.

Westminster Hall is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster, being built around 1000 years ago. This is where the Queen’s coffin will remain until the morning of her funeral.

The night before the funeral, a 1-minute silence will be held across the United Kingdom. People have been invited to respect the silence in their own way: at home, on the street with their neighbours, or at community events across the country.  

The Queen’s Funeral

The Queen’s funeral will be held on Monday 19th of September. This has been made a national holiday in the UK: while private businesses are not legally required to close, many will do so to allow people to travel to London or watch the funeral proceedings on TV.

The Queen’s coffin will again be moved by procession: this time from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. Exact details have not been confirmed as I’m writing this episode, but it is expected many world leaders, heads of state, and important figures will be among the 2000 guests inside the Abbey. US President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Japanese Emperor, and various Kings and Queens of European countries have already confirmed their attendances.

The funeral will be a state funeral. A state funeral is usually held for British kings and queens (although there are exceptions to this), and must follow strict rules. The military will march through the centre of London, accompanying the Queen’s coffin. Actually, the UK has not seen a state funeral since 1965 when former Prime Minister Winston Churchill was given the honour.

Once the funeral has finished, the coffin will then be moved to St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where the Queen will be placed alongside her father and her husband Prince Philip.  

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After the Funeral

While there have been no formal announcements about plans after the funeral, we know many things will change.

King Charles III will have a formal coronation at some point. The coronation is the formal ceremony crowing a king or queen. The Queen’s coronation took place a year and a half after the death of her father, so perhaps we will need to wait until some time in 2023.

You can expect the coronation to be an elaborate demonstration of British culture and tradition. Billions of people around the world will probably tune in to watch the ceremony, as Charles will be transported through London in a golden carriage and presented with the crown jewels.

Things featuring the image of the Queen will also gradually be replaced with images of the new King. British money, postage stamps, and post boxes will need to be changed. And job titles or organisations featuring the Queen’s name will also be changed. Already, senior British lawyers have a new job title – they were known as QCs (Queen’s Counsel) but have now become KCs.

The new King is not just monarch in the UK, but also 14 other countries around the world. The death of Queen Elizabeth II perhaps gives these other countries the chance to become republics and leave behind the Royal Family. Already, Caribbean countries like Jamaica are planning to hold referendums of the role of the British Royal Family.

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Final Thought

Today, I wanted to explain what happens after the death of a monarch in the UK. There are hundreds of different ceremonies and traditions that occur in the days following the passing of the Queen, and for English learners there is a whole bunch of unique vocabulary. Hopefully you can all understand this process a little better than before.

Will you be watching the Queen’s funeral? What happens when your country’s leader passes away?


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3 responses to “172. What Happens When the Queen Dies? (English Vocabulary Lesson)”

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3 responses to “172. What Happens When the Queen Dies? (English Vocabulary Lesson)”

  1. What is done with the Queen’s body so that She can stay for 11 days in the funeral process without starting to decompose?

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    1. Good question! I read that royalty in the UK use lead lined coffins. This prevents moisture entering the coffin and can slow decomposition significantly!

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      1. I searched for that information and found the same. Thank you for your answer! =)

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