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Queen Elizabeth II, longest-serving monarch in British history, dies at 96

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today we mark the end of a long, influential reign in the British monarchy. Buckingham Palace announced the death of Queen Elizabeth II. She died at her Balmoral estate in Scotland at age 96. She was the longest-serving monarch in British history, reigning for 70 years. She became queen in 1952, holding the throne during a period of sweeping change in Britain, including the breakup of the country's empire. The 15th prime minister of Elizabeth's reign, Liz Truss, paid tribute this evening outside Downing Street and welcomed Elizabeth's son and successor, Charles, as king.

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PRIME MINISTER LIZ TRUSS: Today the crown passes, as it has done for more than a thousand years, to our new monarch, our new head of state, His Majesty King Charles III. With the king's family, we mourn the loss of his mother, and as we mourn, we must come together as a people to support him.

SHAPIRO: Reporter Willem Marx joins us from London. Willem, the nation had been preparing a long time for this day. Tell us how it unfolded.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: Well, Ari, at lunchtime we heard that Elizabeth's doctors were concerned about her health. They placed her under medical supervision. A few hours later, Buckingham Palace issued a statement saying she had died peacefully during the afternoon. All four of her children, some of her grandchildren as well, were by then either already with her or en route to her Scottish home. And even before that announcement, crowds of people had begun to form outside Buckingham Palace in central London, despite, you know, gray clouds and heavy rain. Politicians from across the country's political spectrum, indeed from across the world, have since paid tribute to Elizabeth for her long-standing service as well as sent their well wishes to her family.

SHAPIRO: Tell us a bit more about her legacy.

MARX: As you mentioned, this brings to an end the longest reign in British history, seven decades in total. It began when she was a young woman, inheriting the throne following her father's death in the early '50s. During that period, you know, 70 years was marked this summer with four days of celebrations across the UK. And just to give you a sense of how long that reign's been, she's met more than a dozen prime ministers. She's met many U.S. presidents, all of them really since Dwight Eisenhower, with the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson. She first met Winston Churchill as the prime minister. He was born in 1874.

She's now met Liz Truss, born in 1975. Liz Truss traveling from London to Balmoral to be formally appointed just a couple of days ago. Her life spanned a period of huge political and technological disruption from the interwar years, the great financial crash to the dismantling of Britain's empire, the start, the end of the Cold War, the creation of the European Union, and then more recently, Britain's exit from that union. Beside her for much of that time has been her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. They first properly met as teenagers. He died just last year at the age of 99, Ari. She leaves behind four children, eight grandchildren, a dozen great grandchildren. Her eldest son, Charles, now King Charles III, said her death was a, quote, moment of great sadness for him and his family. And her loss would be, quote, deeply felt around the world.

SHAPIRO: Ceremony is so important in the monarchy. What happens next?

MARX: Well, her body will return to London via a special train service. It'll stay in Buckingham Palace's throne room, where she'll be guarded by four members of a specific British army regiment known as the Grenadier Guards. A detailed plan for her funeral, as you can imagine, has been in the works for many years. That'll be released soon. There'll be ten days of national mourning. Bells will toll regularly across the country. Flags will continue to fly at half-mast. Royal engagements, they'll be cancelled. Royal palaces, they'll be closed. Black armbands worn by royal family members and staff. Both chambers of Parliament will be suspended. There'll be a series of public events designed to, first of all, celebrate her life, Ari, and then to highlight the continuity of the monarchy in the form of her son, Charles, as essentially we heard encapsulated by Prime Minister Liz Truss in that speech just now.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, this comes at a difficult time in the U.K., right?

MARX: Yes. You're facing a quite unprecedented energy crisis in Britain this winter, certainly for the modern era. Skyrocketing gas prices - they've been driving up household bills, inflation spiraling into the double digits. And only this morning that new Prime Minister Liz Truss announcing to Parliament a series of measures the government would try and take to cap those prices, subsidizing families and businesses to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. People still warning higher costs could spell trouble this winter, though.

SHAPIRO: Willem Marx in London, thank you.

MARX: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Willem Marx