10 September 2022

8 Things You Don't Know About the Queen's Death


Photo by Elli Gerra via Wikimedia Commons

On the 8th of September, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom passed away having served as sovereign for 70 years. A fixed point in Britain, in the Commonwealth, and around the world for so long that few people remember any other British monarch, she nevertheless remains an enigma. Always unflappable, her often stoic public face belied a woman of warmth with a great sense of humor. In her later years, that warmth began to exude more and more publicly in the form of a ready smile that was absent in her younger years when she was likely seeking to be taken seriously. She was, after all, only 25 and poorly educated when she was thrust upon the world's stage. Thousands of words and hours of programming are being filled with information (often repetitive) about her during this period of official mourning. I thought we'd take a different tack and focus on some points you might not yet have heard.

1. She is the first Queen Regnant to die in 121 years.
The last reigning queen to pass away while still on the throne was her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria, who died in 1901 after a reign of 63 years that began when she was barely 18 years old. There have been two other queens who have passed away since then: Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands and her daughter Queen Juliana. However, both of them had abdicated their thrones and reassumed the title of Princess by the time of their deaths. Juliana's daughter Beatrix also abdicated. She is still alive today and is still beloved as Princess Beatrix. The modern Dutch royals have made abdication a tradition. One other Queen Regnant still reigns in Europe, Denmark's Queen Margrethe II, whose 50th Jubilee celebrations have been toned down in these first days after Elizabeth's passing in a sign of Margrethe's deep respect for her distant cousin. In the past, female monarchs have been rare. In the future, they will be quite common. The next monarchs in Belgium, Spain, The Netherlands, and Sweden are all female. Meanwhile the #2 monarchs-in-waiting in both Sweden and Norway are also female. The future King William and King George may be in the minority among their fellow monarchs.

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2. She is NOT the longest reigning monarch.
Though much lauded as the longest-reigning monarch in British history when she surpassed Queen Victoria in 2015, Queen Elizabeth is only the second longest-reigning monarch in history. That record is still held by King Louis XIV of France who ascended to the throne when he was only four but grew up to become Europe's most imitated monarch. The Queen was 625 days short of breaking his record. She only moved into second place a few months before her death when she surpassed Thailand's King Rama IX, who had become king at age 19 shortly after World War II. He was four and a half years younger than Elizabeth. As for the British record, she is two days short of seven years ahead of Queen Victoria. The number three spot is held by Victoria's grandfather King George III (63 years). Neither the new King Charles III nor his son the new Prince of Wales (William) are likely to come near the top three.

3. Her place as longest reigning current monarch is ceded to a sultan.
With Queen Elizabeth's death, the new longest reigning current monarch is the 76-year-old Sultan of Brunei. He succeeded upon his father's abdication in 1967, when he was just 21. He is two years older than King Charles III. The next longest reigning current monarch is Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, who became Queen in 1972 upon her father's death. Interestingly, like Queen Elizabeth II, she was not expected to inherit the throne when she was born. (For more about that and other similarities, check out my post, Two Queens: Daisy and Lilibet.) Most of the other European monarchs are way down the list, with the sovereigns of Luxembourg, Monaco, Spain, The Netherlands, and Belgium having ascended in this century. 

4. She is the third British monarch to die outside of England.
To be fair, one of these, the former King Edward VIII really doesn't count as he had abdicated his throne almost 36 years before his death in exile in France. He was The Queen's uncle and it was his decision to step down that brought her father King George VI, her, and ultimately her descendants to the throne. (Read my post about him and his American wife, The Wedding No Royal Would Attend.) That means the last British monarch to die outside of England was her great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather King George I, who was born and died in his native Hanover, which is now part of Germany. He had come to the throne by an Act of Parliament when the Protestant line of the House of Stuart died out. The Catholic-phobic Brits drew up the Act of Settlement 1701, a law that skipped over all of the Catholics ahead of George's mother Sophia in the Line of Succession. The ban against Catholics on the British thrones remains in place today three centuries later. Sophia died shortly before Queen Anne and the very Germanic George was forced to move to Britain, but returned to Hanover as often as he could. The monarch can be married to a Catholic, but that 1701 ban was only reversed by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, bringing several of the Queen's extended family members back into the Line of Succession.

5. She is the first monarch to die in Scotland since 1542.
The last time a sovereign died in Scotland was when King James V of Scotland died in Fife of an unknown illness after losing the Battle of Solway Moss. He was succeeded by his infant daughter Mary Queen of Scots. James' mother was the English Princess Margaret Tudor. So six decades later, when Margaret's unmarried niece Queen Elizabeth I died, it was James' grandson by Mary, King James VI of Scotland, who became King James I of England. The thrones were a personal union under one monarch for just over a century. The two countries were formerly united as the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 and then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (now just Northern Ireland) in 1801.

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6. She was the most Scottish monarch since the House of Stuart.
Although many still call the House of Windsor a "German" dynasty because of its origins in the House of Hanover (see #3 above.), Queen Elizabeth II had significant Scottish heritage. Her mother, remembered today as The Queen Mother was born as Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, youngest daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. As such, The Queen spent much of her early life at the Strathmore seat of Glamis Castle, where her younger sister Princess Margaret was born. Nearly every summer of her life, including the last one, she spent at Balmoral Castle, a home built by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert because the Scottish Highlands reminded them of Albert's homeland in Germany. The Queen and her family enjoyed the isolation of this Scottish estate, which is personally owned by the monarch and is not a crown property. Although there are public hiking trails and holiday rentals on the estate, the family rarely encounters strangers there. However, there is one famous story about a pair of American tourists who asked her and a companion for directions one day and asked if she lived nearby. When they asked if she had met The Queen, she replied, "I haven't, but he has!"

7. Her memorial plans are different because she died in Scotland.
London Bridge has been the well-known code name for The Queen's funeral plans for decades. Hence, the hashtag #LondonBridgeIsDown is about her death, not the nursery rhyme or the iconic landmark. Operation London Bridge includes all of the details and timelines for the transportation of the body, the various rites and ceremonies, the lying-in-state, public viewings, the funeral, and entombment. However, because she died in Scotland, another long-planned set of rituals, called Operation Unicorn, was triggered. Likely adopted because The Queen spends at least 25% of the year in Scotland, Unicorn runs concurrently with London Bridge. While the accession (under another plan called Operation Spring Tide) and other plans are moving forward n London and around the Kingdom, Unicorn makes special consideration for Scotland and the Scottish people. The main component called for her body to be conveyed to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, her official residence in the Scottish capitol of Edinburgh, from whence her late husband's title was derived. She will lie in repose there followed by a service in St. Giles Cathedral. Then, instead of being flown to London, as would have happened if she had died elsewhere in the world, she will be taken by train back to the capitol of the United Kingdome.

8. We don't know how she died.
Although speculation runs rife, we have not been provided the official cause of The Queen's death. I've seen rumors ranging from a fall to a heart attack, from a stroke to cancer. It is clear that her health had been rather fragile for the last year and especially earlier this summer when her doctors advised her to refrain from attending some of her Diamond Jubilee events. However, she continued to attend to the Royal Boxes of government business during her last week and even received the outgoing and incoming Prime Ministers just days before she passed. It is clear from the timing and language of the various announcements on the last two days of her life that something happened rather abruptly that led to relatively quick decline. Having said that, whatever the cause, it is not at all unusual for someone at the age of 96. As for me, I am grateful that she apparently did not suffer a long and terrible illness before her death. But, even that could be wrong. We may not know the actual medical cause of her death for quite some time.

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