Queen Elizabeth II—Britain's Longest-Reigning Monarch—Dead at 96

Queen Elizabeth II has died aged 96—bringing to an end the era of Britain's longest-reigning monarch, Buckingham Palace confirmed.

Britain was sent into mourning Thursday after the announcement at about 1:30 p.m. ET, 17 months after the death of her husband Prince Philip, on April 9, 2021.

Buckingham Palace said in a statement: "The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.

"The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow."

Flags will fly at half staff across the country as Britain stops to mark Elizabeth's life of service to her country.

Her death will send shockwaves across the world, especially the 15 countries for whom she was head of state.

The queen was also head of the Commonwealth, comprised of 54 countries predominantly from Britain's former empire.

For members of the royal family themselves, King Charles III has lost his mother, Prince Harry and Prince William their grandmother.

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II attends an Armed Forces Act of Loyalty Parade at the Palace of Holyroodhouse on June 28, 2022, in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. The queen's death at age 96 was announced Thursday. JANE BARLOW/WPA POOL/GETTY IMAGES

The queen dedicated her life to public service during one of her most famous speeches, on her 21st birthday, while on a tour of South Africa with her parents.

In a radio address from Cape Town, then Princess Elizabeth said: "I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong."

The monarch kept to her word, serving the public into her 90s even after the retirement and then death of husband Prince Philip.

In a birthday message less than two weeks later, she said: "I have, on the occasion of my 95th birthday today, received many messages of good wishes, which I very much appreciate.

"While as a family we are in a period of great sadness, it has been a comfort to us all to see and to hear the tributes paid to my husband, from those within the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and around the world.

"My family and I would like to thank you all for the support and kindness shown to us in recent days.

"We have been deeply touched, and continue to be reminded that Philip had such an extraordinary impact on countless people throughout his life."

The queen showed Britain leadership, insisting she be treated the same in times of crisis, throughout her reign and even before her coronation.

During World War Two, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were, like many children from big cities, evacuated to live apart from their parents, in their case at Windsor Castle.

As the conflict neared its end, she insisted on joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) of the British Army in 1945.

Queen Elizabeth II's Army Career
Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) takes the salute during a march-past of A.T.S. (Auxiliary Territorial Service) cadets at the Imperial Services College, Windsor, 14th June 1946. Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

She became the first female royal to join the Armed Forces as a full-time active member, learning to drive and maintain vehicles, the Royal Family's website said.

And when peace broke out, she joined ordinary people—who would later be her subjects—as they danced through the streets outside in celebration on VE Day, May 8, 1945.

Jean Woodroffe, her lady in waiting, told BBC Radio 4's Today show in 2006: "What was amusing is that we went into the Ritz hotel through one door and out of the other day, the other end, doing the conga.

"The extraordinary thing was that nobody seemed to take much notice.

"Then we stood outside Buckingham Palace with the crowd and we all shouted, 'We want the King' with everybody else until the King and Queen came out onto the balcony."

Elizabeth and Prince Philip were married on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey, having met for the first time in 1934.

The fabric for her dress was bought using clothing ration coupons as Britain was still enduring rationing following the economic chaos brought on by World War Two.

The queen was never supposed to be a direct heir to the throne but her destiny was changed when her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson in December 1936.

Her father George VI took the throne, making Elizabeth next in line as his eldest child.

However, he died in his sleep on February 6, 1952, at Sandringham, after failing to recover from a lung operation.

The queen was on a royal tour of Australia at the time and Prince Philip broke the news that her life would change forever.

Queen Elizabeth II at Prince Philip's Funeral
Queen Elizabeth II takes her seat during the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on April 17, 2021 in Windsor, England. Elizabeth mourned alone amid COVID restrictions at the somber service. Jonathan Brady - WPA Pool/Getty Images

In Prince Philip Revealed, Ingrid Seward describes how Pamela Mountbatten, the queen's lady-in-waiting, witnessed Prince Philip being told of the death.

Seward quotes her as saying: "He put a newspaper over his face and just remained like that for about five minutes.

"The shock of what had happened and the enormity of the consequences, briefly disconnected Philip, who knew he was going to have to break the news to his wife.

"And then he pulled himself together and said he must go and find the princess—she was having a rest in her bedroom—and they went for a walk in the garden and you could tell, walking up and down, up and down, that he was telling her."

She added: "And then I gave her a hug and said how sorry I was. And then suddenly, I thought, my God, but she's queen."

Queen Elizabeth II's coronation was at Westminster Abbey on 2 June, 1953, and she attended her first state opening of Parliament on November 4.

During a reign spanning 70 years, she was instrumental in building new relations with the countries that had made up Britain's Empire, dedicating herself to the advancement of the Commonwealth of Nations.

However, times were not always good and she declared 1992 as her "annus horribilis" after sons Prince Charles and Prince Andrew separated from wives, Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson, as well as the great fire at Windsor Castle.

Queen Elizabeth II Inspects Windsor Castle Fire
The Queen and a fireman inspecting the damage after the fire at Windsor Castle on November 21, 1992. The fire broke out the day before, destroying 115 rooms. Tim Graham Photo Library/Getty Images

The monarch made the comments at the Guildhall, in London, on November 24, 1992, in a speech to mark the 40th anniversary of her accession.

She said: "1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an 'Annus Horribilis'. I suspect that I am not alone in thinking it so."

Charles and Andrew would go on to divorce their wives. Tragedy struck in 1997 when Princess Diana died in a Paris car crash on August 31.

Two months later at London's Banqueting House, she expressed sadness and made her most famous remarks about her husband, marking their golden wedding anniversary.

Elizabeth thanked people in Britain and around the world for their support and said: "This has given us strength, most recently during the sad days after the tragedy of Diana's death.

"It is you, if I may now speak to all of you directly, who have seen us through, and helped us to make our duty fun. We are deeply grateful to you, each and every one."

She added: "All too often, I fear, Prince Philip has had to listen to me speaking.

"Frequently we have discussed my intended speech beforehand and, as you will imagine, his views have been expressed in a forthright manner.

"He is someone who doesn't take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know."

The queen's words spoke to a nation again in April 2020 when Britain was sent into national lockdown by the coronavirus pandemic.

With the greatest threat posed to the over 70s, Elizabeth connected her own experiences during World War Two to rally her more vulnerable subjects.

Her Majesty The Queen addresses the UK and the Commonwealth in a special broadcast recorded at Windsor Castle. pic.twitter.com/HjO1uiV1Tm

— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) April 5, 2020

Elizabeth, then aged 93, said: "While we have faced challenges before, this one is different.

"This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavor, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal.

"We will succeed—and that success will belong to every one of us.

"We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again."

Those final words referenced Vera Lynn's 1939 song "We'll Meet Again," which for British people came to sum up the way families were wrenched apart by the war.

When Prince Philip died, Elizabeth requested two weeks of royal mourning to be observed by members of her family, adding to the customary eight days observed by the nation.

And at his funeral, she mourned alone—sat socially distanced from her family at St George's Chapel in Windsor just as others across the county had been required to do.

Now the monarch herself has passed away, it is the world that is left to grieve.