It has happened. After months – years, really – of endless speculation, the Queen has passed away, at the age of 96. The news was announced on Thursday evening, just hours after Buckingham Palace said that she was under medical supervision at Balmoral after doctors became concerned for her health.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum between monarchist and republican, you — like everyone else — probably have a few questions. First on the list might be, what on earth will happen now? Will all TV broadcasting in the UK go black? Did the royal family hold back the news of her passing? Are we even expected to work tomorrow?
I enlisted the help of Dr Ed Owens, a historian, royal commentator and author of a book about the royals called The Family Firm to help us understand what to expect over the coming weeks and months while the papers and news channels cycle through archive footage and photos for days on end.
VICE: Hi Ed! What happens to the usual telly and radio programmes now?
Dr Ed Owens: Normal programming schedules will be suspended and special programming arrangements – usually months if not years in the planning – will be put in place. The channels will each tailor their coverage according to their normal approach to royalty and the tastes of their audiences. For example in the UK, Channel 4's coverage will have a notably different tone to that of the BBC.
And what happens with bank holidays, since so many are linked to the Queen and her birthday?
It may be that some of the current bank holidays connected to Elizabeth II continue, but it’s more likely that they will be phased out and new ones introduced in connection with the new reign.
Do people get an immediate day off? Like, right now?
No. This hasn't always happened in the past. I think it unlikely that it will happen now given the additional disruption involved. The funeral itself will likely take place on a Saturday to ensure that the maximum audience can tune in for the event or even travel to London to see some of it for themselves. A bank holiday may be announced for the coronation of the next monarch.
The successor takes over immediately although there are several ceremonial events designed to “announce” and “instate” the new monarch with their powers and authority, the culmination of which is, of course, the coronation.
How long until the Queen's face is removed from all our money and stamps?
The phasing out of the Queen's face from the currency and postal stamps will begin almost immediately.
Could the royal family skip Charles and go straight to crowning William?
Charles will not be skipped: “abdication” is a bad word in the House of Windsor and has been since 1936 [when Edward VIII abdicated]. There will be no jumping generations.
What happened the last time a British monarch died, and will it happen this time? If not, how will it be different?
The death of George VI in 1952 was different because he was still relatively young (56) and it came as a great surprise to his family and the public. The general feeling was therefore one of shock, whereas now, given Elizabeth II's big age, the country is better able to prepare itself for the inevitable.
Do they always announce the death just as it happens, or is there ever any reason to hold it back?
George V's death in 1936 was sped up – he was administered a potent cocktail of drugs – in order to ensure that his death coincided with the publication of The Times' morning edition, and it was therefore the first newspaper to announce his passing to the world. This was deemed more appropriate than leaving it to the tabloids. In the case of Elizabeth II, we know very quickly about her death given that the palace inevitably comes under significant criticism when it is seen deliberately withholding information from the media and public.
What are the chances of the monarchy surviving this? Hillary Mantel famously said that it would crumble under Charles.
The future remains uncertain. There are lots of unknowns and festering issues that have not been properly addressed during Elizabeth II's reign and it will be left to Charles to deal with these. A good example is the legacy of the empire that hangs over the monarchy. The crown was key to Britain's imperial project but the monarchy has been generally reluctant to acknowledge its role in helping sustain the injustices and inequalities of the past, which continue to haunt the present. However, in his speech at the recent independence ceremony in Barbados, Charles demonstrated that he is ready to address problematic elements of Britain's past, like slavery, which suggests to me that he may adopt a more proactive role to try to ensure the longer-term survival of the crown.
How many other royal families have survived the death of a long-reigning and popular monarch?
There are plenty of examples of royal families successfully reinventing themselves after the death of a long-reigning monarch, from East Asia (Hirohito of Japan) through to the Middle East (Hussein of Jordan) and the Scandinavian royal families (Gustaf V of Sweden).
Thanks Ed. Lastly, will the national anthem change?
The national anthem will indeed change so the word “queen” is replaced by “king”.