JThe gentle rain covering Edinburgh’s Holyrood Palace did little to deter mourners gathered outside on Thursday evening, when a constant feature of British life appeared to pay its own solemn tribute to another far nobler example : Queen Elizabeth II.
Earlier in the afternoon, the beloved monarch died aged 96 at her Scottish estate of Balmoral, some 122 kilometers away, drawing the curtain back on a remarkable reign that spanned seven decades. She was the ruler of 15 nations and her reign spanned the terms of 14 US presidents and 15 British prime ministers.
“I feel numb. She was amazing, so selfless and so dedicated to her people, ”says Wendy Green, 45, who came to pay tribute to the Queen’s official residence in the Scottish capital, on which the national flag flew at half mast. “We’ll never have another like her.”
Read more: The story behind TIME’s Queen Elizabeth II commemorative cover
As her age advanced, the Queen’s health was monitored with increasing scrutiny by a team of dedicated doctors on call around the clock. Nevertheless, the death of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch left a nation stunned.
The BBC suspended regular programming for breaking news ahead of the 6.30pm local time announcement of his death. Across the UK, in homes and pubs filled with after-work drinkers, his subjects received the news with shock and grief. Places of worship are encouraged to ring their bells in remembrance and to remain open for prayer or special services. Meanwhile, a flood of tributes poured in from around the world.
“She represents the whole history of Europe which is our common home with our British friends. She has always given us stability and confidence, she has shown immense courage and is a legend in my eyes,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
“She seemed so timeless and wonderful that I’m afraid we had come to believe, like children, that she would go on and on and on,” tweeted former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who saw the Queen earlier this week to hand in his resignation.
Read more: How Queen Elizabeth II showed why Britain still has a monarchy
The Queen had ongoing mobility issues which led her to cancel her September 3 attendance at the Braemar Highland Gathering, an iconic annual celebration of Scottish sport and culture. (Prince Charles – now King Charles III – stepped in instead.) She also used a cane when she received new British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Tuesday, in what would be the Queen’s last official engagement.
Such a meeting would normally have taken place at Buckingham Palace in London; the fact that it took place in Scotland was taken as a sign that the monarch was too frail to travel. Yet no one expected members of the royal family, including Prince Harry and Prince William, to rush to Balmoral two days later. Their gathering was a signal for the nation to expect the worst.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II waits in the drawing room before receiving Liz Truss for an audience at Balmoral, where Truss has been asked to become Prime Minister and form a new government, in Aberdeenshire, Scotland on September 6 2022.
Jane Barlow—Pool Photo/AP
Mourning for Queen Elizabeth
The Queen’s coffin will now be transported to Holyrood, then to St Giles Cathedral on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, and from there to London by Royal Train. A 10-day period of mourning, during which Parliament will be suspended, will be followed by a funeral at Westminster Abbey.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to arrive from around the world to pay their respects, adding to the huge crowds of all ages and ethnicities who have already gathered at royal residences across the UK to leave flowers and keepsakes.
On Thursday evening, a somber crowd gathered outside Buckingham Palace, spontaneously bursting into “God Save the Queen”, along with choruses of “God Save the King”, as the national anthem will henceforth be called.
Read more: What happens when Queen Elizabeth dies
Many mourners spoke of the Queen’s unifying and reassuring presence during a time of political and social upheaval – from the pandemic to Brexit and the uncertainty in Europe sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine. “I just feel like the world is collapsing around me now. It’s just a terrible loss,” Louise Cabral told TIME outside Buckingham Palace. It’s just a really devastating thing to add to all of this.”
“You can’t really imagine she’s not here,” added Sally Cherry, an Australian tourist. Australia was once a federation of British colonies and it continued to regard Elizabeth as its sovereign. “She’s been there for so long and [was] such a part of my parents’ life. We have known only one monarch, so quite extraordinary. I don’t think you’ll ever see a reign like that again.
A person holds their phone with a screensaver of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, 2022 in London.
Leon Neal—Getty Images
The Queen’s Legacy
When Elizabeth came to the throne, Britain was the pinnacle of a sprawling empire on which, it was said, the sun never set. The queen leaves behind a complex legacy in many of these former imperial possessions. But it suited many for her to go to Scotland, which she has always had in deep affection.
Balmoral has been a residence of the British Royal Family since 1852 and the Queen regularly spent her summer holidays there. Shortly after her coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1953, the Queen and Prince Philip spent a week in Scotland.
“The people of Balmoral considered her their neighbor, often meeting her on walks or in the village,” says Charlotte Cruickshank, 29, who owns a family home near Balmoral. “I will miss her terribly.”
Read more: Queen Elizabeth II’s death at Balmoral has major implications for Scotland
Queen Elizabeth II was actually the first of her name to reign in Scotland. Elizabeth I, who herself ruled England for a record 44 years between 1558 and 1603, was never queen north of the border.
The reign of Elizabeth II was not well received by all Scots. Nationalists frequently defaced the royal emblem. Brexit, which was not well received by Scots, who voted to stay in the EU, galvanized calls for Scottish independence. But the Queen’s shameless fondness for Scotland won many hearts.
“His life was one of extraordinary dedication and service,” tweeted Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a staunch supporter of independence. “On behalf of the people of Scotland, I send my deepest condolences to the King and the Royal Family.”
Read more: See every TIME cover featuring Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth’s successor Charles is expected to make several ceremonial appearances in his new kingdom in the coming days. It remains to be seen whether or not he can provide the same sense of unity and stability as his mother.
“The Queen reigned for so long that it would be strange to see someone else in her place,” says Balmoral local Cruickshank, expressing the sentiments of many in the UK. “Charles certainly has big boots to fill, but hopefully the general public will be behind him.
—With reporting by Yasmeen Serhan/London
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