They came with flowers, candles and handwritten messages. Some cried as they laid down their tributes to the fallen Queen while others stood silently, heads bowed.
“The country is not going to be the same without her,” said Ben Gage as he watched a steady stream of mourners gather outside the main gate at Sandringham, a royal estate in Norfolk. “I think the nation will take a while to get over this.”
Mr. Gage like so many others in this rural part of Britain thought of the Queen as family and one of the locals. She used to come to Sandringham every Christmas, and the sprawling grounds serve as a public park with forests, farm fields and rows of stables that house many of her beloved thoroughbreds. One note pinned to the gate read: “God be with you. There are horses in heaven too. We will miss you.” Another said simply: “Rest in Peace, Your Majesty.”
“She was a truly inspirational woman, an incredible monarch, and she gave her whole life in service to the country,” said Georgia Hatfull who lives in nearby Holt and came to the gates with a bouquet of flowers as the sun slowly set.
This was just one corner of Britain, and one corner of the world, that began to feel the loss of the Queen, who died at age 96 at her summer retreat in Scotland on Thursday. Her eldest son immediately ascended to the throne as King Charles III.
He issued an official statement marking the death of the Queen as a moment of great sadness for him and all of his family.
“We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished Sovereign and a much-loved Mother,” he said. “I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world.”
Although her health had been a concern for weeks, there had been little indication as to the seriousness of her condition until midday Thursday. At 12:32 p.m., Buckingham Palace released a statement that said her doctors were “concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision.”
That was enough for her children – Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward – to make their way to Balmoral Castle where the Queen had been spending her annual vacation. They were joined by her grandson William.
The BBC and other television networks interrupted their programming for special broadcasts, and proceedings in the House of Commons came to a hush after Speaker Lindsay Hoyle alerted MPs to the announcement.
At 4:30 p.m., Prime Minister Liz Truss was informed of the Queen’s death and two hours later the palace issued a brief statement: “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.”
The news caused an outpouring of grief. In central London, thousands of people descended on Buckingham Palace to pay their respects. In Washington, the U.S. flag over the White House was lowered to half-mast, and in Paris, the Eiffel Tower went dark in tribute.
“She’s all we’ve ever known,” said Francesca Beadle who was among those at Sandringham. “She was very relatable in so many ways.”
Many mourners spoke about her longevity and how some people in Britain, Canada and her 13 other realms probably thought she would go on to at least 100.
She reigned for 70 years, more than any monarch in British history. She was born Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor in April, 1926, and there was no hint at first that she would ever be Queen. That changed when she turned 10 and she suddenly became heir to the throne after her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated and her father, Albert, was crowned King George VI.
She acceded to the throne on Feb. 6, 1952, when her father drew his last breath while staying at Sandringham. Her coronation a year later was attended by Sir Winston Churchill; this week, the Queen appointed her 15th British Prime Minister: Ms. Truss.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that “she was our Queen for almost half of Canada’s existence.” She visited Canada 22 times, more than any other country.
U.S. President Joe Biden said she was “more than a monarch. She defined an era.”
Her death means a host of changes in Britain and Canada. That includes new stamps, new coins, new banknotes, new prayers in Anglican churches and new words to Britain’s national anthem – God Save the King.
“It’s not going to be the same,” said Kelly Newrick, who is from Kings Lynn in Norfolk. “I just can’t think of anyone else as monarch.”
Perhaps fitting for such a long-lasting Queen, the commemoration of her death will take 10 days and involve two ceremonies: one to mark her passing and the other to mark the ascension of King Charles to the throne. Her grandson, William, will take his father’s place as the heir to the Crown and the Prince of Wales.
Because she died in Scotland, the Queen’s body will first be taken to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, the Queen’s official residence. There will also be a service in St. Giles Cathedral before the coffin is flown to Buckingham Palace.
The Queen will lie in state in the Parliament buildings’ Westminster Hall for at least four days, which will be followed by a funeral at Westminster Abbey. She will then be interred in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, near her husband and parents. The earliest date for the funeral is Sept. 19.
Before the funeral, King Charles will visit Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for special church services and to receive messages of condolences. He will also meet the Governor-General from Canada and other Commonwealth countries, and he is expected to make an address to the realms on Friday.
His first words and actions will be crucial to the future of the monarchy. There have been rumblings that some countries could drop the King as head of state now that Queen Elizabeth is gone. Barbados became a republic last year, and officials in Jamaica have said that their country could soon follow suit.
Outside the gates of Sandringham on Thursday, Martha Whittred was trying to get used to saying King Charles. “He’s not going to have the same impact,” she said after a few goes at the name. “It’s going to be interesting to see peoples’ reaction and if the monarchy stays as popular.”