It’s not every day a serving British monarch dies. There has to be a plan. And so, with the death of Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96 on Thursday, the long-awaited “Operation London Bridge” swung into action.
Named after a former London landmark that was forever “falling down,” Operation London Bridge was the code word attributed to a formally choreographed sequence of events that would occur after the death of the British monarch.
The not-so-secret plan has never officially been released, though versions of it have been leaked several times over the years. It is designed to ensure not only that the news of the queen’s death was broken in a dignified manner and her memory commemorated, but also to ensure the continuation of the royal throne as Britain’s head of state.
According to one account of the procedure, the news of the queen’s passing would be announced with a coded phrase:
“London Bridge is down.”
According to accounts of the plan, the day of the death is known as “D-Day.”
Under the expected procedure, after the British monarch dies, his or her replacement takes over immediately. This means that after Queen Elizabeth II died on Thursday, her son Prince Charles is automatically the monarch — and in his case, he became King Charles III.
On Thursday, the news of the queen’s passing was first shared on a Twitter account belonging to the royal family. It was widely expected, however, and broadcasters from the BBC and other networks were already all in black.
Flags were lowered to half-mast across the country, with notice of the death posted to both Buckingham Palace and the royal website.
The next days are considered D-Day+1, D-Day+2, and so on. Exactly how these days will play out is not yet clear, but we have a rough outline from centuries of monarchal practice.
An “Accession Council” will meet. It typically meets within 24 hours of the monarch’s death, usually at St. James’s Palace, where many important events in royal history have taken place. It hosts officials and some royals for accession proceedings for King Charles.
The council formally declares the death of the monarch and the accession of the successor to the throne, according to the Privy Council, a formal advisory body to the monarch. The Accession Council is presided over by the lord president of the Privy Council — currently Penny Mordaunt, a Conservative member of Parliament and the leader of the House of Commons.
Later — though not always on the same day — the new sovereign, or head of state, will hold his or her first session with privy counsellors. The new monarch will then take an oath of office, which has been taken by every monarch since George I in 1714. Signed copies of the oath are then sent to official record-keepers.
The proclamation marking the accession of the new monarch is later read from the balcony above Friary Court at St. James’s Palace, accompanied by gun salutes. After the proclamation announcing Charles’s accession is read, for the first time since 1952, the national anthem will be played with the words “God Save the King.”
On Saturday, the queen’s body is expected to be transported to Buckingham Palace. As she died at Balmoral in Scotland, her family’s summer retreat, it is not yet clear if the coffin will be transported by royal train or by aeroplane.
When the queen’s body returns to Buckingham Palace, a small number of top government ministers, including the prime minister, will attend a reception. Her body is expected to stay at that palace until Tuesday when it will be moved to the Palace of Westminister and another service will be held.
The queen will lie in state at the palace’s Westminister Hall. She will lie on a raised box known as a catafalque, and members of the public, as well as VIPs, will be allowed to visit to pay their respects.
Meanwhile, King Charles will receive the motion of condolence at Westminster Hall and later begin a tour of the United Kingdom. He is expected to visit Scotland first, likely on Sunday, before going on to Northern Ireland on Monday. His last trip, to Wales, is expected on D-Day+7, which is next Thursday.
The funeral The queen’s state funeral is expected to be held on D-Day+10, which is Sunday, Sept. 18, at London’s Westminster Abbey. Heads of state and other VIPs from abroad will be in attendance.
Later, there will be a committal service at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, a Royal home outside of London, where the queen will be buried inside the King George VI’s Memorial Chapel.
Britons will have the day off if the state funeral is on a weekday.
(Inputs from Washington Post)