Queen Elizabeth II Has Died. What Happens Next?

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Queen Elizabeth II and her successor, King Charles III in Oct. 2019. (Paul Edwards - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8, 2022, at the age of 96. Questions are now swirling about what that means and the changes that will inevitably happen in the U.K.—and beyond—in the coming weeks.

As the resident Brit on the KQED Arts & Culture team, I have been fielding questions from slightly perplexed Americans since the queen's passing. Here are the answers to some questions you may also have.

Is Charles suddenly king?

Yes, he is. The moment Queen Elizabeth II died, Charles became King of England. And he's waited a very long time to become King Charles III. He's currently 73 years old. By contrast, his mother became queen when she was just 25. Charles' official coronation will be an elaborate affair that will grind half of London to a halt and be televised internationally. The coronation likely won't happen for a couple of months, though, out of respect for Queen Elizabeth.

Does the royal family have any actual power?

Basically, no. The reigning monarch is required to sign off on all acts of parliament before they can become law—this is referred to as the royal assent. But the last time a king or queen refused to sign off was all the way back in 1707. Members of the royal family are expected to stay neutral on all political issues, political parties and the U.K.'s prime ministers. There is an understanding that if the royal family started interfering with the democratic political process, it would not end well for them.

What does this mean for Harry and Meghan?

Aside from Harry mourning his grandma, very little. Harry is now fifth in line for the throne, after his big brother William and William's three children, George, Charlotte and Louis. While William and his wife Kate are now set to become the new Prince and Princess of Wales, Harry and Meghan's official titles are unlikely to change. There is a possibility that their children may receive Prince and Princess titles now, though. That decision would be up to Charles to offer, and Harry and Meghan to accept.

What mourning rituals does Great Britain have in the event of a monarch's death?

The U.K. gets really weird after the death of senior royal family members. The official period of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II will continue from now until seven days after her funeral. The funeral, which is expected in ten days, will bring Britain in its entirety to a standstill. During the official mourning period, flags will be lowered to half-mast on buildings all over the country, and elected politicians are expected to stay quiet on matters unrelated to the queen's passing. (This is especially strange under the circumstances—Britain got a new prime minister just two days before Elizabeth died.)

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Also during the official mourning period, most British radio and television channels will cease normal programming and broadcast a multitude of tributes to the queen, or songs that err on the sad side. The same goes for electronic billboards, which will replace advertising and traffic information with tributes. This started almost immediately:

A packed football stadium with stationary soccer players on the field. Overhead, an image of Queen Elizabeth II appears on a big screen.
Queen Elizabeth II is honored during a UEFA soccer match in Switzerland, between FC Zurich and Arsenal FC. She died during the game. (Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Fans of the royal family will also gather outside palaces and leave tributes to the queen in the coming weeks. Official books of condolence (similar to memorial books at funerals) will be left in city halls and other locations around the U.K. for members of the public to sign and leave tributes. (Many thousands of people stood in line for hours to sign Diana's.)

Why aren't some people mourning the death of the queen?

Though Elizabeth's approval rating has always soared above the rest of the British royals, her family's colonial legacy is deeply unpopular with younger generations. The monarchy's very existence has long been a contentious issue in the U.K. Last year, a YouGov poll calculated that only 61% of the British public was in favor of keeping the royal family. That percentage drops considerably in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—all territories conquered by the English centuries ago. For abolitionists everywhere, Elizabeth was the figurehead of a family that has long outlived its usefulness.

What happens to the corgis?

The queen has kept clusters of corgis around her ever since receiving one of the dogs as an 18th birthday present. (That first one was named Susan by the way. Susan.) In the years since, Elizabeth has owned more than 30 corgis and at the time of her death, she had four dogs: two corgis, a corgi-dachshund cross named Candy, and a cocker spaniel named Lissy.

The queen sits smiling broadly, hands clasped in her lap, as a corgi dog gazes up at her.
Queen Elizabeth II with one of her beloved corgis at Sandringham House, England in the 1980s. (Getty Images/ Bettmann)

No official word yet on what will happen to the dogs, but they are expected to stay with the remaining members of the royal family. Failing that, they may be passed on to trusted members of the queen's staff who have helped take care of the dogs over the years. In particular, the queen's close friend and assistant Angela Kelly, or her page Paul Whybrew.

Do people even like Charles?

Not nearly as much as his mother, no. Though Queen Elizabeth asked that Camilla receive the title of "Queen Consort" at the time of Charles' ascension to the throne, the couple has had a popularity problem for decades. The royal PR machine worked overtime in the early 2000s to make Charles and Camilla more appealing to British citizens. However, the details of their affair during Charles' marriage to Diana—and the damage that did to his more popular former wife—have not left the public consciousness since first being revealed back in the 1990s. Portrayals of Charles in recent entertainment offerings, including The Crown, Spencer and The Princess, have not helped matters.

YouGov currently puts Charles' popularity in the UK at 42%. In the U.S. a 2021 poll found that Charles was viewed favorably by 47% of Americans—not great when you consider his mother got a 68% rating in the same poll.

Will Britain having a new monarch change anything?

Yes. In Britain, the national anthem, postage stamps, bank notes and coins will all have to change. "God Save the Queen" will have its title and lyrical pronouns adjusted. The Bank of England has also confirmed that it will start transitioning to new currency with Charles' face on it after the queen's funeral. The U.K. post office will inevitably do the same with stamps, switching out the queen's likeness for her son's. It will be up to other countries that still feature the queen's face on their currency—Australia, Canada and New Zealand—what they choose to do with their money next.

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Queen Elizabeth II was Britain's longest reigning monarch—her face has been part of everyday British life for more than 70 years. Adjusting to seeing Charles' everywhere instead is going to take some getting used to for the British people.