Britain mourns Queen Elizabeth II as Charles becomes king

Bells tolled across Britain on Friday and mourners flocked to palace gates to honor Queen Elizabeth II as the country prepared for a new age under their new monarch, King Charles III.

Elizabeth’s exceptional reign was commemorated, celebrated and debated here and around the world as Charles, who spent much of his 73 years preparing for his new role, planned to meet with Britain’s prime minister and address a nation grieving the only sovereign most people alive today had ever known.

Elizabeth died Thursday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. In London and at military sites across the United Kingdom on Friday, special guns fired 96 shots in an elaborate, 16-minute salute marking each year of her life, as part of 10 days of national mourning.

Charles, who became the monarch immediately upon his mother’s death, will be formally proclaimed king at a special ceremony Saturday. He returned from Scotland to London on Friday afternoon.

He and his wife, Camilla, the new queen consort, emerged from their official state Bentley limousine to shouts from the crowd of “God save the king!” and “Well done, Charlie!” outside Buckingham Palace. Some sang the national anthem, now “God Save the King” instead of “God Save the Queen.” One woman gave Charles a kiss on the cheek.

Under intense scrutiny and pressure to show he can be both caring and regal, Charles walked slowly past flowers heaped at the palace gates for his mother. The mood was both grieving and celebratory.

In the evening, Charles is scheduled to deliver his first speech to the nation as sovereign, at a time when many Britons are facing an energy crisis, the soaring cost of living, the war in Ukraine and the continued fallout from Britain’s exit from the European Union.

As the second Elizabethan Age came to a close, hundreds of people arrived through the night to leave flowers outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s London home, and other royal residences. Mourners sang “God Save the King” outside Buckingham Palace. Some came simply to pause and reflect.

Finance worker Giles Cudmore said the queen had “just been a constant through everything, everything good and bad.”

At Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, mourner April Hamilton stood with her young daughter, struggling to hold back tears.

“It’s just such a momentous change that is going to happen,” she said. “I’m trying to hold it together today.”

Everyday politics was put on hold, with lawmakers paying tribute to the monarch in Parliament over two days, beginning with a special session where Truss called the queen “the nation’s greatest diplomat.” Senior lawmakers will also take an oath to King Charles III.

The new king is expected to tour the United Kingdom in the coming days. His mother’s coffin will be brought to London, where she is expected to lie in state before a funeral at Westminster Abbey around Sept. 19.

Meanwhile, many sporting and cultural events were canceled as a mark of respect, and some businesses — including Selfridges department store and the Legoland amusement park — shut their doors. The Bank of England postponed its meeting by a week.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said, “A part of our lives we’ve taken for granted as being permanent is no longer there.”

But while Elizabeth’s death portends a monumental shift for some, day-to-day life went on in other respects, with children in school and adults at work, facing concerns about inflation. And in Britain and across its former colonies, the widespread admiration for Elizabeth herself was occasionally mixed with scorn for the institution and the imperial history she symbolized.

After a vigil in Edinburgh, the queen’s coffin will be brought to London, and she will lie in state for several days before her funeral in Westminster Abbey.

Elizabeth was Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and a symbol of constancy in a turbulent era that saw the decline of the British empire and disarray in her family.

The impact of Elizabeth’s loss will be unpredictable. She helped stabilize and modernize the monarchy across decades of enormous social change, but its relevance in the 21st century has often been called into question. The public’s abiding affection for the queen had helped sustain support for the monarchy during the family scandals, but Charles is nowhere near as popular.

“Charles can never replace her, you know,” said 31-year-old Londoner Mariam Sherwani.

Like many, she referred to Elizabeth as a grandmother figure. Others compared her to their mothers or great-grandmothers.

But around the world, her passing revealed conflicting emotions about the nation and institutions she represented.

In Ireland, some soccer fans cheered.

In India, once the “jewel in the crown” of the British empire, entrepreneur Dhiren Singh described his own personal sadness at her death but added: “I do not think we have any place for kings and queens in today’s world.”

For some, Elizabeth was a queen whose coronation glittered with shards of a stunning 3,106-carat diamond pulled from grim southern African mines, a monarch who inherited an empire they resented.

In the years after she became queen, tens of thousands of ethnic Kikuyu in Kenya were rounded up in camps by British colonizers under threat from the local Mau Mau rebellion. Across the African continent, nations rejected British rule and chose independence in her first decade on the throne.

She led a power that at times was criticized as lecturing African nations on democracy but denying many of their citizens the visas to visit Britain and experience it firsthand.

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