The country entered a lengthy period of national mourning after Queen Elizabeth II’s death, confronting life without its figurehead of 70 years while already troubled by economic crisis and its latest bout of political upheaval.
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The longest-serving heir to the throne, Charles returned to Buckingham Palace in London shortly after 2 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET), to assume his birthright at the age of 73. He traveled from Balmoral, the Scottish castle where the royal family rushed to be by the queen’s side in her final moments.
The new monarch was greeted by cheers and cries of “God save the King!” from a waiting crowd as he returned to the palace. He shook hands and took time to observe some of the many floral tributes left in honor of his mother.
Charles will address the nation for the first time as king in a televised speech later in the day.
Mourners had been gathering outside the palace to lay flowers and to witness history since early morning as a well-rehearsed plan for how the nation will bid farewell to one monarch and welcome another swung into action. With typical order and correctness, Buckingham Palace issued detailed advice Friday morning.
Julie Masters, 57, from Sussex in southern England, says she was the first person to shake the hand of the new king. She had been waiting with hundreds of others, pressed up against the police barriers.
“It’s not really sunken in,” she said.
“He said ‘Thanks for coming,’” she added.
Margaret Walker, from Wokingham, 40 miles west of London, is 95 years old, just one year younger than the queen. She said: “Charles and Camilla shook my hand and I shan’t wash them again!”
Gun salutes at nearby Hyde Park and at the Tower of London fired 96 rounds — one for each year of Elizabeth’s life. Flags on official buildings are flying at half-staff. The bells at St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey rang out at noon (7 a.m. ET), echoed by church bells across the country.
The queen’s death Thursday at the age of 96, shortly after doctors placed her under medical supervision, came as little shock given her age and recent health issues. But with the country facing unprecedented economic hardship due to spiraling energy costs and inflation, her absence may be felt even more keenly as Britain confronts a crisis without her for the first time in seven decades.
As French President Emmanuel Macron put it in one of the dozens of tributes from world leaders, she represented “through the fluctuations and turmoil of politics, a permanence with the scent of eternity.”