By DANICA KIRKA, JILL LAWLESS and SYLVIA HUI Associated Press
Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and a symbol of stability in a turbulent era that saw the decline of the British empire and embarrassing dysfunction in her own family, died Thursday after 70 years on the throne. She was 96.
The palace announced she died at Balmoral Castle, her summer residence in Scotland, where members of the royal family had rushed to her side after her health took a turn for the worse.
A link to the almost-vanished generation that fought World War II, she was the only monarch most Britons have ever known.
Her 73-year-old son Prince Charles automatically became king and will be known as King Charles III, it was announced. British monarchs in the past have selected new names upon taking the throne. Charles’ second wife, Camilla, will be known as the Queen Consort.
The BBC played the national anthem, “God Save the Queen,” over a portrait of Elizabeth in full regalia as her death was announced, and the flag over Buckingham Palace was lowered to half-staff as the second Elizabethan age came to a close.
The impact of her loss will be huge and unpredictable, both for the nation and for the monarchy, an institution she helped stabilize and modernize across decades of enormous social change and family scandals, but whose relevance in the 21st century has often been called into question.
The public’s abiding affection for the queen has helped sustain support for the monarchy during the scandals. Charles is nowhere near as popular.
In a statement, Charles called his mother’s death “a moment of the greatest sadness for me and all members of my family,” adding: “I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world.”
The changing of the guard comes at a fraught moment for Britain, which has a brand-new prime minister and is grappling with an energy crisis, double-digit inflation, the war in Ukraine and the fallout from Brexit.
Prime Minister Liz Truss, appointed by the queen just 48 hours earlier, pronounced the country “devastated” and called Elizabeth “the rock on which modern Britain was built.”
British subjects outside Buckingham Palace wept when officials carried a notice confirming the queen’s death to the wrought-iron gates of the queen’s London home. Hundreds soon gathered in the rain, and mourners laid dozens of colorful bouquets at the gates.
“As a young person, this is a really huge moment,” said Romy McCarthy, 20. “It marks the end of an era, particularly as a woman. We had a woman who was in power as someone to look up to.”
World leaders extended condolences and paid tribute to the queen.
In Canada, where the British monarch is the country’s head of state, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saluted her “wisdom, compassion and warmth.” In India, once the “jewel in the crown” of the British empire, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “She personified dignity and decency in public life. Pained by her demise.”
U.S. President Joe Biden called her a “stateswoman of unmatched dignity and constancy who deepened the bedrock alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States.”
Since Feb. 6, 1952, Elizabeth reigned over a Britain that rebuilt from a destructive and financially exhausting war and lost its empire; joined the European Union and then left it; and made the painful transition into the 21st century.
She endured through 15 prime ministers, from Winston Churchill to Truss, becoming an institution and an icon — a reassuring presence even for those who ignored or loathed the monarchy.
She became less visible in her final years as age and frailty curtailed many public appearances. But she remained firmly in control of the monarchy and at the center of national life as Britain celebrated her Platinum Jubilee with days of parties and pageants in June.
That same month she became the second longest-reigning monarch in history, behind 17th-century French King Louis XIV, who took the throne at age 4. On Tuesday, she presided at a ceremony at Balmoral Castle to accept the resignation of Boris Johnson as prime minister and appoint Truss as his successor.
When Elizabeth was 21, almost five years before she became queen, she promised the people of Britain and the Commonwealth that “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”
It was a promise she kept across more than seven decades.