Speed Reads

Operation London Bridge

What's next for King Charles III, Queen Consort Camilla, and Britain after the death of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's longest-reigning monarch, died at age 96 on Thursday at the royal family's 50,000-acre Balmoral estate in Scotland. Her oldest son, Charles, immediately inherited the crown, taking the name King Charles III, and his wife, Camilla — with the late queen's explicit blessing in 2021 — assumed the title of queen consort. 

The new king's eldest son, Prince William, 40, is now heir to the throne, Duke of Cornwall — a title that comes with a 150,000-acre estate and a $27 million annual income, The Washington Post explains — and will be named Prince of Wales. Next in line are his children Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis, followed by William's younger brother, Prince Harry, at No. 5. Britain is unlikely to be ruled by another queen anytime soon.

From the moment Queen Elizabeth became monarch in 1952, "Whitehall started the planning process about what would happen when she died," University of London history professor Philip Murphy tells The New York Times. The plan of succession, known as "Operation London Bridge," starts with spreading the news of the queen's death — her private secretary, Edward Young, was to call the prime minister first and relay the code phrase "London Bridge is down." 

The public announcement was supposed to be made by BBC News, after a special alarm bell alerted BBC staff to dress in black. In this case, the royal family broke the news in a tweet.

The meticulously choreographed details of Operation London Bridge have never been publicly released, though versions of the plan have been reported in the press several times over the years. The Washington Post outlined what to expect in 2021.

Because the queen died in Scotland, her coffin will lie at rest in Edinburgh's St. Giles Cathedral before being flown to London for four days of lying in state at Westminster Hall. Her state funeral will be held across the street at Westminster Abbey, on or around Sept. 18, and her body will then be driven to Windsor Castle, about 23 miles away, and buried at St. George's Chapel, the resting place of her husband, parents, and most other British sovereigns since King George III. 

King Charles III probably won't be formally crowned Britain's new monarch for several months, but he will be proclaimed king at on Saturday at 11 a.m. London time, after a meeting of the ceremonial Accession Council at St. James Palace. "After the proclamation announcing Charles' accession is read, for the first time since 1952, the national anthem will be played with the words 'God Save the King,'" the Post reports.

The proclamation will then be "passed across the country," first read in London "by heralds who will arrive on horseback wearing official uniforms that have roots in the clothing from the Middle Ages," then "in ceremonial fashion in capitals across the United Kingdom — Edinburgh; Cardiff, Wales; and Belfast, Northern Ireland," the Times reports. "Later, high sheriffs in traditional garb will declare the news in towns and villages across the country."

"Flags across the country are to be lowered to half-staff and stay that way until the morning after the queen's funeral, with one exception," the Times reports. "On Proclamation Day, flags will be raised until the next afternoon, and then revert to half-staff. After the proclamation of the new king, attention will once again turn to the funeral of Britain's longest-serving monarch."