by Jason Snell
What happens when the Queen dies?
I read this story by Sam Knight with fascination. Queen Elizabeth is 90, and her death will be an event the likes of which most Britons have never seen. It will mark the end of an era (and of an empire), cause the accession of a new monarch, and kick off weeks of ceremony and media coverage that’s already been planned out in detail.
Unlike the US presidency, say, monarchies allow huge passages of time – a century, in some cases – to become entwined with an individual. The second Elizabethan age is likely to be remembered as a reign of uninterrupted national decline, and even, if she lives long enough and Scotland departs the union, as one of disintegration. Life and politics at the end of her rule will be unrecognisable from their grandeur and innocence at its beginning. “We don’t blame her for it,” Philip Ziegler, the historian and royal biographer, told me. “We have declined with her, so to speak.”
An average British woman of the Queen’s age has an average life expectancy of a little more than four years. But the Queen is above average—and I’ll remind you that her mother lived to be 101. When the time comes, though, the British government and press will follow a script that’s been created and rehearsed for several decades.