Operation Unicorn: Here's What Happens Now That Queen Elizabeth Has Died


Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Sept. 8, 2022, was the longest-reigning monarch in Britain’s history. She ascended to the throne in 1952 and stayed there until her death at 96 years old.

With the queen’s death comes the first time most of the world will see a new monarch ascend to the British throne. So … what happens next?

What happens next?

There are several detailed plans for the aftermath of the queen’s death. If Queen Elizabeth were to have died in London, a process called “Operation London Bridge” would unfold. But she died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, meaning an arrangement called “Operation Unicorn” is underway.

According to British historian Andrew Roberts, right after the queen took her final breath, her private secretary, Edward Young, called Prime Minister Liz Truss and informed her of her death. Then the Privy Council of the United Kingdom (think of them as the queen’s advisors) was informed, followed by various official notifications that go out to the civil service.

Once the Privy Council was informed, there was a plan to try and get the flags of all official buildings flown at half-mast within 10 minutes.

“There is going to be a huge sort of scramble to make sure from Number 10 Downing Street to every other building they get the flags at half-mast,” Roberts explained to TODAY.

Later in the day, the prime minister will make a statement paired with a minute of silence. Ceremonial bell tolls will also take place at multiple locations, including Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle.

When does King Charles officially become king?

Immediately upon the queen’s death, Charles, the queen’s oldest child with the late Prince Philip, automatically became king, while his wife, Camilla, became queen consort.

Queen Elizabeth actually made an announcement in February 2022 stating her desires for the public to support her son and Camilla after her death.

“When, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes king, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support that you have given me,” she said at the time. “And it is my sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as queen consort as she continues her own loyal service.”

“There is no gap whatsoever in the marquis,” Roberts said. “The line, ‘The queen is dead. Long live the king’ is the way to look at this. There’s not a second in history where there isn’t a monarch.”

The Privy Council will meet the Accession Council — a ceremonial body that assembles in St. James’s Palace upon the death of a monarch — the day after the queen dies. They will officially proclaim Charles the king of England.

However, don’t expect his coronation ceremony to happen for at least a few months after the queen’s passing. After all, Queen Elizabeth’s coronation ceremony didn’t happen until more than a year after her father’s death.

When would the queen’s funeral be?

Because the queen died at Balmoral, her body will be transferred from that location to Holyrood in Edinburgh. The coffin will be brought to the castle’s throne room, where it will be met by members of the royal family. Charles will arrive at Holyrood the next day. 

The casket will then be brought to St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh for some services before being transferred to London, England five days after Queen Elizabeth’s death. 

Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is expected to happen 10 days after her death, Roberts said. During that time, the queen will most likely lie in state and the public will have an opportunity to come and pay their respects.

This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY:

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