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Sensemaker Special: Spellbound

Sensemaker Special: Spellbound

What just happened

Long stories short

  • King Charles will address the nation at 6pm as the UK starts a period of national mourning for Queen Elizabeth (more below).
  • Steve Bannon pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering, conspiracy and fraud in New York. 
  • North Korea passed a law to allow pre-emptive nuclear strikes to protect itself.


Liam Virgo came to the palace in his wheelchair. He’s on holiday in London with his parents and it seemed the obvious thing to do. “It’ll be different without her,” he said of the Queen, and there was a strong sense that he was right.

Rainbows appeared over Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle in the late afternoon. As dusk fell and the crowd thickened round the Victoria Memorial, small groups sang patriotic songs, but quietly. From time to time spontaneous applause broke out. There were three cheers – for the Queen? The King? For everyone? It felt like take your pick.

When a figure appeared on the palace roof to lower the Union flag at 6.31pm there was “a stunned silence”, said Rachel Carter-Eagleton, who’d wept at work when she heard the Queen’s doctors were concerned, and was given the day off.

Even the most tightly crafted story in the history of news can’t rule out contingency. Harry didn’t make it to the royal bedside in time for the announcement of his grandmother’s death, and pictures through a series of car windows showed his sadness. Nicholas Witchell, the BBC’s royal correspondent, speculated that Meghan hadn’t joined him because she “might not be terribly warmly welcomed” at Balmoral. From the far reaches of the Commonwealth came tributes but also – from the Bahamas – calls for reparations (see below).

There is already a new king and consort. There will be a new face on pounds and pence. There will be surprises as the world adjusts, but much about the next ten days is planned to the minute (in a plan codenamed London Bridge, blended with Operation Unicorn as the Queen died in Scotland) and Ms Carter-Eagleton – who works in customer relations at the O2 – plans to follow it all. This is what she can expect:

Today. King Charles will have his first audience as monarch with Liz Truss, now in her third full day as prime minister. He is expected to approve the funeral arrangements and address the nation at 6pm. At midday church bells will toll and a 96-round gun salute is expected in Hyde Park at 1pm. 

10 September. The Accession Council formally proclaims King Charles III as the new sovereign and he makes a personal declaration and oath. The proclamation will be read in public in locations across the country.

11 September. The Queen’s coffin is expected to leave Balmoral and be taken by road to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

12 September. The coffin will be taken along Royal Mile to St Giles’ Cathedral for a service and vigil attended by the Queen’s family. King Charles is expected to travel to all nations of the UK over the coming days – known as Operation Spring Tide.

13 September. The coffin will reportedly be flown to London, where it will rest at Buckingham Palace. 

14 September. It will be taken in procession to the Palace of Westminster for the Queen’s lying in state – Operation Marquee. The coffin will be draped with the royal standard and the imperial state crown. 

18 or 19 September. A televised funeral is due to take place at Westminster Abbey. The day is likely to be declared a bank holiday, so schools will be closed. The coffin will then be taken to St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where the Queen will be laid to rest. 

The rear view. Britain’s outlets of record looked backwards first. “For lots of people [the Queen] was the ideal symbol of what a constitutional monarchy should be like,” said the BBC’s Huw Edwards, who expects his whole career to be judged by the next few days. “Her great achievement was to change while appearing to stay the same,” The Times wrote in a 15,000-word obituary. She promised a lifetime of service and “kept her word”.

ITV News looked backwards too, without the reverence. Less than four hours after the announcement of the Queen’s death the network was airing a documentary itemising her misfortunes and embarrassments along with her triumphs. Only the picture of Andrew with his hand round Virginia Giuffre, and Meghan’s claim of racism in the family, were missing.

The impact. Britain has had decades to ponder what effect the Queen’s death might have on the fabric of the country. Now it starts to find out. 

  • The UK. World War Two was “the foundational event of modern Britain”, Jonathan Freedland writes in the Guardian, and the Queen was the last person in British public life who played a role in it. Now she is gone, what happens to the foundations, weakened as they already were by the boost Brexit has given to the cause of Scottish independence? She is mourned north of the border as Queen of Scots, and remembered warmly in Wales and Ireland, but has reunification across the Irish Sea inched closer too? Andrew Neil, writing in the Daily Mail, fears for the union. LBC’s Andrew Marr says the Queen was the country’s glue.
  • The Commonwealth. This was in a sense the Queen’s creation. That countries like Rwanda and Mozambique – never British colonies – applied for and were granted membership says much about her personal convening power. Charles, now King Charles, took on her role as leader in 2018. He may not be loved by Commonwealth citizens and leaders as his mother was, but he will hope to earn their respect between now and the next heads of government meeting, in Samoa. He has two years. 
  • The monarchy. Charles wants to trim the number of senior working royals to as few as seven, with a core consisting of himself, Camilla and the Cornwalls, to be known as the new Prince and Princess of Wales. The royal quarters within Buckingham Palace may shrink. In this scenario the profile of the family would shrink too. Two questions:  would less prominence lead to a new accommodation with the public for a monarch who will never be as popular as the Queen – or to irrelevance? Or will he prove unable to resist meddling in politics, risking the entire hereditary edifice? 

Those who hope the country now turns away from monarchy are vastly outnumbered by those who know it won’t. Steve, Ian and Maxwell were in a long line of black cab drivers parked in front of the palace last night, their orange lights glowing like a candle-lit procession.

“All cabbies talk to each other, and we just decided to come down and pay our respects,” one said. “The service that she does to the country, and what she gives to us especially as London cab drivers – the monarch generates so much money for everyone. And we just want to say a massive thank you.”

Charlie, 50, came with his niece. “It’s sombre, but there’s been a hint of God Save the Queen,” he said, “like a kind of mist over all of us. People don’t know what they are doing here, that’s the vibe, they just feel like they need to be here.” 

Never a truer word. Liam Virgo and his mum and dad will be back there today.


King Contactless
A great exercise in banknote recall and reissue, years in the planning, now rumbles into life. Ditto coins: the Queen’s head will gradually be replaced with her son’s on all the cash in the land. There are sterling notes worth £80 billion in circulation bearing Elizabeth’s likeness and the Guardian has been told it will take about two years to swap them for new ones. In principle, this will be a highly visible manifestation of change at the pinnacle of British public life. In practice no one is going to uninvent contactless payments, so a £50 King Charles note could become a curiosity, a rarity. Collectible, even?  


Changing times
The first public sign of the Queen’s deteriorating health was the passing of a paper note to opposition leader Keir Starmer as he spoke in the Commons. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was told of the monarch’s death by a police officer coming into her room in the early hours of the morning brandishing a flashlight. “I knew immediately what it meant,” she said. But for most of the UK, and the world, the news came via a less analogue medium – a smartphone – as a message, an app notification or a tweet from the Royal Family’s official account. News of a monarch’s death has never travelled so fast. It would have been unrecognisable to those who found out about the death of George VI – the Queen’s father – in 1952 by pressing ears to a radio. Yet still, in 2022, there was a need for the news to be confirmed by a human voice, and many still gathered around a television. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

No government business
Normal UK government business is suspended during the 10-day period of national mourning. In practical terms that means no ministerial statements or visits and only essential work. Under the Succession to the Crown Act from 1707, parliament will meet to pay respect to the Queen and to the new King today and tomorrow. These sessions will likely run long into the evening. Government buildings will continue to fly flags at half-mast but civil servants will continue their work. There are still questions, however, ahead of a planned Commons recess for Party conference season. Liz Truss, the new prime minister, has little time to pass legislation freezing the energy price cap by 1 October. Expect changes to the schedule. Outside Westminster, normal proceedings in the devolved legislatures, and in Australia, will also be suspended. Planned strike action by the RMT and Royal Mail has been cancelled. Schools will remain open next week but will likely close for the day of the funeral. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

The war
Putin’s condolences to the royal family made the front page of the Moscow Times. Not so the Kyiv Independent. There’s still a war on in Ukraine, and not a static one. On the day the Queen died Ukraine’s armed forces claimed dramatic advances in the east and south, and Tony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, confirmed as he wound up a trip to Kyiv that Russian troops appeared to have retreated and left heavy equipment behind in a number of villages east of Kharkiv. Ukrainian officials are imposing tight restrictions on journalists seeking access to the frontlines so it is impossible to be certain whether the momentum claimed is real. This much is clear: casualties on both sides are high and there will be many military funerals before the one being planned in London.


Caribbean reparations 
World leaders have been paying solemn and touching tributes to Queen Elizabeth II. Macron remembered a “kind-hearted Queen”. Biden said she “defined an era”. Brazil has declared three days of national mourning. In the Caribbean, though, the conversation in the coming months will be more complicated. Jamaica’s prime minister said his country would mourn the Queen, although the country has indicated it may follow Barbados in ending royal rule and is seeking reparations from Britain over slavery. Niambi Hall-Campbell, who chairs the Bahamas National Reparations Committee, said the Queen’s death was “an opportunity to advance discussions” for reparations in the region, while a former St Lucia prime minister said he supported a “general” movement toward republicanism in the country.

Thanks for reading. Please share your thoughts on the Queen and tell us how you think Tortoise should cover this moment. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Phoebe Davis, Jessica Winch, Sebastian Hervas-Jones and Luke Gbedemah.

Photographs Getty Images, Tom Pilson

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