Family Business

What Happens When the Queen Dies—Inside ‘The Bridge’

The machinery of succession will move swiftly into gear upon Queen Elizabeth’s death—even if many people aren’t that keen on the idea of Prince Charles as king.

06.02.15 9:15 AM ET

Sixty-two years ago today, on 2 June 1953, Queen Elizabeth was crowned in Westminster Abbey.

It has certainly been a long and glorious reign. But, given that these days even the royals have to pay taxes, we can also be fairly sure that someday the Queen will die.

And what will happen then?

Inside Buckingham Palace, and in the corridors of Whitehall, they call it “the Bridge.” This is the euphemistic term used to refer to the interval between the death of Queen Elizabeth II—now 89—and the succession of her son, Prince Charles.

One thing we can be quite sure of is that ‘the Bridge’ will not be anything like as long as it was last time round; King George VI died unexpectedly in February 1952 and the Queen was not crowned until 16 months later.

When the Queen dies, it is expected that Charles will be formally crowned within three months. For one thing, everybody knows this is coming, almost certainly at some point in the next decade, so there is a sense of readiness in the palace.

Indeed, Charles and his mother currently view themselves as having something of a job share when it comes to ruling—witness Charles and Camilla by her side at last week’s state opening of parliament.

But there is a political motivation to get the coronation done and dusted as quickly as possible. Charles still remains a deeply controversial King for many in the United Kingdom, given his admitted adultery and choice of a divorcee for his intended Queen, so there is a desire to minimize the vacuum period, for fear it will be filled by Republican voices.

Part of the greatest perceived threat to the Monarchy lies in the overseas dominions, or ‘realms’, many of which are becoming increasingly vocal about the sense of having the Queen as their head of state. Many of these countries are happy to go along with the Queen out of a sense of personal affection for her; however, they don’t ‘like’ Charles in the same way.

There is a risk that four or five realms—Jamaica, Australia and The Bahamas among them—could fire the British monarch as head of state during the ‘Bridge’ period.

This is one of the reasons (the other being the Queen’s age) why the Monarchy has been selling Charles, Harry, and William as hard as they can on foreign tours for the past few years. Indeed, Harry’s tour of Jamaica two years ago, when he raced Usain Bolt, hugged the republican Prime Minister and danced to Bob Marley in Trenchtown, may turn out to be the piece of diplomacy that preserves that realm for the British crown.

If the Queen dies in the night, her death would not be announced until 8 a.m. Currently, there are no plans to disseminate the news via social media; instead, the announcement will be made via the BBC.

Every senior BBC presenter has to have a dark suit and black tie on standby in which to announce the death of a senior member of the Royal Family.

Rehearsals for the event are held every six months. The newscaster Peter Sissons—who was criticized in the wake of the death of the Queen Mother after he went on air in a grey suit and red tie—wrote in his memoirs that when rehearsing for the death of the Queen Mother, “We usually pretended that she’d expired after choking on a fish bone—something for which she had form—at her Caithness home, the Castle of Mey. The remoteness of the location posed particular ­technical challenges which our rehearsal was expected to help identify.”

It is currently expected that it would be newscaster Huw Edwards who would make the announcement, wearing a black suit and black tie. The BBC is said to be planning to cancel all comedy shows between her death and the funeral, which is expected to take place 12 days after the Queen’s death.

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!
By clicking "Subscribe," you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason

The funeral itself will be a public holiday, with banks and the stock market closed.

In terms of living quarters, it is expected that all the royals will be ‘bumped up.’ Charles and Camilla will definitely move from Clarence House to Buckingham Palace after a decent interval. William and Kate will probably stay at Kensington Palace, leaving Clarence House free for Prince Harry and any future wife and family.

The Queen is hopeful that she will outlive her four remaining dogs. The Queen has had more than 30 corgis, all descended from Susan, a Pembroke given to her as an 18th birthday present. 

Some dogs mated with Princess Margaret’s dachshunds to produce “Dorgis”, two of which, Candy and Vulcan, still survive, along with the two corgis Willow and Holly. 

She stopped breeding in 2012.

If the dogs outlive her they will probably be re-homed with staff members who know them well. Princess Anne or her daughter Zara Tindall have their own animals, William is known to dislike the ‘yapping’ dogs and Charles is not thought to be a fan either.

The Queen herself is known to have a relatively sanguine view of the inevitability of her own demise. She has, for example, been open in her discussions with Charles about the plans for his own reign and will have personally signed off on the key elements of her own state funeral.

She has a deep sense, as the poet John Donne put it, that death ‘comes equally’ to us all and makes us all ‘equal when it comes’.

In many ways, the constitutional necessities and protocols of ‘the bridge’ mask the more personal aspects of contemplating one’s own mortality.

The less talked-about issue is how she will cope, emotionally and practically, when her husband Prince Philip, soon to be 94, who has already had several close shaves, dies.

The question of what sort of king Charles will be is, of course, of particular concern to the Queen. The Queen plays her cards close to her chest, but she is believed to have more confidence in Charles than she once did, when she delivered an almost-public denunciation of Charles’s extravagance.

In a 2004 book by Gyles Brandreth, in which Margaret Rhodes, the late Queen Mother’s niece who is close to the Queen, said: “There’s no use denying it. Things have gone slightly awry with Charles. The Queen finds Prince Charles very difficult. He is extravagant and she doesn’t like that. It’s incredibly sad. It’s a fractured family.”

The sentiment was never denied by the palace. Undoubtedly the Queen was at one stage anxious Charles would squander her legacy.

However she has never advocated for Charles to make way for William, and Her Majesty is said to be impressed by the seriousness and sense of duty both Charles and Camilla have brought to their Royal work since she cut back on overseas travel in 2013, and Charles picked up much of the slack.

The Queen is now the world’s oldest monarch, and Charles is the oldest British heir. He will be the oldest person ever to ascend the British throne, if all goes according to plan.

William IV, who was 64 years, 10 months and five days old when he became king in June 1830 after the death of his father, George III, previously held the record.

Charles seems to realize he’s running out of time. As far back as 2001, during a visit to the stately home Dumfries House, he said: “Impatient? Me? What a thing to suggest! Yes, of course I am. I’ll run out of time soon. I shall have snuffed it if I’m not careful.”

It is just one more factor of his bizarre lot in life that Charles must wait for his mother to ‘snuff it’ herself before he can take up the role which he believes God himself has destined for him.