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ROBERT HARDMAN: None of us will forget where we were when we heard unthinkable but inevitable news

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She led her people longer than most of us have lived. She was the voice and face of our nation and many others; our anchor and tireless constant through seven decades of triumph and adversity.

Since last night, we have had to face both the unthinkable and the inevitable: life without Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning and longest-lived monarch in our history.

The end of the second Elizabethan era and the 40th reign since the Norman Conquest was announced at 5.30pm in a short, black-rimmed statement from Buckingham Palace.

“The Queen passed away peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” the statement said. “The King and Queen Consort remain in Balmoral tonight and return to London tomorrow.” Large – and in many cases tearful – crowds quickly began to form outside Buckingham Palace last night as the new king announced his reign name – Charles III.

The tragic news was announced in a brief, black-rimmed statement from Buckingham Palace at 5.30am

All four of the Queen’s children were at Balmoral, along with the Duke of Cambridge. The Duke of Sussex arrived later.

The king led the nation into mourning minutes afterward with a written tribute. “We deeply mourn the passing of a beloved Sovereign and a dearly beloved mother,” he said. “During this period of grief and change, my family and I will be comforted and sustained by our knowledge of the respect and deep affection with which the Queen was held so widely.”

Prime Minister Liz Truss repeated his words: “Her life of service extended beyond most of our living memories…She touched the lives of millions of people around the world.”

She concluded with the first public utterance of the words last spoken by a wartime generation: “God save the King.”

From every palace and state residence around the world came heartfelt obeisances. These were not just formalities.

Many came from countries that didn’t even exist in their current form when she came to the throne in 1952. Germany then consisted of two nations, Ukraine a province of the Soviet Union.

The country's longest-reigning monarch died

The country’s longest-reigning monarch died “peacefully” today, aged 96, at the Balmoral estate, surrounded by her family. Her death sparked an immediate and huge flood of emotions, with thousands of mourners gathering outside the gates of Buckingham Palace tonight (pictured)

President Biden saluted “the first British monarch with whom people around the world could feel a personal and direct connection – whether they heard her on the radio as a young princess … or gathered around their televisions for her coronation.” Mr. Biden was the 14th president of the US she had met and known. No one else, in America or anywhere else, has ever known 14 presidents. It’s unlikely anyone else will ever do that.

The speed of the Queen’s decline surprised her family and the nation, following her animated appearance at Tuesday’s meeting to appoint her new prime minister.

However, the monarch was unable to attend Wednesday’s virtual meeting of the Privy Council, one of the few duties she had not delegated to the former Prince of Wales in recent months.

The very last act of the Queen’s grandfather, George V, was to hold a Privy Council meeting from his deathbed in Sandringham in January 1936. That the Queen was unable to do the same on Wednesday, via video link, was a cause of great concern .

Yesterday morning an alarming and unprecedented medical bulletin came out of Buckingham Palace, reporting that ‘concerned’ doctors had placed the Queen under ‘medical supervision’.

This was followed by a steady stream of royal arrivals at the family’s Highland residence.

It was very clear that the royal family had been urged to rush to the queen’s bedside. During her rare hospital visits in the past, relatives would be strongly urged to keep visits to a minimum. Not on this occasion.

People react as they gather outside Buckingham Palace in central London after it was announced Queen Elizabeth II has died

People react as they gather outside Buckingham Palace in central London after it was announced Queen Elizabeth II has died

Likewise, royal officials had always exercised caution by downplaying unwarranted speculation about a deteriorating development.

Within hours, however, the new Prime Minister, the last person outside the Royal Family and Royal Household to see the Queen, released a statement underlining the gravity of the situation: “My thoughts – and the thoughts of people across our UK – are currently with Her Majesty the Queen and her family.’

While religious leaders of all denominations urged all believers to pray for the monarch, world leaders flooded the airwaves with messages of support.

There was at least one positive point to be drawn from the Palace statement. “The Queen remains comfortable and in Balmoral,” it said. There was certainly no place she would have felt more at ease than her home in the Highlands.

We will all remember where we were when we heard the news last night. Because we’ve lost one of the greats. Most of us have never known anyone else.

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