LONDON (AP) – It has been 60 years to the day since Britain was shocked by the bulletins: The King is dead; long live the Queen!
Eight words encapsulated both the news on Feb. 6, 1952 and the British doctrine of monarchy. It also starkly illustrates why the accession anniversary being marked by Queen Elizabeth II on Monday is tinged with sadness for the loss of a reigning monarch.
Princess Elizabeth became the queen the moment her 56-year-old father, King George VI, died of a fatal blood clot, apparently soon after he went to bed at 11:30 p.m. the previous night. A servant discovered the lifeless king in his bed at 7:50 a.m.
On his death, the then-25-year-old automatically became queen, but she was at the Treetops resort in Kenya with her husband, Prince Philip.
The king’s death set off an official scramble to convey the news. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was among the first officials to be notified. News agencies were allowed to flash the news at 10:45, and the BBC broadcast the announcement to the world half an hour later.
And still Elizabeth didn’t know.
The news reached the royal entourage via Granville Roberts, a reporter on the East African Standard who had seen the news wire bulletin. He telephoned Elizabeth’s private secretary, Martin Charteris, who telephoned Philip’s private secretary, Mike Parker _ who then told the prince.
Philip gave the news to his wife as they walked in a garden.
Later that day, Churchill officially informed the House of Commons.
“We cannot at this moment do more than record the spontaneous expression of grief,” the prime minister said.
The Lords of the Privy Council met and formally proclaimed Elizabeth as queen, “beseeching God by whom Kings and Queens do reign, to bless the Royal Princess Elizabeth the Second with long and happy Years to reign over us.”
A storm delayed the queen’s departure from Africa until midnight. Then, there was an unscheduled stop in North Africa to get a black mourning dress aboard. She arrived in London in the fading light of the following day.
On Feb. 8, Elizabeth met the 150 Lords of the Council and other dignitaries for the formal Accession ceremony.
She said: “By the sudden death of my dear father I am called to assume the duties and responsibilities of sovereignty.”
“My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than I shall always work, as my father did throughout his reign, to advance the happiness and prosperity of my peoples, spread as they are all the world over.”
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)