Outside the palace in central London, Britons and people from around the world shared in the sense of disbelief that the second Elizabethan age has come to an end.
Mounted members of the King’s Guard, the soldiers who patrol royal households, trotted past. Until Thursday, they were known as the Queen’s Guard.
A large but quiet crowd gathered to pay respects and to witness history. Gardeners were busily trimming royal lawns in anticipation of the days of pageantry ahead. Many in the growing crowd were wielding smartphones and selfie-sticks and were, naturally for the social media generation, documenting all they could see.
“It’s a historic day because the queen is the only monarch most of us have known,” said Darius Koenig, 24, a trainee lawyer and singer from London, who was carrying flowers and said he couldn’t find a newspaper to buy anywhere.
“I’m not really sure what to feel, it’s hard to put words on it. It’s certainly a day of collective grief.”
The changes in the monarch and the prime minister come at a seismic point in British political and economic life, with many families fearing how they will afford the increasing energy bills as a cost-of-living crisis intersects with Russia’s war in Ukraine and the aftermath of the country’s exit from the European Union.
Charles met Liz Truss, only days after the queen invited her to be prime minister. The pair will then meet every week for the monarch’s traditional weekly audience with the prime minister — and one issue is likely to take precedence.
Hours before the queen’s death was announced, Truss told the House of Commons she would freeze energy bills at £2,500 ($2,900) a year until 2024, a colossal intervention that would have dominated national discussion were it not for the news that interrupted debate in Parliament — and much of British life for days to come.
Record inflation of more than 10% has driven a summer of widespread strikes, but industrial action at the Royal Mail and by railway workers planned for Friday was canceled in light of the queen’s death. Sporting and cultural events were also canceled and some stores shut as the country embarked on a 10-day period of mourning.
Such is the gravity of the national mood, the Bank of England said Friday it would postpone its decision on whether to raise interest rates — a decision with potentially huge consequences.
It’s possible the first post-Elizabeth national crisis will be one of the worst in recent memory — nevertheless, the days ahead will be spent remembering her contribution to public life.
Steve Kazan, 61, who works in technology and lives near San Francisco and is on vacation in Britain with his son, Henry, 23, came to pay his respects outside the palace.
They were on a train from Edinburgh to London yesterday when the news broke. “Someone shouted out the news and ripples of chatter went through the car,” he said.
“We were definitely hit by the historic impact of it immediately. I was sat across the table from a young student and I told her: ‘You will remember where you were on this day forever.’”
Patrick Smith is a London-based editor and reporter for NBC News Digital.
Alexander Smith is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital based in London.