The Queen’s Death Was Predictable

96-year-olds are living on borrowed time.

YahooNews surfaced a Saturday story from The Telegraph titled “Liz Truss knew before she stood up in the Commons that Queen Elizabeth was gravely ill.” After some preliminaries,

Ms Truss was first informed of the state of the Queen’s health early on Thursday morning, when Simon Case, Cabinet Secretary, interrupted a meeting to break the news. In Balmoral, concerned aides to the Queen had also raised the alarm with those around Prince Charles. The monarch’s burgundy-liveried helicopter was dispatched from Windsor at 6.48am to collect the heir to the throne from Dumfries House in Ayrshire. Charles arrived at Balmoral by 10.30am.

[…]

By the time Ms Truss’s convoy swept into Parliament from Downing Street 20 minutes later, at 10.50am, Mr Case was already beginning to ratchet the Downing Street and wider Whitehall machine into action. It wasn’t just the Prime Minister who was new to her role – Ms Truss had begun her first day in No 10 on Tuesday with a clear-out of staff and her new crop of aides were only beginning the process of settling into their new roles.

Helpfully, Mr Case, as a former private secretary to Prince William, is steeped in royal protocol, as well as the mechanics of Whitehall. The civil service machine showed how “incredibly effective” it can be at times like this, said one member of staff.

Ms Truss was in her Commons office, yards from the Commons chamber, making the final preparations for her statement, when she was informed that the Queen’s death was believed to be “imminent”.

The news was greeted with “shock, immense sadness and incredulity”, said one source.

The sequence of events helps to account for the sombre expression on Ms Truss’s face as she entered the chamber shortly before 11.40am, when she exchanged brief words with Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Commons Speaker, before making her way to her place on the front bench. It also explains why Mr Zahawi’s later intervention did not cause visible shock or surprise.

[…]

A quarter of an hour later, a statement from Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen’s doctors were “concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision”. The statement added: “The Queen remains comfortable.”

Ms Truss reconvened her staff to finalise a second speech that afternoon – a response to the unfathomable loss of the monarch with whom she had expected to attend weekly audiences as Prime Minister.

At 4.30pm she was in the Prime Minister’s flat above No 11 Downing Street when a telephone call came through from the Palace. It fell to Mr Case to pass on the message: the Queen had died. The forewarnings earlier in the day did little to diminish the magnitude of the news.

The following day, Ms Truss was escorted through Buckingham Palace for her first audience with the new King. Following an initial curtsy, the Prime Minister offered her “very, very sincere condolences” and the new monarch described how his mother’s death was, “The moment I’d been dreading – as I know a lot of people have.”

Now, an aide suggested, the Prime Minister will turn to the task of helping to “guide the country through this extraordinary period over the next 10 days and beyond”.

The Queen was a world-historic figure, serving as the symbol of her country and the Commonwealth for seven decades. So, obviously, a lot of people are saddened by her passing. And, surely, having to lead the country through this period of mourning a day after being sworn in as Prime Minister is a tremendous task. I have no wish to diminish any of that.

Still, while I understand the event inspiring “immense sadness,” surely “shock” and “incredulity” were not warranted at the death of a 96-year-old who has been ill for years? Her passing was inevitable, not “unfathomable.”

Major newspapers have obituaries of noteworthy figures prepared when they hit a certain age. Famously, the authors of some of these obituaries have predeceased their subjects. Surely, the vast apparatuses of the British civil service and royal household have been planning QEII’s passage for years, if not decades. Having done otherwise would be malfeasance.

Indeed, I would be shocked and incredulous if Whitehall didn’t have a speech ready for the last several PMs for this occasion, with only minor editing necessary to accommodate precise circumstances of the passing and the styles of the occupant.

FILED UNDER: World Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    “It’s a shame about Ed”

    Fletch: “That was a shame. To go suddenly like that”

    “He was dying for years”

    Fletch: “But the end was very, very sudden.”

    “He was in intensive care for 8 weeks.”

    Fletch: “I mean when he actually died…that was extremely sudden.”

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    I predict that everyone alive today will eventually die*

    *For certain values of “death”. Gotta give myself an out if we are eventually sucked into a hive mind or something…

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  3. CSK says:

    Operation London Bridge, the funeral plan for Queen Elizabeth II, has been in place since the 1960s.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    I see in the headlines this morning that, like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Queen Elizabeth II is still dead.

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  5. grumpy realist says:

    Well, there’s the knowing that someone is 96 floating around in the back of your brain, but there’s also the “she’s been living up to now, therefore she will continue to live” assumption as well.

    I know it was a terrible shock when my partner died, even though he had been going in and out of hospitals for years for various problems. We were so used to his “going in for a day or two, then coming back out again.”

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  6. Kathy says:

    Even with severely ill people with life-threatening conditions, you see them day after day, you may talk to them daily, too, and make plans, etc. You know they’ll die soon, that literally death can come at any second, and yet it’s hard to believe they will really die.

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  7. Mikey says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I know it was a terrible shock when my partner died, even though he had been going in and out of hospitals for years for various problems. We were so used to his “going in for a day or two, then coming back out again.”

    Same with my dad. He had dementia, and was in and out of the hospital for various things many times for several years, but when my brother called to tell me Dad had died, my initial response was “What? He was fine a couple days ago!”

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @Mikey: Six months in I still find myself going, “Whoa, I haven’t called Mom I too long, I’m a bad son”, and then reach for my phone. She was 93 and went down quickly at the end.

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  9. DK says:

    Still, while I understand the event inspiring “immense sadness,” surely “shock” and “incredulity” were not warranted at the death of a 96-year-old who has been ill for years? Her passing was inevitable, not “unfathomable.”

    How many fairies can dance on the head of a pin?

    This is one of those instances when being overly academic and dispassionate about everything makes one look silly, lacking in emotional intelligence, and callous.

    I was shocked, incredulous and in disbelief when my 92 year old grandmother died, a death I had long anticipated, dreaded, and seen coming. Grief is not rational, nor should it be.

    Nobody needs a college professor’s approval to be shocked when a beloved figure that’s been around their entire life is no longer there. And, yes, that absolutely is a shock to one’s system.

    Good grief.

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  10. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Same here. I wasn’t shocked or surprised when my 94-year-old father died, even though it was fairly sudden, but it took me a while to adjust to it. Months later I’d still be thinking that I had to remember to tell himself something, and then I’d realize: “Oh…”

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    Every day when I wake up I’m shocked that I haven’t died. I’m 68 and AFAIK nothing major going on health-wise other than overweight and laziness so profound that my average position is prone. I never expected to last beyond 30, and my imagination runs to the grim. I’ve ‘written’ my death a thousand ways.

    On the other hand, it’s like this happy surprise each morning. Oh, cool: coffee! Hot shower! Cigar! Joint! Cocktail! A 5% chance of sex! Ice cream! It’s the ciiiiircle of liiife.

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  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DK:

    Nobody needs a college professor’s approval to be shocked when a beloved figure that’s been around their entire life is no longer there. And, yes, that absolutely is a shock to one’s system.

    While the tone may be a little over the top, I endorse the idea and have seen it myself. When Dr. Joyner noted in his piece that

    Her passing was inevitable, not “unfathomable.”

    My reaction was “Hah! Tell that to my mom. When my dad finally passed (I got the news in Korea on my birthday), my reaction was to be relieved that Dad was done with the troubles of the world and had gone to live with God. My mom’s reaction was to call my brother in Virginia and get him to help her demand that the doctors give Dad a total blood transfusion (as in 8 pints) so that he could go on and maybe even recover. (The claim from both Mom and my brother was that my parents’ insurance would cover this, as I recall. I had no idea that they were with Keith Richards’ insurer.)

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  13. DK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: LOLOLOL oh lord, the look on the faces of those poor doctors

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  14. Mister Bluster says:

    I was in the hospital room with my friend Joe when his physician told him that after several days of tests the diagnosis was stage 4 lung cancer and that ” there isn’t much we can do for you”.
    I was not shocked or surprised when he died just a month later at 54.
    He was a heavy cigarette smoker so I guess you could say that I saw it coming.
    Joe was a quadriplegic who was striken with the polio virus as an infant in the early ’50s and lived his entire life in a wheelchair. That’s how I got to know him. I worked as his personal attendant for a year not long after we met at a bar in Sleepytown.
    That experience led to a 35 year friendship.
    I was sad but what hit me the hardest was when I was clearing the voice messages on my cell phone a few days after he died there was a recent message from Joe, like he was speaking from the grave. Damn!
    I debated with myself if I should keep the message or erase it and I finally hit the delete key.
    Not that it mattered.
    Fourteen years later I can still hear his voice in my head.

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  15. Gustopher says:

    @CSK:

    Operation London Bridge, the funeral plan for Queen Elizabeth II, has been in place since the 1960s.

    That’s generations of working lives.

    I like the idea that someone’s entire working career was planning this funeral for the last 50+ years, updating it for construction detours and contractors going out of business and different flowers and colors going out of fashion… and then they retired before it happened.

    It’s such a beautiful waste of someone’s productive life.

    (Granted, a plan of “shove her in a burlap sack with a couple of cinder blocks and toss her into the Thames” would be more efficient, but less appropriate to most people)

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  16. Jen says:

    She was 96, yes, but we’re sort of accustomed to seeing a gradual decline in elderly people. She had just had a meeting with the new PM and was photographed smiling and looking every bit the charming monarch she was.

    It can be a surprise when there’s no perceived decline.

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  17. CSK says:

    @Jen:
    Yes. If she’d been bedridden for weeks, it would have been less surprising. I expected her to live as long as her mother did.

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  18. CSK says:

    As for the cause of death, Elizabeth could have had a heart attack, or a stroke, or fallen and hit her head. Any of those are possibilities at her age.

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  19. Liberal Capitalist says:

    … huh.

    So you’re sayin’ that people die.

    Anybody else know about this?

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  20. DK says:

    @Jen:

    She had just had a meeting with the new PM and was photographed smiling and looking every bit the charming monarch she was.

    Great point. Of course, anyone, especially a 96 year old, can decline and pass at quickly depending on the circumstances. But this adds some context to the Prime Minister describing herself as “shocked.” She’d quite literally just seen QE2 on two feet (+cane) and in good spirits (allegedly).

    My Granny had to drag around oxygen half the day, and we still greeted her transition with “WTF.”

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  21. DK says:

    @CSK:

    Any of those are possibilities at her age.

    At any age above forty these days. I know a — dare I say it — shockingly high number of folks who have dropped dead (pte) of heart conditions, fatal reactions etc in their 40s and 50s.

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  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DK: Ironically enough, she’d called in my brother to add weight to her will because the doctors were declining to do the procedure. Some notion about “first, do no harm” or some such nonsense.

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  23. CSK says:

    @DK:
    I know. Just more likely when you’re 96.

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  24. Michael Cain says:

    Every day when I wake up I’m shocked that I haven’t died. I’m 68 and AFAIK nothing major going on health-wise other than overweight and laziness so profound that my average position is prone. I never expected to last beyond 30, and my imagination runs to the grim. I’ve ‘written’ my death a thousand ways.

    My intent, if Death shows up at the door one of these days, is just, “No, sorry, I’m not done. Try another day.” (I’m the same age, btw.)

    My real fear goes like this. For a few years I was in charge of road show technology demos for a large telecom company. On my watch, every demo worked. Sometimes that meant I was sitting in the middle of the floor in a hotel ballroom at 2:00 am writing the code for enough of an obsolete time server to make some piece of vendor equipment happy, but every demo worked. From time to time people muttered “demo god” under their breath. (Yes, there’s some wordplay there. The demo team had an interesting collective education.) I have had an occasional nightmare of answering the front door and there’s a short round jolly-looking red-haired man, who grins and says with an Irish brogue, “Michael Cain? The Demo God? Me name’s Murphy, and that was a magnificent performance, it was, avoiding me Law. Payback time.”

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  25. Michael Cain says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    (The claim from both Mom and my brother was that my parents’ insurance would cover this, as I recall. I had no idea that they were with Keith Richards’ insurer.)

    Or perhaps Willie Nelson’s. Willie’s spotting Keith a decade.

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  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Cain: Yeah, but the Stones are the band with the history of complete transfusions as a treatment (for drug toxicity, IIRC).

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