In the wake of the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, flags will be flown at half-mast on public buildings across the UK and at British diplomatic offices and residences around the world for the duration of the 10-day period of national mourning leading up to Her Majesty’s funeral.
The Queen’s passing at age 96, at her beloved Balmoral estate in rural Aberdeenshire, brings an end to the longest reign of any monarch in our history. Her career began when she succeeded her father George IV in 1952 and which encompassed the demise of the British Empire, the Suez Crisis, the Cold War, the Sex Pistols, Margaret Thatcher, the rise of the internet, Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.
She was served by no fewer than 15 prime ministers, from Sir Winston Churchill to Liz Truss, the latter only appointed on Tuesday after meeting with the Queen in Scotland, further evidence of her remarkable commitment to her duties when her health was clearly in decline.
The custom of lowering the Union flag to fly at two-thirds of the length of a pole or ship’s mast has been undertaken since the 17th century as a respectful expression of the national mood at a time of bereavement, much as a mourner bows their head in solemn remembrance.
The Royal Standard, the official flag of the British monarch, is the only banner never flown at half-mast.
This is because the country is never without a presiding King or Queen, with the role immediately passing to an heir upon a sovereign’s death, hence Prince Charles instantly becoming King Charles III in the moment of his mother’s passing.
Flags can be flown at half-mast in Britain on the following occasions:
- From the announcement of a monarch’s death up until their funeral has taken place, with the exception of Proclamation Day, when flags are hoisted to their usual height from 11am until sunset.
- The funerals of members of the royal family, present and former British prime ministers and other popular world leaders, at the sovereign’s command and discretion.
- On other special occasions, at the behest of the presiding monarch.
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