What Happens If The Queen Dies At Balmoral Castle?

Many questioned Queen Elizabeth II's health after she missed a thanksgiving church service during her Platinum Jubilee celebrations in early June 2022. The 96-year-old queen complained of "discomfort" during one of the events and decided not to attend the service at St. Paul's Cathedral the next day, reports CNN. Though those close to the queen assure the public that she's doing well, plans are in place for her inevitable death.

In fact, an ever-evolving contingency plan, codenamed Operation London Bridge, has been ready since 1960 to anticipate the kingdom's needs should the queen die, says The Scottish Sun. The plan gets its name because the message "London Bridge is down" will inform the prime minister of the queen's death. The prime minister is one branch out of many in a veritable phone tree of family, government leaders, and media that will be informed on the day the queen dies. The current prime minister is Liz Truss, who recently replaced Boris Johnson in the role. According to The Washington Post, Truss had her first formal meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

In 2021, Politico obtained the most recent version of Operation London Bridge and published the plan's details. Politico emphasized that the recent revisions to the plan were not in response to any immediate concerns about the queen's health. The Daily Record writes that government, law enforcement, and media members meet at least three times yearly to update a special contingency plan codenamed Operation Unicorn.

What is Operation Unicorn?

According to Reader's Digest, the most complicated out of all the possible scenarios for the queen's death is if she were to die in Scotland. This plan is appropriately named Operation Unicorn. The unicorn is the official animal of Scotland, a country known for its love of myths and folklore, explains The National Trust for Scotland. The queen spends her summers in Scotland at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire (via The Scottish Sun). Balmoral has been a royal residence since 1852, says the Daily Record. The estate — some 50,000 acres — was a gift from Prince Albert to his wife, Queen Victoria, says Town and Country.

Town and Country relates that Balmoral is widely considered the queen's favorite residence. Balmoral is one place where the royal family can "act as normal people — to a point," according to Lord Lichfield (via Town and Country). 

Current plans for Operation Unicorn include taking the queen and her coffin to Holyrood House, the queen's official residence in Edinburgh (per The Royal Collection Trust). The palace stands at the end of the Royal Mile, located within the city's Old Town, a World Heritage Site (via Forever Edinburgh). Upon receiving word of the queen's death, the Scottish parliament would be suspended to begin planning the funeral events, reports the Daily Record. Scotland's police are also among those involved in the coordination. The queen dying in Scotland could mean crowds from all over the world descending on the city of Edinburgh, especially Old Town and the area around the royal mile. The increase in visitors poses many logistical and safety challenges for local leaders and law enforcement.

After Scottish funeral events, the queen will return to London

If the queen dies in Scotland, Operation Unicorn states that the queen will be carried from Holyrood House along the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile connects Holyrood House to Edinburgh Castle. After a service at St. Giles Cathedral, the queen's body would be put aboard the Royal Train at Waverly station and returned to London. Reader's Digest anticipates that many people would line the railway, throwing flowers, to mourn the queen. An alternative plan anticipates that if travel by train is impossible, the queen's coffin would be flown to London, where it will be met by a reception.

Among other plans included in Operation London Bridge and Operation Unicorn, Prince Charles will become king the moment the queen dies. According to Reader's Digest, the current royal family holds many records regarding age and ascension. Queen Elizabeth II has had the longest reign in British history, totaling 70 years as of 2022. Queen Elizabeth was made regent at the age of 25 after her father's early death. Because of the queen's long life, Prince Charles, 73 years old in 2022, will be the oldest person to take the British throne and has waited the longest to reign.

Following the queen's death, no matter the location, 10 days of ceremonies, including public viewing open 23 hours a day at Westminster hall, will commence. She will be buried beside her husband, Prince Philip, in Windsor Castle's King George VI Memorial Chapel, where her father also rests.