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Rihanna named National Hero in Barbados as country becomes republic, breaking with the queen

The pop star was named a National Hero of Barbados as the nation officially ended 396 years of the British monarchy's ties to the Caribbean island.

Barbados celebrated cutting ties with Queen Elizabeth II and becoming the Caribbean's latest independent republic early Tuesday with a ceremony in front of thousands that included remarks from Prince Charles and an honor for Barbados native Rihanna.

The nation officially ended 396 years of the British monarchy's reign over the island after announcing in September that Queen Elizabeth would be removed as its head of state.

At the stroke of midnight, Sandra Mason, 72, a former governor general, was sworn in as the nation's first president with a 21-gun salute in a ceremony in Bridgetown, the capital.

Prince Charles congratulates Rihanna on becoming Barbados's 11th National Hero during a ceremony to declare Barbados a republic and the inauguration of the country's first president.Randy Brooks / AFP via Getty Images

The queen was represented by her son Prince Charles, who spoke briefly about the momentous change and referred to the island's dark colonial past under British rule. Barbados gained independence from England in 1966.

"I’m so deeply touched that you should have invited me to return to Barbados and to join you on behalf of the queen at this moment of such significance for your remarkable nation," he said. "The creation of this republic offers a new beginning, but it also marks a point on a continuum. A milestone on the long road you have not only traveled, but which you have built from the darkest days of our past and the appalling atrocity of slavery which forever stains our history."

Barbados will remain a member of the Commonwealth, a political association of 54 countries that have ties to the former British empire.

The queen has visited Barbados many times since her first trip in 1966, but did not travel for Tuesday's ceremony. The 95-year-old monarch has been limiting her schedule since a hospital stay in October.

(From left) Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, President of Barbados Sandra Mason, National Hero Sir Garfield Sobers, Prince Charles and Rihanna look on during the Three Cheers to Barbados at the ceremony to declare Barbados a Republic. Randy Brooks / AFP via Getty Images

"The people of Barbados have held a special place in my heart; it is a country rightfully proud of its vibrant culture, its sporting prowess, and its natural beauty, that attracts visitors from all over the world, including many people from the United Kingdom," the queen said in a statement.

"As you celebrate this momentous day, I send you and all Barbadians my warmest good wishes for your happiness, peace and prosperity in the future."

Also in the crowd was the island's most prominent native, Rihanna, who was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Saint Michael and grew up in Bridgetown. She was given the honor of being named a National Hero of Barbados during Tuesday's ceremony.

"May you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honor to your nation by your works, by your actions,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley told her.

Back in London, the royal family continued to grapple with the attention from a new book and a two-part BBC documentary involving Prince Harry and Prince William.

The BBC film, called "The Princes and the Press," examines the intense media coverage of the brothers. In a rare move, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace released a joint statement to the BBC.

“A free, responsible and open press is of vital importance to a healthy democracy," the royals said. "However, too often it is overblown and unfounded claims from unnamed sources that are presented as facts and it is disappointing when anyone, including the BBC, gives them credibility.”

The royal family also has refuted reporting about Prince Charles and his sons in the new book "Brothers and Wives" by author Christopher Andersen, who appeared exclusively on TODAY Monday.