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Operation Unicorn: Here's what happens now that Queen Elizabeth has died

For most people, this is the first time they have witnessed a change in the monarch in the United Kingdom.

Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Sept. 8, 2022, was the longest-reigning monarch in Britain’s history. She ascended to the throne in 1952 and stayed there until her death at 96 years old.

With the queen’s death comes the first time most of the world will see a new monarch ascend to the British throne. So ... what happens next?

What happens next?

There are several detailed plans for the aftermath of the queen's death. If Queen Elizabeth were to have died in London, a process called “Operation London Bridge” would unfold. But she died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, meaning an arrangement called “Operation Unicorn" is underway.

According to British historian Andrew Roberts, right after the queen took her final breath, her private secretary, Edward Young, called Prime Minister Liz Truss and informed her of her death. Then the Privy Council of the United Kingdom (think of them as the queen's advisors) was informed, followed by various official notifications that go out to the civil service.

Follow our live blog for ongoing updates on Queen Elizabeth’s death.

Once the Privy Council was informed, the flags of all official buildings are to be flown at half-mast within 10 minutes.

The queen's son, Charles, who is the new king and announced after his mother's death that he will go by King Charles III, and his wife, Camilla, the queen consort, are staying in Balmoral until Friday, when they will travel to London. The king released a statement shortly after his mother's death was announced, saying this is a "moment of great sadness for me and all members of my family."

Later on Thursday, the prime minister made the following statement:

“We are all devastated by the news we have just heard from Balmoral. The death of Her Majesty the Queen is a huge shock to the nation and to the world. Queen Elizabeth II was the rock on which modern Britain was built. Our country has grown and flourished under her reign."

In a statement released Friday morning, one day after the queen's death, King Charles stated that his wish is for a period of royal mourning to last seven days after her passing, with flags remaining at half-mast at royal residences until the day after the period ends. Royal salutes will be fired in London's Hyde Park Friday afternoon with one round for each year of the queen's life. Royal residences will also be closed until after the queen's funeral.

When does Prince Charles become king?

Immediately upon the queen's death, Prince Charles, the queen's oldest child with the late Prince Philip, automatically becomes king, while his wife, Camilla, will become queen consort.

Queen Elizabeth actually made an announcement in February 2022 stating her desires for the public to support her son and Camilla after her death.

"When, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes king, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support that you have given me," she said at the time. "And it is my sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as queen consort as she continues her own loyal service.”

“There is no gap whatsoever in the marquis," Roberts said. "The line, ‘The queen is dead. Long live the king’ is the way to look at this. There’s not a second in history where there isn’t a monarch.”

Buckingham Palace released a statement Friday morning stating at the king will be “proclaimed at the Accession Council” Saturday morning at St. James’s Palace in London. The process will have two steps: first, the Privy Council will meet without the king to “proclaim the Sovereign and formally approve various consequential orders,” the statement read. The king will then make his declaration and “read and sign an oath to uphold the security of the church in Scotland and approve Orders in Council which facilitate continuity of government.”

The king gave his first address Friday at 1 p.m. ET.

However, don't expect his coronation ceremony to happen for at least a few months after the queen's passing. After all, Queen Elizabeth's coronation ceremony didn't happen until more than a year after her father's death.

When would the queen's funeral be?

Because the queen died at Balmoral, her body will be transferred from that location to Holyrood in Edinburgh. The coffin will be brought to the castle’s throne room, where it will be met by members of the royal family. Charles will arrive at Holyrood the next day. 

The casket will then be brought to St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh for some services before being transferred to London, England five days after Queen Elizabeth’s death. 

Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is expected to happen 10 days after her death, Roberts said. During that time, the queen will most likely lie in state and the public will have an opportunity to come and pay their respects.

Editor’s note: On Sep. 8, TODAY incorrectly stated in this article that the queen had died at Balmoral Castle. The queen had not yet died.