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Tributes to Queen Elizabeth pour in from across the world

In the U.S., flags at the White House and at all federal buildings, grounds, military bases, naval vessels and embassies have been lowered to half-staff.

(CN) — A shocked United Kingdom began what will likely be dayslong, profound mourning Friday over the death of the nation's longest-serving monarch.

Queen Elizabeth II died at age 96 the previous afternoon at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Buckingham Palace said the cherished and beloved queen died “peacefully” with her eldest son, Prince Charles, at her side. Shortly after her death, Charles was declared King Charles III. He made his first speech as monarch Friday evening.

“I speak to you today with feelings of profound sorrow," Charles said in his televised speech. “Queen Elizabeth’s was a life well-lived, a promise with destiny kept, and she is mourned most deeply in her passing. That promise of lifelong service I renew to you all today."

Tributes poured in from around the globe for Elizabeth, who was remembered as one of the world's towering figures after 70 years on the British throne. She was beloved by world leaders and millions of people for her many good attributes, including her warm smile, humility and sense of humor.

Her death marked the end of an era not just for Britain but for the world. When she ascended to the throne following her father's early death in 1952, Stalin was still in power in the Soviet Union and Harry Truman was U.S. president.

Over the course of her reign, Elizabeth traveled extensively as she tried to ease the slow dismantling of the British empire following World War II and forge relations with leaders around the globe.

Among her more memorable trips, she visited the Great Wall of China in 1986 and the Kremlin in 1994. She toured the United States in 1957, a trip that included lunch with Herbert Hoover, the former president, in New York City.

The British monarch is the head of state not only in the U.K. but also in 14 other former colonies, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica and a number of smaller island nations.

She met 13 of the past 14 American presidents and helped cement the so-called “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain. The only president she didn't meet was Lyndon B. Johnson.

On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden ordered American flags to be lowered to half-staff at the White House and at all public buildings, grounds, military posts, naval stations, naval vessels, and overseas embassies and consular offices until sunset on the day of her interment.

“Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was more than a monarch. She defined an era,” Biden said in a statement. “In a world of constant change, she was a steadying presence and a source of comfort and pride for generations of Britons, including many who have never known their country without her.”

Biden said the queen “led always with grace, an unwavering commitment to duty, and the incomparable power of her example.”

The White House added: “Her history-making reign bore witness to an age of unprecedented human advancement and the forward march of human dignity. Her legacy will loom large in the pages of British history, and in the story of our world.”

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, stands with her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, at Clarence House, the royal couple's London residence, in August 1951. (AP Photo/Eddie Worth, File)

Tributes and condolences were delivered by celebrities, religious leaders and the heads of state, including from some of Britain's most ferocious adversaries such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“The most important events in the modern history of the United Kingdom are inseparably linked to the name of Her Majesty. For many decades, Elizabeth II rightfully enjoyed the love and respect of her subjects, as well as authority on the world stage,” Putin said in a statement.

Putin met the queen in 2003 when he became the first Russian leader in more than 125 years to make a state visit to Britain. At the time, Russia was accepted as a partner with the West, but the relationship turned toxic in the ensuing years as Putin's regime turned more authoritarian and deeply antagonistic to NATO's desire to expand onto the former Soviet territories of Ukraine and Georgia.

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In Britain, 10 days of mourning were announced, a period that will be remembered for round-the-clock media coverage as her body lies in state at Westminster Hall, the royal family gathers for vigils, bells toll across the country and gun salutes somberly honor her life.

After news of her poor health broke on Thursday, thousands of Britons gathered outside Buckingham Palace in London in emotional scenes of bewilderment and grief. Mourners sang “God Save the Queen” and renditions of “God Save the King,” as the national anthem will now be called following Charles' ascendancy to the throne.

Elizabeth was cherished by many Britons as an exemplary moral leader whose longevity and steadfastness provided them with a sense of certainty.

“It is, quite simply, hard to think of British life without her presence,” the Sun, a British tabloid, exclaimed. “'God Save The Queen' is a phrase embedded in the consciousness of Britons of all ages and hundreds of millions worldwide. The new world will seem strange.”

The newspaper added: “Not many alive today have experienced it and what memories do remain of the years before her reign are dimming. Hers is the head on our coins and banknotes. The picture on the walls of offices, factories and homes. Hers was the voice of measured calm in the annual TV address on Christmas Day.”

Prince Charles kneels before his mother, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, during the 1969, investiture ceremony of the Prince of Wales at Caernafon Castle in Wales. (AP Photo, File)

At 73, Charles will undoubtedly make for a massive change as monarch. He was the longest-serving heir to the throne in British history and comes into his role as king after a lifetime of waiting for this moment to arrive.

British commentators believe he's been well groomed by Elizabeth for his job as the head of state, head of the army and head of the Church of England.

Under Britain's constitutional monarchy, the monarch is supposed to be strictly neutral on political matters and Elizabeth faithfully adhered to this principle.

But Charles has strayed into politics with his outspoken views. He is a strident critic, for instance, of modern architecture and he's spoken about the benefits of alternative medicine. He is most well-known for his environmental stances and campaigns to combat global warming.

He has also been accused of violating Britain's constitutional order following the disclosure of memos — known as the “black spider memos” — that he wrote to government ministers expressing his views. Charles has promised to avoid meddling in politics as king.

During his speech on Friday evening, Charles promised to fulfill his duties as monarch.

“As the Queen herself did with such unswerving devotion, I too now solemnly pledge myself, throughout the remaining time God grants me, to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation," he said. “And wherever you may live in the United Kingdom, or in the realms and territories across the world, and whatever may be your background or beliefs, I shall endeavour to serve you with loyalty, respect and love, as I have throughout my life."

Visibly upset at his mother's death, Charles offered thanks on behalf of his family and himself for the outpouring of grief and support.

“They mean more to me than I can ever possibly express," he said. “And to my darling Mama, as you begin your last great journey to join my dear late Papa, I want simply to say this: thank you. Thank you for your love and devotion to our family and to the family of nations you have served so diligently all these years. 'May ‘flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest.'”

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Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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