The death of Queen Elizabeth II, which Buckingham Palace announced on Thursday, is a watershed moment for Britain, at once incomparable and incalculable.
It marks both the loss of a revered monarch — the only one most Britons have ever known —
and the end of a figure who served as a living link to the glories of World War II Britain,
presided over its fitful adjustment to a post-colonial, post-imperial era and saw it through its bitter divorce from the European Union.
There is no analogous public figure who will have been mourned as deeply in Britain — Winston Churchill might come closest —
or whose death could provoke a greater reckoning with the identity and future of the country.
Elizabeth’s extraordinary longevity lent her an air of permanence that makes her death, even at an advanced age, somehow shocking.
The ups and downs of the queen’s seven-decade reign were many, a tapestry of events that traces the history of the 20th and early 21st centuries.
Britain and 15 other Commonwealth realms over which she presided are a shadow of the empire-in-decline she inherited in 1952.
How many of those countries will continue to recognize the British monarch as their head of state is an open question.