Will Queen Elizabeth II’s Cause of Death Be Revealed?

With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, a number of legal questions have arisen about what was in her last will and how and when exactly did she die?

Here, Newsweek examines whether the Queen’s cause of death is likely to be revealed and why she may not have an official death certificate.

When did Queen Elizabeth II die?

Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8 at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

At 12.30pm UK time, Buckingham Palace released a statement of “concern” for the Queen’s health, which read:

“Following a further assessment this morning, the Queen’s doctors are concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended that she remains under medical supervision. The Queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral.”

Reports say the Queen had died at 4.30pm when Prime Minister Liz Truss was told.

Queen Elizabeth II pictured at Balmoral Castle during her last official public appearance on September 6. The Queen’s cause of death may not be officially released.
Jane Barlow – WPA Pool/Getty Images/Danny Lawson – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Members of the Royal Family visited Scotland and were briefed on the news before the official Palace announcement stated:

“The Queen passed away peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and Queen consort will remain at Balmoral tonight and return to London tomorrow.”

The Queen’s state funeral was held on September 19 at Westminster Abbey and she was later laid to rest with her husband at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

How did Queen Elizabeth II die?

An official cause of death for the late monarch has not been released and is unlikely to be, for a number of potential reasons including the fact that as sovereign her death is not legally required to be registered in England.

The Registration Act 1836, which was enacted by King William IV and sets out the legal requirements for births, deaths and marriages, does not apply to monarchs, only to their subjects.

The legislation states that it must “provide the means for a full register of the births, deaths and marriages of Her Majesty’s subjects in England”.

As Queen Elizabeth II is not her own “subject”, she is exempt. Without the need to register the death, there is no legal requirement to provide a death certificate, which would state the official cause of death.

In Britain any death certificate can be obtained through a Freedom of Information request, this includes death certificates of members of the Royal Family who (with the exception of the monarch) are not not exempt from registration.

Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle
Queen Elizabeth II pictured at Balmoral Castle, August 9, 2021. The monarch died on Scottish soil, meaning by law her death may need to be registered with Scottish authorities.
Jane Barlow – WPA Pool/Getty Images

While the Registration Act 1836 applies to the death of the sovereign in England, Elizabeth II did not die in England. She died in Scotland, which has a different legal structure for handling death registration.

Death registration in Scotland is done in accordance with the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965.

This Act states that “the death of every person dying in Scotland” must be recorded in accordance with its requirements. This includes presenting a death certificate to a registrar within seven days of death.

There is no provision or term of exclusion relating to the monarch in this law, which could mean that a death certificate and registration has been undertaken for Elizabeth.

If so, the certificate would, under normal circumstances, be available on request from the National Records of Scotland office. However in the case of a monarch it is likely that special arrangements were made to prevent this or that as Queen of England her death is still covered by the 1836 Act although it is in Scotland at time of death.

Whether or not the queen’s death was recorded remains to be seen.

Newsweek contacted the National Records of Scotland office.

Engagement service of Queen Elizabeth II
The burial service for Queen Elizabeth II took place at St George’s Chapel in Windsor on September 19.
Jonathan Brady – WPA Pool/Getty Image

When will we know?

If the Queen’s death has not been recorded, the only official way to confirm the cause of death is if King Charles III chooses to publish it.

It could either be from an official communication via Buckingham Palace or from the King or the late Queen’s medical staff. This is unprecedented, however, and would be unusual, as information about the personal health of royals is usually kept private.

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