Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has died, aged 96

Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history and the head-of-state for New Zealand, has died aged 96.

The announcement was made by Buckingham Palace on Friday, putting Operation London Bridge - the plan for what happens following the Queen's death - into motion.

"The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon," the family said. "The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow."

Crowned in 1953, the Queen was the longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-serving female head of state in history.

Born Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary in London in 1926, nobody thought she would be Queen. The eldest of two daughters, she was third in line to the throne behind her uncle, King Edward VIII, and father, George. But a royal scandal saw her uncle abdicate the throne in 1936 and her father become King - suddenly, Elizabeth was next in line.

In 1947, she married Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, with whom she had four children: Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

In 1952, when Elizabeth and her husband Philip were on an official trip to Kenya, King George VI died. Elizabeth's husband delivered her the news and the royal party quickly returned home. 

The death of her father officially marked the start of her reign, but she wasn't crowned until 1953 to allow for an appropriate period of time to mourn King George VI. Her coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey was the first broadcast around the world. 

The Queen was a regular visitor to New Zealand, coming here 10 times. Her first visit in 1954 brought enthusiastic crowds. Around 10,000 people flooded Tirau, which had a normal population of 600, to see her. 

In 1990, a visit to Waitangi brought with it more hostile crowds, with a woman throwing a t-shirt at the Queen and spectators heckling official speakers. 

Her last visit was in 2002, to celebrate 50 years on the throne. 

In 2012 she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee - 60 years on the throne - and that year also featured in a short film played during the London Olympics opening ceremony. She appeared alongside Daniel Craig as James Bond, with a body-double of her jumping out of a plane at the conclusion. The following year, she received an honorary BAFTA for her patronage to film, called the "most memorable Bond girl yet". 

Two years later, in 2015, she surpassed Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning British monarch in history. In 2017, she marked her Sapphire Jubilee, while preparations were underway for her historic Platinum Jubilee in 2022, her 70th year in power. In May 2024, she would have been the longest-reigning monarch of a sovereign nation of all time, surpassing Louis XIV

Throughout Queen Elizabeth's rule, she became known for being a modern matriarch of the royal family. However, her reign was not always smooth sailing.

In particular, the 1990s were difficult on the Royal Family and the Queen. 

In 1992, which she referred to as her annus horribilis (horrible year), her son Prince Andrew split from his wife Sarah, while her daughter Princess Anne divorced Captain Mark Phillips, both against a rising republican sentiment in the United Kingdom. That year also, a large fire erupted in Windsor Castle and in December, heir to the throne, Prince Charles separated from Princess Diana.

In 1997, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in a Paris tunnel and the Queen was criticised for staying mostly silent in the aftermath. She eventually spoke to her people in a television broadcast, calming concerns. However, the treatment of Diana before her death by the family as well their handling of events afterwards long continued to hang over them.

The British Empire also underwent huge change during her rule, becoming the Commonwealth of Nations in 1959. A large number of states have left since that time, mostly in Africa. 

She also reigned through the COVID-19 pandemic, spending much of 2020 isolated at Windsor Castle. In a television broadcast watched by 24 million in the UK, the Queen said "better days will return" and "we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again".

Despite controversies, the Queen remained extremely popular in the United Kingdom and globally. A YouGov poll of Brits in August found 80 percent had a positive view of Queen Elizabeth. Considering the need for political neutrality, little was known of the Queen's exact personal feelings, but she has given some hints away over the years. In 2021, she said she was "irritated" by world leaders not doing enough on climate change.

She was the patron of hundreds of charities, regularly taking time to attend visits or open new buildings. 

In April 2021, her husband, Prince Philip, who she referred to as her "strength and stay", died peacefully. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Queen was forced to sit alone at his funeral, images of which went viral around the world and sparked global sympathy for the monarch, with many commenting on her leadership in setting the standards for others during the crisis.

Months later, in October, the Queen spent a night in hospital after cancelling a scheduled trip to Northern Island. Buckingham Palace said she underwent "preliminary investigations" and remained in "good spirits" at the time. She later also cancelled her in-person appearance at COP26.

On February 6, 2022, the Queen achieved what no other British monarch before her had - she reached 70 years on the throne. A year of celebrations were planned to mark her Platinum Jubilee, with New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, wishing her well "for this historic year". 

Just a few weeks later, the Queen tested positive for COVID-19. A statement from Buckingham Palace said the 95-year-old experienced "mild cold-like symptoms", but continued to conduct light duties at Windsor Castle.

It's unclear exactly how the Queen contracted the virus, but many of her staff at Windsor previously tested positive, while her eldest son Prince Charles and daughter-in-law Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, had received positive results earlier in the month.

Queen Elizabeth II will be succeeded on the throne by Prince Charles.

The Queen's 10 visits to New Zealand: 

1953-54: The Queen's visit with her husband Prince Phillip was the first to New Zealand by a reigning monarch. The young Queen and her dashing husband attended 110 functions in 46 towns and were greeted by enthusiastic crowds everywhere they went

1963: Queen Elizabeth attended Waitangi

1970: She was accompanied at the James Cook bicentenary celebrations by her children Prince Charles and Princess Anne 

1974: Closed the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch

1977: Marked her Silver Jubilee

1981: A short visit after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Melbourne

1986: Had egg thrown at her during a rally in Ellerslie, Auckland

1990: Closed the Auckland Commonwealth Games

1995: CHOGM meeting in Auckland

2002: The Queen's last visit to New Zealand.