Britain's queen mother dies

LONDON -- The Queen Mother Elizabeth, a symbol of courage and dignity during a tumultuous century of war, social upheaval and royal scandal, died in her sleep Saturday, Buckingham Palace said. She was 101 years old.

After years of frailty and ill health, the queen mother died at Royal Lodge, Windsor, outside London, the Palace said. She was beloved by generations of Britons despite ups and downs in the popularity of the royal family.

Queen Elizabeth II was at her mother's side when she passed away. The queen mother had been rarely seen in recent months because of her failing health.

The queen mother "had become increasingly frail in recent weeks following her bad cough and chest infection over Christmas," said a Palace spokesman.

She was best known to younger generations as the mother of Queen Elizabeth II and grandmother of Prince Charles. Remarkably sprightly despite her age, the queen mother was a fixture at royal occasions, delighting in mixing with the public and greeting people who flocked to meet her.

But those who were young when German bombs rained down on London in 1940 remembered her as the queen who endured the blitz with them and visited their shattered homes.

Britain's main television and radio channels interrupted regular programs with news of the death. National figures and ordinary people from all walks of life united in expressing admiration and grief for the queen mother.

The government said Parliament will be recalled from recess so politicians can pay their respects.

The queen mother's body was expected to be moved to the Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor Great Park on Sunday morning. Funeral plans were expected to be announced today.

At the main gates of Buckingham Palace, as people began to arrive to mourn the passing of the queen mother, a lone piper began to play the song "The Flowers of the Forest" as a mark of remembrance.

The queen mother underwent extensive surgery in 1996 and 1998 for hip replacements and was hospitalized last year after falling and breaking her collar bone. Until a few months ago, she continued a regular schedule of public appearances that would have challenged a much younger person. When her health became frail, she sometimes appeared in public on an electric cart that was christened the "queen mum mobile."

On her 80th birthday, she even won praise from William Hamilton, a lawmaker who vehemently opposed the monarchy.

"If there had ever been a revolution in Britain in the last 80 years, she surely would have been spared," Hamilton said. "Unlike some of her brood, she never seems to put a foot wrong."