Queen Elizabeth II died Thursday, Sept. 8, at the age of 96. As the longest-reigning monarch in British history, she held a position in the British government steeped in centuries of tradition. Between the annual tagging of royal swans along the Thames known as Swan Upping and a ceremony stretching back to the 13th century known as Royal Maundy where the queen would hand out silver to elderly citizens, the British monarchy is grounded by ancient customs. But in 2001, following the terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, Queen Elizabeth II broke with 600 years of tradition in a show of solidarity with the United States.
As a sign of respect to the American people, Queen Elizabeth II requested the Band of the Coldstream Guards — a unit dating back to 1785 — play “The Star-Spangled Banner” rather than the traditional British marches or current popular songs during the daily Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. The ceremony dates back to the 15th century and the reign of King Henry VII. Two days after the attacks, the US national anthem — normally reserved for play during a visit by American dignitaries — was performed before a large crowd and broadcast on televisions across the world.
In footage of the queen’s display of unity, tearful onlookers can be seen waving American flags and wiping tears from their eyes. Two months later, British troops would join Americans in Afghanistan to hunt for those responsible for the terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 people. British and American service members continued to fight alongside one another in Afghanistan for the next 20 years.