With a magnificent funeral steeped in tradition and a send-off reflective of the widespread popularity she managed to retain over her remarkable seven-decade reign, Britain is saying goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II.
On Monday morning, dignitaries and members of the royal family gathered at Westminster Abbey for a solemn service. In an effort to see the sovereign’s flag-draped coffin as it was transported by hearse to her final resting place, tens of thousands more people flocked to the streets along the 40-kilometer (25-mile) procession route that runs from Windsor to central London.
The Queen’s coffin was carried in the third and final procession of the day past the cheering crowds lining the Long Walk to Windsor Castle for her committal service and burial at St. George’s Chapel.
Although the passing of Queen Elizabeth, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, had been anticipated and meticulously planned for years—the funeral plans, code-named “Operation London Bridge,” were long the subject of rumors—the scope of this time of mourning and the public outpouring of emotion have still taken many people by surprise. Her passing signifies the end of an era and a change in the country’s landscape, even for those who are not fans of the royal family.
At 96, the Queen was a nearly mythical figure of stability in a world of constant change. War and a pandemic marked the beginning and end of her 70-year reign, and uncertainty about Britain’s place in the world was a defining feature.
She assumed office as the British Empire was coming to an end, and her passing has rekindled debate about the nation’s troubled history of colonialism. It happens at a time when there is a lot of political and economic turmoil, not just in the UK but all over the world.
Her broad appeal and deft diplomacy were demonstrated by the fact that presidents, prime ministers, princes and princesses, an emperor and empress, and other public figures sat side by side in Westminster Abbey to pay their respects. There were more than 200 invited guests, including Joe Biden, the US vice president, and other Commonwealth leaders like Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada. One aspect of a plan that amounted to the single largest security operation that British authorities had seen since World War II saw many people trade limos for buses to get to the funeral.
The Queen was a patron of countless charities, including ones that supported women’s rights, animal welfare, and humanitarian causes. Along with members of the emergency services and government employees, those patronages were represented by some of the 2,000 attendees.
The memorial service honored the Queen with the kind of pageantry she used to promote the royal family and “brand Britain” throughout her life. It served as both a state and a religious service and marked the conclusion of 10 days of mourning.
The service was held in the same nave of the abbey where the Queen was crowned 69 years ago and married her late husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, 75 years ago. Prince Philip passed away last year. Her coronation was televised for the first time at her request because she was a ruler who understood the soft power of spectacle. This allowed millions of people all over the world to experience the splendor of the monarchy. On Monday, she was once more the center of attention.
She presided over 15 Commonwealth countries, including the UK, as their head of state and was the Church of England’s Supreme Governor. Her appeal as a figurehead stemmed from her strong sense of responsibility, assiduous work ethic, and capacity to appear impartial yet approachable.
Admiration for the Queen has prevented a serious examination of the brutal legacy of the monarchy in former colonies, including its historical ties to the slave trade, but this is starting to change as some Commonwealth nations seek independence.
Antigua and Barbuda announced last week that they would hold a vote on whether to become a republic, and Barbados became the first nation to do so in nearly 30 years last November.
The woman whose likeness is on coins and postage stamps and who, according to surveys, appears most frequently in people’s dreams was the Queen, and many of her subjects felt as though they knew her.
Chris Rowe, 60, who was camping out on a grassy bank of The Mall to watch the funeral procession with his wife, told CNN, “She isn’t just a 21st century monarch, she’s something more.” He added that he had come to London to witness “the continuity of the nation” and that the Queen represented the “continuity of a hundred-year-old tradition.”
There were no screens, but a radio broadcast of the funeral was audible to mourners on The Mall. People were motionless, looking down. Later, children were hoisted aloft on the funeral procession’s Children were carried aloft on shoulders to watch the military units pass by, and people took photos with their smartphones to document the end of an era.
In the past four days, mourners in a line that snaked for miles along the south bank of the River Thames from Westminster Hall, where the monarch’s body lay in state, were characterized by an almost familial sense of loss. Thousands of people queued for up to 20 hours to pay their respects to the Queen in true British fashion.
On Friday, the guards and members of the royal family, including King Charles III, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward, entered the large room while bowing their heads and stood silently guard over the velvet catafalque housing the coffin of Queen Elizabeth, which was adorned with the monarch’s jeweled crown, orb, and sceptre. A day later, Prince William and Prince Harry held their own somber vigil while dressed in military uniform, standing next to the other six grandchildren of the Queen.
The King and other royal family members followed the coffin on its last journey to the abbey on Monday morning from Westminster Hall. The first of the Queen’s 15 British prime ministers, Winston Churchill, was buried on the same gun carriage used for the funeral of the monarch’s father, King George VI.
She will be buried alongside her husband of 73 years, “her constant strength and guide,” the Duke of Edinburgh, in the King George VI Memorial Chapel later that evening in a private ceremony. The Queen’s father, the Queen Mother, and her sister Princess Margaret’s remains are also kept in this annex of St. George’s Chapel.
Lorraine Calloway, who traveled to Windsor. With her son Cohen, age 8, to take part in the historic day, said, “It just means so much to me.” It is very, very important to me that you come here to see the Queen’s final resting place.