Global leaders and dignitaries from U.S. President Joe Biden to Emperor Naruhito of Japan came together in London on Monday for the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, the U.K.’s longest-serving monarch.
The ceremony began at 11 a.m. in Westminster Abbey following a short procession to move her coffin from Parliament, where she had been lying in state for four days. Hundreds of thousands of people queued for miles to pay their respects, with the final few filing past at 6:30 a.m.
Though the period of mourning continues for King Charles III and the royal family, for ordinary Britons watching at home or on large screens set up around the country the funeral marks the culmination of days of pomp and pageantry since the Queen died Sept. 8 at her residence in Scotland.
Her passing brought politics to an abrupt halt just hours after new Prime Minister Liz Truss had announced a sweeping package to help people facing a cost-of-living crisis that is likely to define her premiership.
More fundamentally, the end of a reign dating from 1952 — before more than 85% of the country was born — was a major jolt in a period of great uncertainty. The U.K. is still struggling with the fallout of the pandemic and Brexit, which has bolstered calls for independence in Scotland.
On Monday, though, such questions were put temporarily aside. More than 2,000 official guests, from heads of state to representatives of causes the Queen supported were due to be present, alongside members of the public who made contributions to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
European royalty was also present, while the presidents of France, Germany, Italy, Brazil and Israel also attended. The U.S. President and First Lady Jill Biden paid their respects at Westminster Hall on Sunday before signing condolence books at a state mansion near Buckingham Palace and attending a reception hosted by the king.
“She was the same in person as her image — decent, honorable and all about service,” Biden said. The Queen, he said, reminded him of his mother.
A “National Moment of Reflection” took place across the U.K. on Sunday, with Big Ben tolling once at 8 p.m. to mark the start of the one-minute silence and again at 8:01 p.m. to mark its end.
The service was due to last an hour, led by Dean of Westminster David Hoyle, with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby delivering the sermon. As well as her formal role as Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England which came with monarchy, the Queen’s personal faith has long been widely recognized.
In her first annual Christmas Day broadcast in 1952, Elizabeth asked her subjects: “Pray for me that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.”
Guests were expected to wear black morning suits or black lounge suits, while women were guided to wear black dresses and hats. Serving military officers were permitted to wear their uniforms, but not to carry swords.
It is an official public holiday in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Many businesses including supermarkets were shut to allow workers to watch the funeral. More than 100 Heathrow Airport flights will be disrupted “to avoid noise” and to ensure London is quiet during a two-minute national silence as the funeral ends.
As the Queen’s coffin was carried into the Abbey, the “Sentences” were sung by the choir of Westminster Abbey. The lines of scripture set to music have been used at every state funeral since the early 18th century. The first lesson was due to be read by Baroness Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. The second lesson, read by Truss, will be followed by the hymn, “The Lord’s my Shepherd.” The service will end with a recital of the “Last Post” and a lament played by the Queen’s personal piper.
There will then be a procession from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch, with King Charles III leading royal family members behind the gun carriage. Big Ben will toll at one-minute intervals as the procession departs.
Elizabeth’s coffin will then be transferred to a hearse and travel by road to Windsor Castle. A committal service, attended by 800 people including some of the Queen’s household staff and foreign dignitaries, will be held in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, when the crown will be removed.
At 7:30 p.m., her family will attend a private interment service where she will be placed next to her husband, Philip. Described by Elizabeth as her “strength and stay,” the Duke of Edinburgh died in April 2021, aged 99.
No date has been set for the coronation of Charles, the eldest of Elizabeth’s four children, who became king automatically at his mother’s death. At 73, he is the oldest person to accede to the throne in British history. In a statement issued by Buckingham Palace Sunday, the King said that he and his wife, the Queen Consort, had been “moved beyond measure” by the outpouring of mourning for the Queen.
“As we all prepare to say our last farewell, I wanted simply to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those countless people who have been such a support and comfort to my Family and myself in this time of grief,” he said.
(c) 2022, Bloomberg · Kitty Donaldson