Queen Elizabeth II has begun the journey to her final resting place at Windsor after a momentous state funeral at Westminster Abbey, attended by world leaders and British citizens mourning the country’s longest-serving monarch.
Vast crowds thronged the route of the Queen’s coffin, waiting for it to make its way from the abbey through the heart of ceremonial London to Wellington Arch, before being taken west to Windsor for a private ceremony of committal.
The state funeral, the first held in Britain since Winston Churchill’s death in 1965, came at the end of 10 days of national mourning in Britain, a period that saw the country come together to mark a dislocation in its history but also a moment of unity and continuity.
The Queen’s coffin was on Monday morning brought on a gun carriage to the abbey from the cavernous silence of Westminster Hall, where she had laid in rest for four full days; her lying-in-state ended at 6.30am on Monday.
Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world had joined “the queue” — a line stretching for five miles along the banks of the river Thames — to pay tribute to the Queen, who reigned for 70 years. People in the queue spoke of a rare sense of duty and camaraderie.
Before the funeral King Charles said he was “deeply touched” by the support he had received from across the world. The King said he and Camilla, the Queen Consort, were “moved beyond measure”.
The state funeral, whose order of service and hymns were agreed in consultation with the late Queen, saw an extraordinary cast of world leaders drawn to London to remember a woman whose reign spanned the birth of the modern age.
US president Joe Biden, French president Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Emperor Naruhito — making his first trip outside his country since ascending the throne in 2019 — joined European royalty in the abbey, where the late Queen was married and crowned.
Around 200 key workers and volunteers, recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in June, were also invited to attend. The leaders of Russia, Afghanistan, Syria and Venezuela were among those left off the guest list.
The 10 days of carefully choreographed mourning were intended to provide ample space for grief but also to mark the role of the British royal family as a source of continuity in national life. Westminster Abbey has been the venue for royal coronations since William the Conqueror in 1066.
The Queen’s great-grandchildren, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, joined the King and other members of royal family as the coffin processed through the abbey. The event was expected to have been watched by one of the world’s biggest ever live broadcast audiences.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, noted in his sermon that “those who serve” would be remembered longer than “those who cling to power and privilege”, a remark that might have resonated with some of the politicians gathered in the abbey.
He also recalled the late monarch’s national broadcast during the Covid pandemic: “Service in life, hope in death: all who follow the Queen’s example, and inspiration of trust and faith in God, can with her say: ‘We will meet again.’”
While huge crowds assembled in central London on a special bank holiday to witness the ceremony in person, screens were also erected in cathedrals and theatres around the country; around 125 cinemas were expected to screen the funeral.
Those attending the state funeral in person began arriving long before it started at 11am, with many of the world leaders arriving on buses as a major security operation swung into action. Around 10,000 police officers were on duty at the event along with 1,500 soldiers.
Roads and bridges were shut to traffic while a ring of steel, including 23 miles of barriers to control crowds and keep areas secure, was set up.
There has been debate this week in the media about whether Britain’s sombre and united response to the Queen’s passing, along with the spectacular ceremony, is a reminder of the country’s greatness or a distraction from its many problems.
But while this week many world leaders will assemble for the general assembly of the UN in New York, on Monday the gothic church of Westminster Abbey was briefly the focal point of global power as the world remembered Elizabeth II.
Some of the mourners wiped away tears during the service, which began with the hymn chosen by the Queen herself: “The Day Thou Gavest, Lord is Ended”.