In scenes of inimitable pageantry, pall bearers carried her flag-draped casket along the aisle in the country’s first state funeral since 1965, when Winston Churchill was afforded the honour.
Tens of thousands of people lined the streets as the queen’s casket made the short journey from Westminster Hall where she had been lying in state, pulled along on a gun carriage by 142 sailors with arms linked. A bell tolled and bagpipes skirled.
Pin-drop silence fell over London’s Hyde Park nearby as thousands of people, who for hours had picnicked and chatted, went quiet the second the queen’s coffin appeared on screens erected for the occasion.
Shortly before, hundreds of armed personnel in full ceremonial dress had marched past in a historic display of kilts, bearskin hats, scarlet tunics and bands in white gloves.
Inside the abbey, lines of scripture were set to music that has been used at every state funeral since the early 18th century. Among those walking behind the casket was her great-grandson and future king, 9-year-old Prince George.
The 2,000-strong congregation included some 500 world leaders and foreign royal families.
Among them was U.S. President Joe Biden, who paid tribute to a 96-year-old who earned respect for her sense of duty and represented a constant as Britain’s role in the world diminished and changed.
“You were fortunate to have had her for 70 years,” Biden said. “We all were.”
Among the crowds who came from around Britain and beyond, people were climbing lampposts and standing on barriers and ladders to catch a glimpse of the royal procession – one of the largest of its kind in modern history in the capital.
Millions more will watch on television at home on a public holiday declared for the occasion. The funeral of a British monarch has never been televised before.
Along the Mall, one of London’s grand ceremonial boulevards, the crowd stood 15-20 people deep in places.
Some wore smart black suits and dresses. Others were dressed in hoodies, leggings and tracksuits. A woman with dyed green hair stood next to a man in morning suit as they waited for the procession to begin.
Alistair Campbell Binnings, 64, said he left his home in Norfolk at midnight to make his way to London.
“This is a one-off. We would only be here for the queen. We just felt we had to be here. She was what we always needed in a time of crisis,” he said.
Elizabeth died on Sept. 8 at her Scottish summer home, Balmoral Castle.
Her health had been in decline, and for months the monarch who had carried out hundreds of official engagements well into her 90s had withdrawn from public life.
However, in line with her sense of duty she was photographed just two days before she died, looking frail but smiling and holding a walking stick as she appointed Liz Truss as her 15th and final prime minister.
Such was her longevity and her inextricable link with Britain that even her own family found her passing a shock.
“We all thought she was invincible,” Prince William told well-wishers.
The 40th sovereign in a line that traces its lineage back to 1066, Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952, Britain’s first post-imperial monarch.
She oversaw her nation trying to carve out a new place in the world, and she was instrumental in the emergence of the Commonwealth of Nations, now a grouping comprising 56 countries.
When she succeeded her father George VI, Winston Churchill was her first prime minister and Josef Stalin led the Soviet Union. She met major figures from politics to entertainment and sport including Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Pele and Roger Federer.
Despite being reputedly 5ft 3ins (1.6m) tall, she dominated rooms with her presence and became a towering global figure, praised in death from Paris and Washington to Moscow and Beijing. National mourning was observed in Brazil, Jordan and Cuba, countries with which she had little direct link.
“Queen Elizabeth II was without any shadow of a doubt the best known figure in the world, the most photographed person in history, the most recognisable person,” historian Anthony Seldon told Reuters.
Transport chiefs said one million people were expected in central London for the funeral, while police say it will be the biggest security operation ever in the capital.
The tenor bell of the Abbey – the site of coronations, weddings and burials of English and then British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years – was due to toll 96 times.
“Here, where Queen Elizabeth was married and crowned, we gather from across the nation, from the Commonwealth and from the nations of the world, to mourn our loss, to remember her long life of selfless service,” David Hoyle, the Dean of Westminster will say.
In addition to dignitaries, the congregation includes those awarded Britain’s highest military and civilian medals for gallantry, representatives from charities supported by the queen, and those who made “extraordinary contributions” to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funeral will end with the Last Post trumpet salute before the church and the nation falls silent for two minutes.
Afterwards, the coffin will be brought through central London, past the queen’s Buckingham Palace home to the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner, with the monarch and the royal family following again on foot during the 1.5 mile (2.4 km) procession.
From there, it will be placed on a hearse to be driven to Windsor Castle, west of London, for a service at St. George’s Chapel. This will conclude with the crown, orb and sceptre – symbols of the monarch’s power and governance – being removed from the coffin and placed on the altar.
The Lord Chamberlain, the most senior official in the royal household, will break his ‘Wand of Office’, signifying the end of his service to the sovereign, and place it on the casket.
It will then be lowered into the royal vault as the Sovereign’s Piper plays a lament, slowly walking away until music in the chapel gradually fades.
Later in the evening, in a private family service, the coffin of Elizabeth and her husband of more than seven decades Prince Philip, who died last year aged 99, will be buried together at the King George VI Memorial Chapel, where her parents and sister, Princess Margaret, also rest.
“We’re so happy you’re back with Grandpa. Goodbye dear grannie, it has been the honour of our lives to have been your granddaughters and we’re so very proud of you,” grandchildren Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie said.