Following the emotional remembrance of hundreds of thousands of Britons, Elizabeth II’s coffin made its final journey in London on Monday for a grandiose funeral in the presence of dignitaries from around the world who came to pay tribute to the sovereign and her record-breaking 70-year-old to welcome reign.
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In the middle of the day, Elizabeth II’s coffin entered Westminster Abbey, a Gothic jewel inextricably linked to the fate of the deceased.
A chapter of history will be opened with this state funeral of the last planetary queen, whose reign was unique in its length and duration, in front of 2,000 guests in Westminster Abbey.
With meticulously and relentlessly prepared pomp, they are completing a national mourning that has been marked by an immense surge of collective emotion since the death of Elizabeth II aged 96 on September 8 at her Castle of Balmoral, Scotland.
At 10.42am the coffin left the imposing catafalque on which it had been displayed to the public day and night for five days in the oldest chamber of Parliament, Westminster Hall.
With the royal standard draped and surmounted by the sparkling imperial crown, carried by eight grenadiers of the Royal Household Guard in distinctive red tunics, it was then placed on a gun carriage fired by Royal Navy seamen to the sound of bagpipes and drums from Westminster Abbey.
There, still a princess, she married the dashing Philip Mountbatten in November 1947, aged 21, before being crowned there on 2 June 1953, a year after becoming Queen.
The coffin arrived in procession followed by King Charles III. and the royal family. He will depart an hour later, at the end of the religious ceremony at 11:00 GMT, for a final journey to Windsor, 35km west of the capital, where the Queen will rest.
Before the ceremony, a bell rang 96 times every minute.
“I was there”
From US President Joe Biden to Japanese Emperor Naruhito to French President Emmanuel Macron, the gratin of world leaders came at this first state funeral since Winston Churchill in 1965. European royal families are also represented.
After the invasion of Ukraine, Russia was not invited. On the other hand, the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska is present.
Never before had London seen such an influx of dignitaries. Never before have the police in the capital faced such a security challenge.
In London, the surrounding streets are black with people. Young or old, curious or monarchist at heart, some dressed in black or sporting the national Union Jack, no one wants to miss this historic event. The day is a public holiday and some have even camped overnight or even several days in a row to ensure the best views.
“She’s worked so hard her whole life, she’s committed to this country. She never gave up until the end,” says Margaret McGee, 72, who is specifically from Northern Ireland.
“I will tell my children about this moment. I’ll say: I was there!” says Jack, 14, who came to Hyde Park Corner, not far from Buckingham Palace, with his parents early in the morning.
Among the spectators, some, among hundreds of thousands others, had already queued for hours several kilometers across London to pay their respects just before the coffin, before the doors of Westminster Hall were permanently closed to the public at dawn on Monday.
One last tear or bow and the feeling of having been part of history. “It’s incredible,” Chrissy Heerey, the very latest attendee, confided to AFP before joining the crowd, which pressed compactly into central London to attend the funeral with big screens interspersed or to catch a glimpse of the funeral procession .
For millions of Britons, Elizabeth II was the only reassuring anchor of stability in the tremors of a changing world.
She brought “stability” to a “chaotic” life, testified THay, a 59-year-old man. He hopes Charles will do the same “because we need something to hold on to.”
Crowds are also at their peak in Windsor, where the Queen has resided and will be resting since the coronavirus pandemic. Before the ceremony, the audience waits on camp chairs while sharing coffee and food, in a festive atmosphere laced with emotion.
“Today we want to celebrate his extraordinary life,” Pauline Huxtable, 64, told AFP. “The Queen has always done her job with dignity. She was a mother figure.”
At Westminster Abbey, no noise should disturb the solemnity of the moment – dozens of flights have been cancelled. The country then freezes for two minutes of silence.
The coffin, followed by King Charles III, Queen Consort Camilla and members of the Royal Family, is then driven off and again placed on a Royal Navy gun carriage before a historic procession, with great fanfare, passes through the streets of central London from Wellington’s Arch, from where he will leave for Windsor Castle by hearse.
More than 6,000 soldiers will participate.
Elizabeth II was the oldest reigning ruler in the world. In her life she lived through World War II, witnessed the dissolution of the British Empire, accession and then exit from the European Union.
Increasingly frail in recent months, suffering from mobility problems, Elizabeth II received her last public photograph two days before her death, still smiling, at brand-new Prime Minister Liz Truss.
She will be buried on Monday evening in the George VI Memorial, an annex to the castle chapel, along with her parents and Philip, who died in 2021.
After arduous days of travel in the four states of the United Kingdom, walking tours, combined with the loss of a mother, Charles III, 73, has to write his own story.
Some dreamed of a quick move with the new Prince of Wales, his son William, 40. But Charles III. promised, like his mother, to serve throughout his life.
Solemn, connecting, accessible and embracing, his first steps reassured, with the reassuring presence of Camilla at his side.
But while the approval rating has skyrocketed to 70%, according to YouGov, the many challenges are just beginning.
At the time of her death, Elizabeth II was Queen of 14 kingdoms in addition to Great Britain, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Some of these countries have made no secret of their desire to develop their connection with the monarchy.
The United Kingdom will then resume its thread of life, which has been interrupted since September 8th. The cost of living crisis and social movements are likely to hit the headlines again soon.