Queen’s Coffin Passes London Landmarks, in a Grand but Hushed Royal Display
LONDON — Borne on a gun carriage and saluted by the boom of artillery cannons and the tolling of Big Ben’s bell, the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II was carried on Wednesday from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster, a last transfer of the sovereign’s body from her family to the British state.
At 2:22 p.m., the coffin, draped in the imperial standard and bearing the imperial state crown on a purple velvet pillow, began its stately roll across the forecourt of Buckingham Palace and through the main gate. That precise time was chosen, officials said, because it allowed the procession to reach Westminster Hall at the stroke of 3 p.m. The queen will lie there in state until her funeral on Monday.
King Charles III, in dress uniform and carrying a field marshal’s baton, walked behind the coffin, joined by his sister, Princess Anne, and their two brothers, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. His elder son and heir, Prince William, newly named as the Prince of Wales, walked behind him, next to his brother, Prince Harry.
The procession, one of the most solemn of the public rituals marking the death of Elizabeth, was meant to have less fanfare than other ceremonies. But like every element of the queen’s mourning period, very little was left to chance. Even the sunny skies above the parade route were cleared of planes, with Heathrow Airport disrupting the schedules of flights to eliminate the distant roar of jet engines.
The cortege passed the most familiar symbols of official London — from Buckingham Palace to the Union Jack-lined vista of the Mall, then past government institutions on Whitehall and Downing Street — before arriving at Westminster Hall, an ancient building that is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster.
Though starkly formal, the queen’s 38-minute journey was also personal and poignant. Her family had mourned their beloved matriarch in the intimacy of Balmoral Castle, where she died last Thursday; now they were entrusting her to the nation. By midafternoon, the line of people waiting to view the coffin had snaked across the Thames to South London; the government introduced an electronic tracker to allow people to check the waiting time.
As the queen’s coffin left the palace, it was escorted by a sight familiar to anyone who has watched the changing of the guard. Grenadiers and Scots guards marched in two lines, following the rhythmic clop of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. Behind them, members of the queen’s household, including her private secretary and keeper of the privy purse, walked in a final gesture of service.
In walking behind the coffin, the members of the royal family took up the same positions they had during a procession on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on Monday. Their choice of dress reflected their sometimes turbulent personal circumstances.
Prince Andrew, who served in the Royal Navy during the Falklands War, wore a morning suit rather than a uniform, reflecting his banishment from royal duties because of his association with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sexual predator.
Some Key Moments in Queen Elizabeth’s Reign
Becoming queen. Following the death of King George VI, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary ascended to the throne on Feb. 6, 1952, at age 25. The coronation of the newly minted Queen Elizabeth II took place on June 2 the following year.
A historic visit. On May 18, 1965, Elizabeth arrived in Bonn on the first state visit by a British monarch to Germany in more than 50 years. The trip formally sealed the reconciliation between the two nations following the world wars.
First grandchild. In 1977, the queen stepped into the role of grandmother for the first time, after Princess Anne gave birth to a son, Peter. Elizabeth’s four children have given her a total of eight grandchildren, who have been followed by several great-grandchildren.
Princess Diana’s death. In a rare televised broadcast ahead of Diana’s funeral in 1997, Queen Elizabeth remembered the Princess of Wales, who died in a car crash in Paris at age 36, as “an exceptional and gifted human being.”
Golden jubilee. In 2002, celebrations to mark Elizabeth II’s 50 years as queen culminated in a star-studded concert at Buckingham Palace in the presence of 12,000 cheering guests, with an estimated one million more watching on giant screens set up around London.
A trip to Ireland. In May 2011, the queen visited the Irish Republic, whose troubled relationship with the British monarchy spanned centuries. The trip, infused with powerful symbols of reconciliation, is considered one of the most politically freighted trips of Elizabeth’s reign.
Breaking a record. As of 5:30 p.m. British time on Sept. 9, 2015, Elizabeth II became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, surpassing Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother. Elizabeth was 89 at the time, and had ruled for 23,226 days, 16 hours and about 30 minutes.
Marking 70 years of marriage. On Nov. 20, 2017, the queen and Prince Philip celebrated their 70th anniversary, becoming the longest-married couple in royal history. The two wed in 1947, as the country and the world was still reeling from the atrocities of World War II.
Losing her spouse. In 2021, Queen Elizabeth II bade farewell to Prince Philip, who died on April 9. An image of the queen grieving alone at the funeral amid coronavirus restrictions struck a chord with viewers at home following the event.
Prince Harry, who withdrew from his duties and moved to the United States in 2020 with his American-born wife, Meghan, also wore a morning suit. Andrew will wear his uniform for a final salute to his mother later in the week. A spokesman for Harry said he was content to wear civilian dress.
The female members of the family — Queen Camilla; Catherine, the Princess of Wales; and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex — rode to Westminster Hall in advance.
As the cortege made its way up the Mall, the crowd was initially hushed. The only sounds were the mournful strains of Beethoven’s funeral march, played by the queen’s band, punctuated by the firing of minute guns by the royal artillery in Hyde Park and the distant tolling of Big Ben, renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to honor the queen on her Diamond Jubilee.
Buckingham Palace only decided to include music on Wednesday morning, after a rehearsal, according to an official. It was a rare break from the meticulous planning of the events, much of which has been in the works for years.
The police erected green metal barriers around the parade route, leaving thousands of people to mill around outside, trying to catch a glimpse through gaps in the wall or watching livestream broadcasts of it on their mobile phones.
“It keeps freezing,” said Michael Day, 27, a broker who was trying to watch the procession on his iPhone. He said he was not surprised by the large crowds, which had begun forming early on Wednesday morning.
“She was a symbol of the U.K,” Mr. Day said. “She’s been such a constant in all of our lives. I think her death is really being felt by everybody.”
Being tantalizingly close, yet unable to actually see the procession up close, was frustrating to some visitors, particularly those who had traveled long distances to London. Yet for others, the chance to honor the queen and take part in a once-in-a-generation event, overrode the disappointment.
“She’s the matriarch of the United Kingdom, really,” said Anne Telford, 62, a physiotherapist from Sheffield who got a coveted ticket to attend a party during the queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June. “She defines Britain. We all knew we loved her, but now we know how much everyone really did love her.”
Rosemary Herne, 70, a retired midwife, resorted to peeking through gaps in the barriers after being turned away at Green Park and Hyde Park. Still, she said she planned to stick around for a few more hours to soak up the atmosphere. “You can watch it all on television,” she said, “but it’s better to be here in person.”
As the cortege passed through Horse Guards Parade, the crowds began applauding, their joyful expressions of affection contrasting with the funeral dirges being played by the queen’s band. On Whitehall, her coffin passed Downing Street, a reminder that in her last official act, the queen accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as new prime minister and greeted his successor, Liz Truss.
Once under the ancient vaulted timbers of Westminster Hall, the queen’s coffin was placed on a catafalque, with a glittering cross, and the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, conducted a brief service. “In my father’s house are many mansions,” he said, quoting from the gospel of John.
Westminster Hall, in the shadow of Big Ben, is one of the most hallowed places in British public life. Erected by King William II in 1097, it is where King Richard I had his coronation banquet in 1189, Thomas More was tried for treason in 1535 and Winston Churchill’s body lay in state in 1965.
An invitation to speak there is a high honor. Barack Obama is the only American president to have done so, in 2011. He joined a list that includes Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela, Pope Benedict XVI, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
On Wednesday, however, the hall was silent, as people filed through to pay their last respects to the queen. Some cried softly. Others bowed, saluted, or blessed themselves. At 5:45 p.m., ushers halted the line for a changing of the guards who kept vigil over the coffin — serving the queen in her death as they had in her life.
Saskia Solomon contributed reporting.