With an Outpouring of Passion, Britain bids Farewell to Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth's Funeral

On Monday, Britain said goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II with a grand funeral steeped in history and a send-off reflecting the broad popularity she managed to retain during her amazing seven-decade reign.

Members of the royal family and dignitaries gathered at Westminster Abbey for a solemn service. Presidents, prime ministers, princes and princesses, and other public people came together to pay their respects, demonstrating her broad appeal and skilled diplomacy.

The burial, which acted as both a state and religious service and marked the end of ten days of sorrow, honored the Queen with the kind of spectacle that she utilized throughout her life to promoting the royal family and "brand Britain."

Tens of thousands of people came to the streets surrounding Westminster Abbey and along the 25-mile procession route from central London to Windsor, hoping to catch a sight of the monarch's flag-draped coffin as it was transported by hearse to her ultimate resting place.

The Queen's coffin was carried through throngs of well-wishers who lined the Long Walk to Windsor Castle for her committal service and burial at St. George's Chapel, where she was separated from the crown for the final time, in the third and final procession of the day.

Though the death of Queen Elizabeth, Britain's longest-reigning monarch, had been anticipated and meticulously planned for years – funeral arrangements, codenamed "Operation London Bridge," had long been a source of speculation – the magnitude of this moment of mourning and public outpouring of emotion has taken many by surprise. Even if you dislike the royal family, her death symbolizes the end of an era, a shift in the national landscape.

At 96, the Queen had nearly become a mythological icon of stability in the face of relentless change. Her 70-year reign was marked by war and pestilence, as well as concern about Britain's role in the global arena. She was crowned as the sun fell on the British Empire, and her death has reignited debate over the country's dark colonial past. It comes at a time of immense political and economic change, not just in the UK, but around the world.

More than 200 foreign dignitaries, including US President Joe Biden and Commonwealth leaders such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, were invited to her funeral at Westminster Abbey. Many people switched from limos to buses to attend the burial, which was just one component of a strategy that amounted to the single largest security operation seen by British officials since World War II.

Representatives from the Queen's various charities, as well as emergency service workers and governmental servants, were among the 2,000-strong congregation.

The service was held in the same abbey nave where the Queen was crowned 69 years ago and where she married her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, 75 years ago. As a sovereign who understood the soft power of spectacle, her coronation was broadcast live on television for the first time, presenting the magnificence of the monarchy to millions around the world. On Monday, all eyes were once again on her.

Her attractiveness as a figurehead lay in her intense sense of responsibility, hard work ethic, and ability to look neutral yet likable as head of state of 15 Commonwealth countries, including the United Kingdom. Admiration for the Queen has prevented a serious reckoning with the crown's cruel past in former colonies, particularly its historic involvement with the slave trade, but this appears to be changing as certain Commonwealth countries seek independence.

Antigua & Barbuda announced preparations this week to hold a referendum on whether to become a republic, and Barbados became the first country in almost 30 years to depose the British monarch as head of state last November.

Many of the Queen's subjects believed they knew her — the woman whose image appears on coins and postage stamps and who, according to polls, appears most frequently in people's dreams.

"She's more than a 21st-century monarch," Chris Rowe, 60, who had camped out on The Mall's grassy bank with his wife to witness the burial procession, told CNN. He came to London to see "the continuation of the nation," he said, referring to the Queen as the "continuity of a hundreds-year-old tradition."

While there were no screens, mourners on The Mall could hear the burial on the radio. People remained motionless, their gazes down. Later, as the funeral procession passed by, children were hoisted aloft on shoulders to observe the military formations march by, and many took photos on their phones to commemorate the end of an era.

Over the past four days, mourners have felt an almost family sense of grief as they waited in a line that snaked for miles along the River Thames to Westminster Hall, where the monarch's body lay in state, to pass past her coffin.

King Charles III, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth's children, entered the cavernous hall on Friday, heads bowed, to keep quiet vigil over the velvet catafalque containing her coffin, adorned with the sovereign's jewel-encrusted crown, orb, and scepter. A day later, clad in military uniform, Prince William and Prince Harry staged their own solemn vigil alongside the Queen's six other grandchildren.

The King and other members of the royal family followed the casket as it was transported from Westminster Hall to the abbey on Monday morning. It was carried on the same gun carriage that transported the Queen's father, King George VI, and Winston Churchill, the first of her 15 British prime ministers.

The Tenor Bell at Westminster Abbey tolled once every minute for 96 minutes before the service, representing each year of the Queen's reign.

Small details, such as the floral wreath atop her coffin, revealed the Queen's personal style. It was made from flowers and greenery picked from the gardens of Buckingham Palace and other royal estates, and contained pink and gold pelargoniums, garden roses, and dahlias, as well as myrtle cut from a plant produced from a branch from the Queen's wedding bouquet.

The Queen's great-grandchildren, Prince George, and Princess Charlotte led the procession behind her coffin as it entered the monastery. The Westminster Abbey Choir sang the Sentences, which are lines of scripture arranged to music that has been used at every state funeral since the early 18th century.

It was the type of traditional, classical music that the Queen supported throughout her life. The hymns chosen were "The Day Thou Gavest, Lord" and "The Lord is My Shepherd, I Shall Not Want," which were sung at her wedding to Prince Philip in 1947, and the anthem "O Taste and see how gracious the Lord is," written by Ralph Vaughan Williams for the Queen's coronation in 1953.

"Like as the Hart," a choral composition created by the master of the king's music, Judith Weir, was also expressly commissioned for the occasion. It is a version of Psalm 42 to music that is reported to be inspired by the Queen's "unwavering Christian faith."

The ceremony was led by Rev. David Hoyle, Dean of Westminster. The Queen appointed UK Prime Minister Liz Truss just two days before her death, and Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland read lessons, while Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby presented a sermon.

"The pain of this day stems from her bountiful life and loving service — now gone from us," Welby said in his speech, recalling the monarch's 21st birthday broadcast, in which she famously stated that she would devote her entire life to serving the nation and the Commonwealth.

"Service in life, hope in death; everyone who follows the Queen's example and inspiration of trust and confidence in God can declare with her: 'we will meet again,'" he said, echoing Queen Elizabeth II's statement during Britain's Covid-19 shutdown in 2020, a nod to Vera Lynn's wartime song.

The hour-long ceremony ended with a two-minute silence, followed by the congregation singing "God Save the King." To conclude the festivities, the Queen's piper, whose song woke the monarch every morning, played an appropriate lament, "Sleep, Dearie, Sleep."

The day's ceremonies included a royal cavalcade backed by guards in braided uniforms, kilted bagpipers and drummers, and streets lined with soldiers saluting as the coffin passed. Minute guns were fired in Hyde Park, and Big Ben tolled throughout the procession to Wellington Arch when the coffin was loaded into a vehicle and driven to Windsor.

The state hearse passed almost 140,000 people along the procession route to Windsor Castle, with crowds cramming the length of the Long Walk. Two of the Queen's cherished corgis sat outside the castle, anticipating her final return.

Members of the royal family and the Queen's household servants past and present sat together in pews for a more private ceremony at St. George's Chapel on Monday afternoon. Sir William Henry Harris, who was the organist of St. George's Chapel when the Queen was a girl and is said to have taught her to play the piano, created some of the music for the service.

The chapel fell silent as the crown jeweler removed the Imperial State Crown, as well as the sovereign's orb and scepter, in a sad dramatic moment. The head of the Queen's household, Lord Chamberlain, broke his wand of office and laid it on top of the coffin before it was lowered into the Royal Vault.

Later that evening, in a private burial, she will be interred in the King George VI Memorial Chapel with her husband of 73 years, "her steadfast strength and guide," the Duke of Edinburgh. It is an annex of St. George's Chapel that also houses the ashes of the Queen's father, mother, the Queen Mother, and sister Princess Margaret.

"It really means so lot to me," said Lorraine Calloway, who traveled to Windsor with her 8-year-old son Cohen to take part in the historic event. "Coming here to witness the Queen's final resting place is something that is really profoundly significant to me and the family."

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