WINDSOR, England (Reuters) – Queen Elizabeth’s coffin was lowered into a vault at Windsor Castle, her final resting place, on Monday after a day of inimitable pageantry that drew world leaders to her funeral and crowds huge crowds in the streets to bid farewell to a revered monarch.
Hundreds of thousands of well-wishers lined the route her hearse took from London, throwing flowers, cheering and cheering as it made its way from the city into the English countryside she loved so much.
Many more had crowded into the capital to watch the procession and funeral, in a moving tribute to Britain’s longest-serving monarch who earned global respect for 70 years on the throne.
Inside the majestic Westminster Abbey where the funeral took place, some 500 presidents, prime ministers, foreign royals and dignitaries, including Joe Biden of the United States, were among the 2,000 worshippers.
Later, attention shifted to St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where some 800 guests attended a burial service ahead of his burial.
It ended with the removal of the crown, orb and scepter – symbols of the monarch’s power and governance – from the coffin and placed on the altar.
The Lord Chamberlain, the highest official in the royal household, then broke his “wand of office”, signifying the end of his service to the sovereign, and placed it on the coffin before it slowly descended into the royal vault.
As the congregation sang the national anthem, King Charles seemed to hold back tears.
Later in the evening, at 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 in the same chapel where his parents and sister, Princess Margaret, also rest.
It was in the same vast building that the Queen was pictured mourning Philip alone during the pandemic lockdown, reinforcing the feeling of a monarch in tune with her people during a time of testing.
At the funeral, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, told those present that the grief felt by so many across Britain and around the world reflected the late monarch’s ‘abundant life and loving service’.
“Her late Majesty said on a 21st birthday broadcast that her whole life would be dedicated to the service of the nation and the Commonwealth,” he said.
“Rarely has such a promise been so well kept. Few leaders receive the outpouring of love we have seen.
The music played at the Queen’s wedding in 1947 and her coronation six years later is blaring again. The coffin came in lines of scripture set on a sheet music used at every state funeral since the early 18th century.
After the funeral, his flag-draped coffin was pulled by sailors through the streets of London on a gun carriage in one of the largest military processions seen in Britain, involving thousands of members of the armed forces dressed in ceremonial adornments.
They marched to the rhythm of the funeral music of the marching bands, while in the background, the city’s famous Big Ben resounded every minute. King Charles and other members of the royal family followed on foot.
The coffin was carried from Westminster Abbey to Wellington’s Arch and transferred to a hearse on its way to Windsor, where other crowds waited patiently.
Of those who came from across Britain and beyond, people climbed lamp posts and stood on barriers and ladders to catch a glimpse of the royal procession.
Some wore elegant black suits and dresses. Others were dressed in hoodies, leggings and tracksuits. A woman with dyed green hair stood next to a man in a morning suit as they waited for the London procession to start.
Millions more watched on TV at home on a public holiday declared for the occasion, the first time the funeral of a British monarch has been televised.
“I’ve been coming to Windsor for 50 years now,” said Baldev Bhakar, 72, a jeweler from nearby Slough, speaking outside Windsor Castle.
“I’ve seen her many times over the years; it was like she was our neighbor and she was just a lovely woman; a beautiful queen. It was good to say a last goodbye to our neighbor.
Elizabeth died on September 8 at Balmoral Castle, her summer home in the Scottish Highlands.
Her health was in decline and for months the monarch who had carried out hundreds of official engagements well into her 90s retired from public life.
However, in keeping with her sense of duty, she was pictured just two days before her death looking frail but smiling and holding a cane as she named Liz Truss as her 15th and final prime minister.
Her longevity and her inextricable bond with Britain were such that even her own family saw her go through a shock.
“We all thought she was invincible,” Prince William told well-wishers.
The fortieth ruler in a line that dates back to 1066, Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952 and became Britain’s first post-imperial monarch.
She oversaw her nation trying to carve out a new place for itself 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 sports, including Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Pelé and Roger Federer.
Despite her reputed height of 1.6m (5ft 3in), she dominated plays 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 connection.
“People who serve with love are rare in any walk of life,” Welby said at the funeral. “Leaders of loving service are even rarer. But either way, those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privilege will be long forgotten.
The Abbey’s tenor bell – the site of coronations, weddings and burials of English and then British kings and queens for nearly 1,000 years – rang 96 times.
Among the hymns chosen for the service were “Le Seigneur est mon berger”, sung at the wedding of the Queen and her husband Philippe at the Abbey in 1947. In the royal group following the coffin into the Abbey was the great-grandson and future Queen. king, Prince George, aged nine.
As well as dignitaries, the congregation included those who have received Britain’s highest military and civilian medals for bravery, representatives of charities supported by the Queen and those who have made ‘extraordinary contributions’ to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Towards the end of the service, the church and much of the nation fell silent for two minutes. The trumpets sounded before the congregation sang “God Save the King.” Outside, the crowd joined in and cheered as the anthem ended.
The Queen’s piper ended the service with a lament titled “Sleep, Darling, Sleep” which faded into silence.