Queenhood: A long winding procession from the abbey door to the abbey door. Simon Armitage, Poet Laureate
Thank you, Ma’am.
Around the world, we paid final tribute to the extraordinary lifelong promise of service and dedication fulfilled by a remarkable Queen.
Let arguments about the monarchy’s future be for another day. This was about paying farewell to the venerable Queen Elizabeth II with the unparalleled pomp and pageantry of royal tradition. Bagpipes played, bells tolled, and soldiers marched in a meticulously choreographed metronome of unity, as hundreds of thousands stood in witness and millions more watched the historic state funeral on television.
In the hallowed medieval church where she was anointed as Queen Elizabeth II almost seven decades before, her unswerving devotion and duty were celebrated in a stirring service that reflected her deep Christian faith and was, as she had promised, “not boring.”
“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,” said Dr. David Hoyle, dean of Westminster.
Since her death on Sept. 8 at the age of 96, we have witnessed an outpouring of tributes to the longest reigning monarch in British history and the incredible sight of half a million of her loyal subjects queuing for hours through chilly nights to pay their respects to the only monarch they’ve ever known as she lay in state at Westminster Hall.
But now was time to finally say goodbye.
Monday morning, the abbey’s tenor bell struck at 9:24 a.m. and tolled every minute for 96 minutes to reflect the years of Her Majesty’s life.
From Westminster Hall, her coffin was transferred to the Royal Navy state gun carriage and on the solemn eight-minute procession through the silent London streets, she was accompanied on foot to Westminster Abbey by King Charles III, his sister Princess Anne, and his brothers, Princes Andrew and Edward, as well as Princes William and Harry.
A family united, at least for now, in grief and reverence.
At precisely 11 a.m. local time, after the last mournful toll of the tenor bell sounded and a hush fell over the congregation, the Queen’s coffin borne on the broad shoulders of eight members of the Queen’s Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, entered the abbey and the church filled with the soaring voices of the choir singing The Sentences.
I remember well that sound, the heavy, synchronized footsteps of the guards as they moved slowly down the chequered marble floor, carrying the coffin of Princess Diana past me almost exactly 25 years ago.
How her death so threatened the monarchy back then; it was difficult to believe the Queen’s passing would ever result in a similar outpouring of love. But for so many reasons, it has.
Strength, dignity, resilience — Elizabeth epitomized so much that we grew to respect and admire.
Now on her final journey down the aisle she once walked as a new queen, she was joined by her legacy — two of her precious little great-grandchildren, Prince George and Princess Charlotte — as well as their mother, the Princess of Wales, Camilla, the Queen Consort, and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex.
Draped in the Royal Standard, Her Majesty’s casket was adorned with the Imperial State Crown and a “sustainable” wreath chosen by King Charles III of gold, pink and burgundy flowers from the royal residences as well as rosemary, English oak and myrtle from an original cutting from a sprig used in the monarch’s wedding bouquet in 1947.
And nestled in its midst was a personal goodbye message from her eldest son, “In loving and devoted memory. Charles R.”
He always knew that someday he would be sovereign. Not so his mother. Yet she never wavered in the role thrust upon her. On her 21st birthday, Elizabeth had taken to the radio waves to nervously pledge her commitment. “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service,” she so famously said.
“Rarely has such a promise been so well-kept,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told the congregation. “Few leaders receive the outpouring of love that we have seen.”
After the hour-long service, the abbey echoed with a rendition of God Save the King, the passing of the heavy mantle to her septuagenarian son, and the nation fell silent for two minutes of remembrance and gratitude for a reign like no other.
The Queen’s coffin was hoisted by the Bearer Party once more as The Sovereign’s Piper played the traditional lament: Sleep, Dearie, Sleep.
How she has earned her rest. But not quite yet.
The cortege travelled through the heart of London, led by members of the RCMP musical ride, as thousands applauded along the route and threw roses in her path.
Through the countryside by hearse, she then travelled home for the last time to Windsor Castle, her favourite horse Carltonlima Emma and corgis, Muick and Sandy, awaiting their late mistress’s arrival. In St. George’s Chapel, where the Queen had sat masked and alone 18 months earlier at the COVID-restricted service for Prince Philip, some 800 representatives of her realm now attended the hymn-filled committal ceremony.
And then the end of the second Elizabethan age was too strikingly at hand.
The orb, sceptre and crown were carefully removed from atop her casket and her coffin was slowly lowered into the Royal Vault. Her public role was done at last.
At a private family burial service away from the cameras, Queen Elizabeth will be relocated to the King George VI Memorial Chapel to join “us four” — her parents and sister — and reunited at last with her beloved husband of 73 years.
Rest well, Your Majesty, Queen of Canada, rest well.