King Charles III and the closest members of his family on Wednesday accompanied the coffin of his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in a sombre procession from Buckingham Palace to the ancient Westminster Hall. She will lie in state there until her funeral on Monday.
The lead-lined coffin, draped with the Royal Standard and carried on a gun carriage of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, left the palace at precisely 2.22pm. It then embarked on a journey along The Mall, passing the statue of the queen’s parents King George VI and the Queen Mother, through Horse Guards and Whitehall, to Parliament Square and then its resting place in the Palace of Westminster. Hundreds of thousands of people will file past the coffin there in tribute to the late monarch, who died on Thursday. Applause rang out as the coffin reached its destination 40 minutes later, slightly behind schedule, and was placed on a raised platform known as a catafalque.
The king and the senior royals saluted the coffin as it was carried by a bearer party — eight soldiers from Queen’s Company 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards — into the hall, where a service was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Tens of thousands of people lined the streets, with large Union flags positioned above the crowds. People were packed in behind temporary barriers near the official residence where the queen spent so much of her working life. Silence fell among the crowds as a muffled drum draped in black was beaten at 75 paces per minute.
Alongside the king was his sister, Princess Anne, and his brothers, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.
His sons, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Sussex, followed a step or two behind. This evoked memories of their mother Diana’s funeral, when as children they walked a similar route for her funeral in 1997.
Also in the procession were Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips, her husband Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Duke of Gloucester and the Earl of Snowdon. Other royals ― including the Queen Consort Camilla, the Princess of Wales, the Duchess of Sussex and the Countess of Wessex — followed by car.
The Imperial State Crown was placed on the coffin, resting on a velvet cushion and next to a wreath of white roses and dahlias. There was also a selection of foliage from the gardens at Balmoral in Scotland where the queen died and Windsor where she spent most of her final months.
The king wore full daytime ceremonial uniform with the rank of Marshal of the Royal Air Force.
The Band of the Scots Guards and the Band of the Grenadier Guards played funeral marches throughout the procession, starting with Beethoven’s Funeral March No 1.
The royals moved in time to the imposing funeral marches, in step with one another and the troops.
Prince William stared straight ahead as he walked directly behind his father the king, in keeping with his place as the new heir to the throne. His brother Harry and uncle Prince Andrew wore morning suits as they were not permitted to wear military uniform as they are no longer working royals.
Military guns rang out in nearby Hyde Park as the procession moved towards the Palace of Westminster on the 1.9-kilometre route, while Big Ben's bells tolled at one-minute intervals.
Crowds had flocked to The Mall to witness the historic moment, with many dedicated royalists camping out overnight to secure a prime viewing position. Heathrow Airport in west London cancelled flights to ensure the sound of incoming planes did not disturb events.
Lying in state
A separate queue, with the potential to stretch up to 16 kilometres, was growing on the banks of the Thames. Mourners prepared to file past the coffin from 5pm once the service concluded. Hundreds of thousands are expected to pay their respects during the coming days, the event continuing round the clock until 6.30am on Monday before the funeral.
Four officers from the Household Cavalry – two from the Life Guards and two from the Blues Royals – began the first six-hour vigil around the coffin, taking their places at the corner of the catafalque.
A double tap on the floor from the stick of the Officer of the Watch, who has command of the rotations, signalled the start of the vigil.
The soldiers had processed down the steps into Westminster Hall ready for their duty.
They navigated the route carefully in their cumbersome uniforms of breast plates, plumed hats and swords, taking a pause before each step.
Organisers are warning people to prepare for a long and physically demanding wait, with few opportunities to sit down.
Everyone arriving at the hall will be issued with wristbands, which will allow them to pop out for a short time for food or drink.
The queen's coffin, which had returned to London from Edinburgh on Tuesday evening, will be guarded around the clock until the funeral by members of the Household Division or Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London, who are the sovereign's bodyguards.
Earlier on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden spoke to King Charles to convey “the great admiration of the American people for the queen”.
A White House statement said: “President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke today with King Charles III to offer his condolences on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.
“The president recalled fondly the queen’s kindness and hospitality, including when she hosted him and the first lady at Windsor Castle last June.
“He also conveyed the great admiration of the American people for the queen, whose dignity and constancy deepened the enduring friendship and special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.
“President Biden conveyed his wish to continue a close relationship with the king.”