Thousands Pay Tribute as Britain Says Final Farewell to Queen Elizabeth


LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II was laid to rest on Monday after a majestic state funeral that drew tens of millions of Britons together in a vast expression of grief and gratitude, as they bade farewell to a sovereign whose seven-decade reign had spanned their lives and defined their times.

It was the culmination of 10 days of mourning since the queen died on Sept. 8 in Scotland — a highly choreographed series of rituals that fell amid a deepening economic crisis and a fraught political transition in Britain — and yet everything about the day seemed destined to be etched into history.

Tens of thousands of people lined the route of the cortege past the landmarks of London. In Hyde Park, people watching the service on large screens joined in “The Lord’s Prayer” when it was recited at Westminster Abbey. Thousands more cheered, many strewing flowers in the path of her glass-topped hearse, as the queen’s coffin was driven to Windsor Castle, where she was buried next to her husband, Prince Philip.

“In this changing world, she was a pillar of the old world,” said Richard Roe, 36, who works in finance in Zurich and flew home for the funeral. “It’s nice to have something that’s stable and stands for good values.”

An unbroken thread of sadness ran through the day, but also an acute sense of uncertainty. The queen, who died at 96, was one of the last living links to World War II and the twilight of Britain’s imperial age. The country she embodied with such dignity has fundamentally changed.

A new Britain is taking shape among the diverse crowds that turned out with their iPhones and Instagram accounts to document the funeral. But its contours, and the role of the monarchy, are still up for grabs, as people struggle with less regal concerns like rising gas and electricity bills, and a looming recession.

On Tuesday, Britain will return to wrestling with the gravest economic crisis in a generation. Fears about its public finances have driven the pound to its lowest levels gainst the dollar since 1985. The survival of the monarchy’s far-flung realm is in question, as Caribbean countries debate whether to cast off the king as their head of state.

Britain’s uncertain future, however, was a matter for another day, as it paid tribute to one of the great symbols of its past. More than 100 world leaders, including President Biden and Emperor Naruhito of Japan, converged on London, the largest such gathering since the funeral of Nelson Mandela in 2013 in South Africa.

Years in the planning, the tribute to the queen was both intimate and grand: from the gun carriage that carried her flag-draped coffin through the streets of London to a lone bagpiper playing his lament, its haunting strains carried aloft in the hushed nave of Westminster Abbey.

“The pattern of many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death,” the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said in a eulogy that seemed to speak to a world plagued by misrule. Not so of Elizabeth, of whom he said: “Few leaders receive the outpouring of love that we have seen.”

To judge by the tear-streaked faces, and the cries of “God bless the queen,” in the streets and parks, his words were not an overstatement.

“She is everything that I am proud to be British about,” said Bea McArthur, 38, a hospital worker who traveled from Hampshire, England, on Friday, camping out with her two daughters and a friend to secure a spot in the front row of the parade route.

“She made a promise when she was 21, and she did not falter,” Ms. McArthur said. “When she first became queen, there weren’t many women in powerful roles, and she blew everyone else out of the water.”

Mr. Roe, the Zurich businessman, was more upbeat. “I think people have dealt with the grief side of it now,” he said. “This is more of a last goodbye, a celebration.”

The service was also designed to showcase Britain’s imperial history, its constitutional democracy and its Commonwealth. The carriage used for the queen’s coffin was first used for that purpose in Queen Victoria’s funeral in 1901. The new prime minister, Liz Truss, read from the Gospel of John, while the secretary general of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, read from Corinthians (“O death, where is thy sting?”).

Archbishop Welby described the queen as a beacon of hope. He recalled a speech she gave during the coronavirus pandemic, when she promised Britons enduring isolating lockdowns, “We will meet again,” the refrain of a cherished World War II-era song by Vera Lynn.

“All who follow the queen’s example, and inspiration of trust and faith in God,” he declared, “can with her say, ‘We will meet again.’”

Britain has not held a state funeral since 1965, when it buried Winston Churchill, the wartime leader who acted as a mentor to a young Elizabeth after she unexpectedly came to the throne on the death of her father, King George VI, in 1952.

There were echoes of that history as the queen’s cortege rolled past statues of Churchill and George VI. But there were also glimpses of the royal family’s future. Prince George, 9, who is the elder son of Prince William and second in line to the throne, stood in the front row at the abbey, along with his 7-year-old sister, Princess Charlotte. Both sang dutifully from their hymnals.

The new king, Charles III, was a quiet presence on a day devoted to his mother. On her coffin, next to a wreath of roses, hydrangea and dahlias — all arranged, by order of the king, without the use of floral foam to make it more sustainable — he had left a handwritten note, “In loving and devoted memory, Charles R.”

He marched behind the coffin as it was conveyed to Westminster Abbey from Westminster Hall, where she had lain in state for four days, viewed by tens of thousands of people, including dignitaries like Mr. Biden and ordinary people who lined up in what became known as “The Queue,” waiting up to 24 hours to pay their respects.

He marched behind it on its procession up Whitehall, down The Mall and past Buckingham Palace, before reaching Wellington Arch, where an honor guard transferred the coffin to the hearse. And he saluted as a military band played a wistful last rendition of “God Save the Queen” when she departed.

The procession, a mile and a quarter long, projected the full splendor of the monarchy: seven groups, each with its own marching band; detachments from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British armed forces; and mounted soldiers from the Household Cavalry.

Charles, wearing a Royal Navy tailcoat and carrying a sword, was joined by members of the royal family, their turbulent recent history traced in their choice of dress. 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 ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sexual predator.

Prince Harry also wore a suit because of his withdrawal from royal duties when he moved to the United States in 2020 with his American-born wife, Meghan. He had received the king’s permission to wear a uniform to stand vigil over the queen’s coffin on Saturday, but it did not have her monogram, E.R., on its shoulders, denoting his diminished status.

The royal family, Archbishop Welby said, was grieving as any family would, but in this case, it had to do it “in the brightest spotlight.”

The spotlight still shone bright, but the setting was more intimate after the queen’s coffin arrived at Windsor, the turreted castle where she had spent most of her final days, sequestered during the pandemic. In April 2021, she buried Philip, her husband of 73 years, in an austere funeral at St. George’s Chapel there that was memorable for images of the queen, isolated and masked in a choir stall.

As her hearse rolled up the Long Walk, the tree-lined boulevard that leads to the castle, it was cheered by more crowds and flanked by a detachment of the queen’s Grenadier Guards and Household Cavalry.

But as the cortege drew closer to the castle, these symbols of royal gave way to more personal reminders of the queen’s life there: her Fell pony, Emma, ears and tail twitching as she watched the cortege pass; and two of her corgis, Muick and Sandy, waiting patiently by the door.

If anything, the ceremony at Windsor, known as the committal, was even more laden with ritual than the funeral. Before the final hymn, the crown jeweler removed the imperial state crown, the orb and the scepter — precious regalia symbolizing the crown — from the coffin and placed them on the altar.

As a totem of the end of his service, the queen’s lord chamberlain, the most senior officer in the royal household, broke his wand of office into two pieces and placed them on to the coffin, to be buried with his sovereign.

The coffin was then lowered into the royal vault, where the queen was interred next to Philip in a private family ceremony later in the evening. Once again, the queen’s piper played a mournful lament, its sound dying out as he walked slowly away from the chapel.

In a last reminder of the monarchy’s continuity, the congregation sang, “God save the King.” Charles, his face bearing the weight of grief and, perhaps, the burdens of his new job, looked on wordlessly.

Saskia Solomon and Emma Bubola contributed reporting.



Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/19/world/europe/queen-elizabeth-funeral.html