QUEEN Elizabeth, the longest reigning monarch in British history, was laid to rest with all the pomp and majesty an ancient institution can bring to bear. It was an ending, a bidding of farewell to a sovereign and the past, but it was also a beginning, the staking of a claim on the future by King Charles III. 


The day began as the last visitor to view the Queen as she lay-in-state in Westminster Hall left the building. The river of humanity that had flowed for days through the streets of central London and along the Thames, had come to a stop with Chrissy Heerey, a serving member of the RAF from Melton Mowbray, who pronounced the day and night shift she had just put in "one of the highlights of my life". 


She was not alone in her sentiment. Whatever had prompted so many to make such a pilgrimage, The Queue, as it will simply and forever be known, is now as much a part of the history of this island as the state funeral itself.


Westminster Abbey had opened its great doors shortly after 8am. As the hours passed it began to fill up, prime ministers, kings, presidents and princesses congregating under the same roof as some of the NHS staff who worked through the pandemic. At 10.15, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, arrived with her husband Peter Murrell, the couple followed closely by the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, and his wife. 


Former UK Prime Ministers were next to arrive, then the new occupant of the role, Liz Truss, with her husband Hugh O’Leary. Outside, Big Ben continued the task of tolling 96 times to mark each year of the Queen’s life. 


King Charles and his sons were on their way to Westminster Hall, where the Queen’s coffin was placed on the State Gun Carriage. During a day that hardly wanted for spectacle this vehicle commanded special attention. 


First seen at the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901, history has it that the horses meant to pull the carriage were spooked by the crowds. The authorities, fearing disaster, asked naval ratings to perform the task instead, using ropes placed at the front and back. On seeing the carriage for the first time, Princess Alice, Victoria’s grand daughter, pronounced it a “beautiful” sight. A century on it had lost none of its power to impress. 


For all that the state funeral came laden with tradition, this was a very  modern occasion, one where the air was filled with tweets and other signs of the times, including BBC2 signing the funeral for deaf people. Everywhere there were cameras, their positioning one of the many details to have been devised and revised in the 20 years of planning that had gone in to the occasion. 


Some 2.5 billion had watched Diana’s funeral. Almost double that, the numbers swollen by people watching on phones and other devices, were expected to tune in for the Queen. Compared to these, the Moon landing, with 650 million viewers, was a little local event. 


The King and other members of the royal family, including the Prince of Wales and Duke of Sussex, followed the coffin from the Palace of Westminster to the Abbey on foot. 


At the Abbey the silence was broken only by the sound of boots on cobbles, the tolling of Big Ben, and the issuing of orders. Out on the streets, and in homes around the country, the same quiet reigned. In echoes of Auden they had stopped all the flights, some put down the mobile phones, distracted the dog from its midday walk with a supermarket bone. 

The bearer party, who would be with the Queen till the day’s end, entered the Abbey carrying the coffin. Atop was the sceptre, the orb, and the imperial state crown. Next to them, and almost rivalling the Crown for colour, was a wreath. 

The flowers and foliage from the gardens of Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Highgrove House, had been chosen for their symbolism.They included rosemary, for remembrance, and myrtle, an ancient symbol of a happy marriage. The myrtle had been grown from a sprig in the Queen’s wedding bouquet. Also included was English oak to symbolise the strength of love, pelargoniums, garden roses, autumnal hydrangea, sedum, dahlias and scabious. 

Last to enter the Abbey was the King, leading his siblings and the Queen’s grandchildren. In the middle of the huddle were the Queen’s great grandchildren, Prince George, nine, and Princess Charlotte, 7. The pair looked tiny amid the vaulted splendour of the Abbey, but they walked alone, having no need of a parental hand to hold. The presence of mum and dad was enough.

Once seated, the youngest royals showed a deep and abiding interest in the order of service, particularly when it came time to sing. So many long words in these songs, such strange phrases in the readings. 

One of the plainest speakers was Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recalled the young Queen’s promise to devote her whole life, “whether it be short or long” to service.

“Rarely has such a promise been so well kept,” said the Archbishop. “Few leaders receive the outpouring of love that we have seen.”

He reminded the congregation of another promise, made by the Queen, during the lonely days of lockdown.  “Words of hope from a song by Vera Lynn … We will meet again.”

The funeral drew to a close with a lament played by the sovereign’s piper. As the strains of “Sleep, dearie, sleep” filled the Abbey, the piper turned to leave, the sound of the music growing fainter the further away he walked until it could be heard no more. 

The congregation exited into the midday sunshine and the procession through central London began, the King once again following the coffin at the head of his family. Some 3000 service personnel took part, and it sounded like it. The skirl of the pipes competed with the firing of a gun and the tolling of Big Ben. It was a splendid guddle. 

On went the procession, Canadian mounted police leading the way. Past the Cenotaph, along the Mall and on to Buckingham Place where the staff turned out to say goodbye to the boss. Uniforms of every colour could be seen, the deep reds and golds catching the sunlight. 

The procession reached its destination, Wellington Arch, where the State Hearse was waiting to take the Queen home to Windsor Castle. The hearse drove off to sound of God Save the King being sung. King Charles, looking exhausted yet relieved that everything had gone so smoothly, saluted his mother. 

While the streets of central London were not quite as busy as one might have expected, it was a different story on the way to Windsor. The crowds were 20, 30 deep at points. Flowers were thrown in the direction of the hearse. Here and there three cheers rang out. 

Up the Long Walk at Windsor they went. As the cortege reached the gate of the castle pipers played the Skye Boat Song. Waiting for the Queen in the grounds were two of her corgis, Muick and Sandy, and her favourite pony, Emma. 

The mood turned more sombre with every step towards St George’s Chapel where the second service would take place. Perhaps because the venue was smaller, the family’s grief was more obvious, almost palpable. 

As the committal service came to a close the “Instruments of State”, the sceptre, the orb, the imperial state crown, were removed from the coffin. A silence descended, one broken for the second time that day by Pipe Major Paul Burns from the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

As the lament was played the coffin descended to the Royal Vault, where the Queen would join Prince Philip, her parents, and her sister Margaret. Later there would be another service, this one for family only.

Windsor played host to the final in a series of farewells. Farewell to Balmoral, to Edinburgh, to Westminster Abbey, site of her marriage and coronation, farewell to London. At last she was home. A woman who had never been truly alone at any time in her life was once more with her family, at rest, at peace. 

The modern world that the Queen has left behind almost demands that we look ahead to what comes next, and consider how the King will deal with the  trials and opportunities heading his way. That, however, is a matter for tomorrow. 

From St Giles to the Kelpies, George Square to Ballater, the Highlands to the Borders, Scotland had said its goodbye.