LONDON — The big bubble letters in blue crayon seemed to sum up much of the country’s mood: “Miss you,” a child had written on a small notecard, next to a drawing of something that looked a lot like a corgi. It lay between purple tulips and red carnations outside of the gates of Buckingham Palace.
Since the moment Thursday when officials announced the death of Queen Elizabeth II — placing a framed, two-sentence announcement on an easel at the front palace gate — people have flocked there to be part of the collective grief and to pay their respects with flowers, messages, mementos and more.
They’ve left homemade crowns, tea light candles, framed poems, Union Jack baseball caps. They’ve left newspaper clippings and pictures of her majesty from various moments in her 70-year reign. They’ve even left Paddington Bears.
But it’s the handwritten missives that stand out, ranging from the serious to the poignant, the rambling to the funny, many offering a window into how people felt about the queen. Some of the youngest Britons’ scrawl is hard to make out.
“Rest in peace, Queen Kong,” one child wrote beside a picture of the queen, with hat and handbag, climbing Big Ben much like King Kong scaled the Empire State Building.
A woman named Anita thanked the queen “for being my constant and role model for 70 years of my life. Your smile, sense of humour and zest for life lifted my heart everytime.”
Another card referenced the poignant scene of Prince Philip’s funeral last year, when the queen was a solitary figure in her pew and black mask because of the strict pandemic rules in place at the time.
“When you sat alone at your husband’s funeral all those bereaved by covid, during the pandemic, felt a connection,” the note read. “A grieving lady on her own all alone just like us. Leading the nation by example.”
Buckingham Palace looms large in the British psyche. It’s not just the residence of the monarch and headquarters of the royal family. It’s both a scene and a place to be seen — to take a selfie or two and, this weekend, to witness in person a singular event in the nation’s history, the passing of an immensely popular sovereign and, just like that, the installation of a new one.
The people arriving by tube or bus cannot miss the larger-than-life photos of the queen — regal in a white gown, blue sash and stunning diamond tiara — that now adorn nearby stations and kiosk stops. Again and again during the past three days, those gathered at Buckingham have spontaneously belted out the national anthem. It has usually been the version that ends with “God save the queen.” But on Saturday, when the newly proclaimed King Charles III paid a visit, the song was correctly updated.
To the crowd’s delight, the king ordered his driver to stop the royal Rolls-Royce for an impromptu walkabout outside the gates.
His two sons and their wives did the same thing outside of Windsor Castle, the queen’s favorite residence. In a surprising show of unity given the past several years of bruised family relations, Prince William and Catherine and Prince Harry and Meghan greeted people and shook hands for nearly three-quarters of an hour Saturday afternoon.
At both palace and castle, the flowers continued to pile up, bouquets sometimes mounded a couple of feet high. But with officials removing them daily, the accumulation hasn’t become as massive as after Princess Diana died a quarter-century ago. A sign at Buckingham tells visitors that the tributes will be collected every 12 hours and displayed in Green Park just across the road.
“Even if you’re not a royalist, you still have respect for the monarch,” said Lynsey Pilgrim, 36, who laid a bouquet of roses and daisies along the gilded wrought-iron fence. She said she was struck by how many of the cards were in foreign languages, possibly written by people for whom Elizabeth II wasn’t even their ruler.
- King Charles III is Britain’s new monarch and may bring a markedly different personal vision of religion and spirituality to the role.
- Britons will also need to swiftly adjust to seeing his face on these staples of daily life, including postage stamps and the national anthem.
- Charles ascended the throne the moment his mother passed away. Here’s a look at the next 10 royals who are next in line to the throne.
The last time the palace drew such throngs was in June, for the queen’s jubilee, and the mood was exuberant and celebratory — especially when the queen stepped out onto the famous balcony and waved at her subjects. Everyone went wild.
This weekend’s mood is a mixture of sadness and curiosity. The crowds have stayed late into the night.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be here, to be part of history, to show our respect,” said Ewan Forbes, 60, a retired police officer who had come with his son. He described the queen as “the mother of the country,” adding that “although millions never met her, everyone knew her. She spoke wisely; she spoke sense.”
Early this week, the focus shifts to the north. The queen died at Balmoral Castle in the Scottish highlands, and her oak coffin was transported Sunday morning to Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. On Tuesday, it will be flown to London and travel first to Buckingham Palace and then to the Palace of Westminster, where the queen will lie in state until her funeral at Westminster Abbey on Sept. 19.
But Buckingham Palace will not lack for attention after that. Charles is expected to move in soon.