Updated September 19, 2022 at 4:50 p.m. EDT|Published September 19, 2022 at 2:45 p.m. EDT
LONDON — Big Ben gonged, one peal from the Great Bell for each of her 96 years on Earth, and the body of Queen Elizabeth II passed for the last time through Westminster Abbey — scene of her 1947 wedding and 1953 coronation — for a state funeral attended by 90 world leaders and hundreds of dignitaries, including emperors and sultans, and Harry and Meghan, too.
London was fully given over to the event, which was invested with all the pomp, circumstance and showmanship that the monarchy, military and state could put on display for a global broadcast audience of millions.
The new king declared Monday a national holiday, and so hundreds of thousands were able to pour into the capital to say goodbye — some tossing flowers onto the hearse, others shouting “God bless the queen!” — in the most complex security challenge the capital has faced since World War II, far bigger than the 2012 Summer Olympics.
By evening, no significant police incidents had been reported.
The quiet, the solemnity, that is what people remarked upon — especially the two minutes of silence that brought the country and a city of 9 million to a full stop.
Even air traffic into Heathrow International Airport was paused. News helicopters were barred during the service.
The day began at dawn, when the last members of the public were shooed from Westminster Hall, the parliamentary building where the queen’s lying-in-state took place over the previous four days, a vigil that saw an epic 24/7 queue stretching for miles and miles, an outpouring that stunned planners.
The queen’s coffin, draped in a royal banner, traveled the short distance from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey atop the Royal Navy’s State Gun Carriage, a conveyance not drawn by horses, but people.
The tradition began after the horses pulling Queen Victoria’s coffin in 1901 were spooked, nearly toppling the coffin into the street. To prevent a repeat, 90 sailors pull the carriage, while 40 march behind to act as a brake.
The abbey opened early to welcome dignitaries — who came by shuttle bus and armored car — to the 13th-century church, whose floors and walls are covered with memorials to those who were buried or honored there: Charles Darwin, Jane Austen, Isaac Newton, Mary, Queen of Scots, Geoffrey Chaucer, Laurence Olivier, Charles Dickens, Stephen Hawking and Queen Elizabeth I.
Writing about that day in the Observer newspaper in 1965, journalist Patrick O’Donovan proclaimed, “This was the last time that such a thing could happen. This was the last time that London would be the capital of the world. This was an act of mourning for the imperial past. This marked the final act in Britain’s greatness.”
It’s true that the British Empire shrank over the course of Elizabeth’s reign, with territories asserting independence. Some of the remaining realms are now reassessing their relationship with the crown. Meanwhile, Brexit has diminished the United Kingdom in many minds to “Little England.”
But Churchill’s passing was not a final act. Britain remains one of the world’s biggest economies. The United Kingdom, London and the monarchy have all proven flexible enough, resilient enough to regenerate.
The mourners on Monday included President Biden and first lady Jill Biden; European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen; Emperor Naruhito of Japan; and Canadian American actressSandra Oh.
Also in attendance: prime ministers Anthony Albanese of Australia, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand and Justin Trudeau of Canada, along with presidents Emmanuel Macron of France, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Sergio Mattarella of Italy and Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany.
No Vladimir Putin, no Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. China’s Xi Jinping sent his vice president, while Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan delegated his foreign minister, after being told he couldn’t arrive in his own presidential car.
The coffin was followed into the abbey by the queen’s four children: the new king, Charles III; the ever-present Princess Anne; former TV producer Prince Edward; and ex-working royal Prince Andrew, dressed in civilian clothes and not military attire, after being pushed into semi-exile by his association with the Jeffrey Epstein sex-trafficking scandal.
William and Catherine, with their new titles of Prince and Princess of Wales, were next in the procession, accompanied by their two eldest children.
Prince Harry was there with Meghan, too. He was also not wearing his military uniform — much to the anger of fans on social media, who called it “deplorable” that the prince, who saw action during two tours in Afghanistan, was denied the honor because the couple gave up their royal responsibilities and moved to California.
The publicly funded BBC fulfilled a role that it has adopted since the queen’s death, as champion of the monarchy. Commentators called the funeral “a brilliant blend of ancient and modern.” Also: “This is greatness in our time.” And: “There was a timelessness to it.” Finally: “Extraordinary how the new king has been welcomed.”
There was a wreath of flowers, too, cut from the gardens of what are now all among the king’s homes: Buckingham Palace, Highgrove House and Clarence House. Each leaf was invested with meaning: rosemary for remembrance, myrtle as the ancient symbol of a happy marriage, the Palace noted, adding: “At His Majesty’s request, the wreath is made in a totally sustainable way, in a nest of English moss and oak branches, and without the use of floral foam.”
Some on social media had fun with the appearance of a spider, hitchhiking a ride on the wreath. Charles as prince was known to lobby government ministers with what came to be known as “black spider memos.”
For his mother, Charles penned a handwritten note that could be seen on the wreath, which read: “In loving and devoted memory. Charles R.” The “R” refers to “Rex,” Latin for king.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave the sermon. He spoke of the queen’s lifelong devotion, not only to earthly duty, but to following Jesus.
“The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death,” Welby told the congregation. “People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer.”
The archbishop recalled how upon Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, she began with a silent prayer at the high altar in Westminster Abbey. “Her allegiance to God was given before anyone gave allegiance to her,” Welby said.
At the closing of the one-hour service, the congregation sang the national anthem, after seven decades reverted to “God Save the King.” Then there came a last piece of music, “Sleep, Dearie, Sleep,” a lament commemorating death, played by a lone musician on a bagpipe.
Pipe Major Paul Burns of the Royal Regiment of Scotland had also been responsible for rousing the queen, playing beneath her window for 15 minutes every morning.
As the sound of the pipes faded, the queen’s coffin was carried out into the streets, and moved from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch. The procession included 4,500 people — possibly the largest military parade of its kind in living memory.
The backdrop — the monuments of London — was full of pathos for Britain’s glory days past. The military marchers and carriage rounded the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace, referencing an era when the sun never set on the British Empire.
The London procession ended at Wellington Arch, whose namesake — the Duke of Wellington — is celebrated for stopping Napoleon’s ambition at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo.
From there the coffin was taken in a custom Jaguar-Land Rover hearse to Windsor Castle, the weekend palace the queen much preferred to her city digs at Buckingham Palace.
In Windsor, the procession was slimmed down, but still grand, the streets were packed, the church was once again full. But in a relative sense, it was smaller, more intimate.
The queen’s corgis, Muick and Sandy, were waiting at the castle. Her pony, Emma, stood on Long Walk as the coffin passed. There were fewer VIPs among the guests and many more people who had worked for the queen.
The queen was buried in a vault in St. George’s Chapel, alongside the remains of her parents, sister and husband, Prince Philip.
As the crowds dispersed in London, Jillian Martin, 51, an educator with the National Trust in Northern Ireland, looked for someone who might want her pillow and blanket. Barely used. She’d spent two nights camping with friends to claim a spot along the procession route. But there was no sleep. “How am I? Apart from been absolutely wrecked? Great. I met so many people. We won’t see the likes of what just happened ever again.”
Soon the rubbish brigades moved in. “We can’t let anyone see this eyesore,” said Sandra Stran, 57, who volunteered to help the cleanup team near Buckingham Palace. “I don’t want this mess. It look like a stadium after a heckuva football match.”
Jennifer Hassan and Annabelle Timsit contributed to this report.