To the sound of bagpipes, 142 members of the Royal Navy, their arms interlocked and expressions solemn, began to pull the Queen’s coffin towards Westminster Abbey ahead of the Queen’s state funeral service.
Behind them Princes Harry and Andrew seemed to take a deep breath to compose themselves. King Charles III and his heir the Prince of Wales looked stoically ahead. It was the beginning of a simple yet profoundly emotional state funeral.
Hours earlier, as the bells of Westminster Abbey began to ring out every minute for 96 minutes, once for every year of the Queen’s life, over 2,000 guests filled the rows of the centuries-old church.
Five of the Queen’s former prime ministers, Boris Johnson, Theresa May, David Cameron, Tony Blair and John Major arrived together in an unusual show of unity. All had previously expressed their gratitude for the Queen’s wise counsel and advice. Current prime minister Liz Truss arrived separately with her husband Hugh O’Leary.
World leaders like French president Emmanuel Macron or American president Joe Biden sat on the same wooden chairs alongside royalty like the Emperor and Empress of Japan and King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain. Many of them had been ferried in with minibuses and quietly took up their assigned seating.
As the bells continued to chime the procession drew near, led by 200 musicians made up of Massed Pipes and Drums of the Scottish and Irish Regiments, the Brigade of Gurkhas, and the Royal Air Force.
Flanking the state gun carriage were officers who served the Queen, and bodyguards from the Gentlemen at Arms, Yeoman of the Guard and the Royal Company of Archers. The carriage has been pulled by the Royal Navy since Queen Victoria’s funeral in 1901.
Behind the coffin walked King Charles III joined by his sister Princess Anne, his brothers, Princes Andrew and Edward, Princes William and Harry, and Peter Philips, son of Princess Anne.
It was a procession practiced to perfection. Dutifully the Queen’s procession walked together, 75 steps per minute, a speed reserved for funerals. Swaying as one, their faces determined and composed. It was the best of British pageantry as it made its way towards Westminster Abbey.
However, as the bagpipes waned and organ music could be heard wafting through the church’s gate, the pomp made way for a simple Christian funeral.
As the bearer party of eight in blazing red and gold uniform carried the coffin down the abbey’s nave Prince William suddenly seemed overcome with emotion. All 2,000 guests stood to pay their respects.
A small cough from the Dean of Westminster David Hoyle and Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral began – the first state funeral since Sir Winston Churchill’s in 1965.
“With gratitude we remember her unswerving commitment to a high calling over so many years as Queen and head of the Commonwealth,” he said.
“With admiration we recall her lifelong sense of duty and dedication to her people. With thanksgiving we praise God for her constant example of Christian faith and devotion. With affection we recall her love for her family and her commitment to the causes she held dear.”
It was a simple service, one in which the Queen’s presence was felt throughout. It was a funeral she had planned herself and planned so to perfection. There was no dull moment but rather an explosion of powerful music and precise readings which inspired hope rather than sorrow.
The Queen had chosen all the hymns herself, many of which had special meaning to her. ‘The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want’ was sung at her wedding and ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’ was sung at the weddings of then Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles and of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
The sunlight streamed through the windows and illuminated the crown jewels atop the coffin, draped with the Royal Standard flag. Behind the crown, orb and sceptre laid a wreath of pink, purple and yellow flowers.
After a powerful first reading by the Baroness Scotland, secretary general of the Commonwealth from the first lesson from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians about the resurrection of Christ and the promise of eternal life, Prince Edward seemed to wipe away a tear. Liz Truss read from the Gospel according to John about Christ’s promise to his followers of a place in heaven before the Archbishop of Canterbury began his sermon.
“The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death,” he began. “The pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignored – is that death is the door to glory. Her Late Majesty famously declared in a 21st birthday broadcast that her whole life would be dedicated to serving the Nation and Commonwealth. Rarely has such a promise been so well kept!”
The archbishop spoke of the Queen’s faith and her sense of duty to the nation and Commonwealth. He also recalled the Queen’s broadcast to the nation during the Covid lockdown which she ended by saying ‘we will meet again’.
“We will all face the merciful judgment of God: we can all share the Queen’s hope which in life and death inspired her servant leadership. Service in life, hope in death. All who follow the Queen’s example, and inspiration of trust and faith in God, can with her say: ‘We will meet again’,” he concluded.
King Charles III remained composed throughout the service but could not help being moved when hundreds of voices sounded “God Save The King”. He seemed almost tearful as he listened to the anthem, aware of the responsibility now placed upon him as the nation’s new king.
In a touching scene, many of the guests curtsied and bowed their hands as the Queen was carried past them accompanied by hopeful organ music. Outside the abbey the sun had broken through the clouds.
As the state gun carriage was drawn by members of the Royal Navy towards Wellington Arch, the crown glimmered and sparkled in the sun. In the flower wreath on top was a card which read: “In loving and devoted memory. Charles R.”
You can look back on the Queen’s funeral service here.
Featured image credit: Reuters