By Michael Holden and Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain, world leaders and royalty from around the world will bid final farewell to Queen Elizabeth, the last towering figure of her time, on Monday at a state funeral of inimitable pageantry.
At 6:30 a.m. (0530 GMT) an official period of lying in state ends after four days in which hundreds of thousands have lined up to pass the casket of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch at London’s historic Westminster Hall .
They, like many around the world, including US President Joe Biden, had wanted to pay tribute to the 96-year-old who had sat on the British throne for seven decades.
“You’re lucky to have had her for 70 years,” Biden said. “We all were.”
Shortly before 11 a.m., the oak coffin, covered with the Royal Standard flag with the Imperial state crown on it, will be placed on a gun carriage and hauled by naval personnel to Westminster Abbey for her burial.
Among the 2,000 in the congregation will be about 500 world leaders, including Biden, Emperor Naruhito of Japan, Wang Qishan, the Vice President of China and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The Queen’s great-grandchildren, Prince George (9) and Princess Charlotte (7), the two eldest children of now heir to the throne Prince William, will also be in attendance.
“Over the past 10 days, my wife and I have been so deeply moved by the many condolences and support we have received from this country and around the world,” Charles, the son of Elizabeth and the new king, said in a statement.
“As we all prepare to say goodbye, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank all those countless people who have been such a support and comfort to my family and myself during this time of grief.”
Elizabeth died on September 8 at her Scottish summer home, Balmoral Castle, at the age of 96.
Her health deteriorated and for months the queen, who had made hundreds of official appointments well into her 90s, had withdrawn from public life, even though she had named Liz Truss her 15th and final prime minister just two days before her death.
Her longevity and her inseparable bond with Britain were so great that even her own family found her a shock.
“We all thought she was invincible,” Prince William told the benefactors.
Elizabeth, the 40th sovereign in a line dating back to 1066, came to the throne in 1952, Britain’s first post-Imperial monarch.
She oversaw her nation’s attempt to conquer a new place in the world, and she was instrumental in the rise of the Commonwealth of Nations, now a grouping of 56 nations.
When she succeeded her father George VI, Winston Churchill was her first prime minister and Josef Stalin led the Soviet Union. She met almost every major figure from politics to entertainment and sports, including Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Pele and Roger Federer.
Despite reportedly being only 1.6 meters tall, she dominated the rooms with her presence and became a world star, hailed in death from Paris and Washington to Moscow and Beijing. National mourning was observed in Brazil, Jordan and Cuba, countries with which she had few direct ties.
“Queen Elizabeth II was without a doubt the most famous figure in the world, the most photographed person in history, the most recognizable person, and the fact that world leaders pour into London for the funeral… says a lot about this iconic figure,” historian said. Anthony Seldon to Reuters.
Transport chiefs said a million people were expected in central London for the funeral, while police say it will be the largest security operation ever in the capital.
King Charles, his siblings and sons, Princes William and Harry and other members of the Windsor family will slowly walk behind the coffin as it is transported in the gun carriage to Westminster Abbey, led by some 200 pipers and drummers.
The abbey’s tenor bell – the site of coronations, weddings and funerals of English and then British kings and queens for nearly 1,000 years – will ring 96 times.
In addition to dignitaries, the congregation will include those who have been awarded the highest British military and civilian medals of gallantry, representatives of charities supported by the Queen, and those who have made “extraordinary contributions” to the fight against COVID-19. pandemic.
TWO MINUTES OF SILENCE
Tens of millions in Britain and abroad are expected to attend the monarch’s funeral, something never before televised. It will end with the Last Post trumpet salute to the church and the nation will fall silent for two minutes.
The coffin is then taken through central London, past the Queen’s Buckingham Palace, home to the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park Corner, as the monarch and the royal family again follow on foot during the 1.5-mile (2.4 km) procession.
From there it will be placed on a hearse to be driven to Windsor Castle in West London for a service at St George’s Chapel. This will end with the crown, orb and scepter – symbols of the monarch’s power and governance – being removed from the coffin and placed on the altar.
The Lord Chamberlain, the most senior official in the royal household, will break his ‘Wand of Office’, signifying the end of his service to the sovereign, and place it on the coffin.
It will then be lowered into the royal vault as the Sovereign Piper plays a lament and slowly walks away until the music in the chapel gradually fades away.
Later in the evening, in a private family service, the coffin of Elizabeth and her husband of more than seven decades Prince Philip, who died last year at the age of 99, will be buried together in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, where her parents and sister, Princess Margaret, also rests.
“We are so glad you are back with Grandpa. Goodbye dear Grandma, it was the honor of our lives to have been your granddaughters and we are so incredibly proud of you,” said the grandchildren, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Janet Lawrence)