A version of this story appeared in a special September 16 edition of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.
The tapping of a sword echoes through Westminster Hall. Here, in the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament, it reverberates instantly around the space, stopping people in their tracks and capturing their attention.
Moments later, footfalls on ancient steps resound as soldiers from units serving the Royal Household march into the room to relieve the guard around the Queen’s coffin.
Members of the public watch as the new guard makes its way in perfect synchronicity to the central platform, mesmerized by the jingling of medals as the soldiers move.
With another tap, the old guard troops out and its replacement takes up position, standing perfectly still beneath the 11th-century hall’s medieval roof.
The crowd reanimates once more and the lines streaming past the catafalque resume. Here, beneath these ancient timber beams, ancient traditions are playing out in present day.
The Queen has been lying in state since Wednesday, when her coffin was conveyed to Westminster Hall in a somber procession that saw King Charles III, Princes William and Harry and other senior royals follow behind on foot. It will remain here until the morning of the Queen’s state funeral on Monday.
The Queen’s mother and father both lay in state here before her: King George VI in 1952, and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 2002. So did her grandfather George V in 1936 and her great-grandfather Edward VII in 1910 – the first royal to lie in state.
State funerals are only reserved for monarchs, however, there has been one exception: Elizabeth II’s first prime minister, Winston Churchill. He also lay in state in the hall after his death in 1965.
As candlelight glistens on the symbols of state atop the coffin – the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign’s Orb and Sceptre – mourners pay their respects to the late monarch. Some young, some old, families with children in school uniforms, those of faith and those of none – all are here to say farewell and thank the Queen for her lifelong service.
The walk from one end of the hall doesn’t take long – a few minutes at most. After waiting for hours in The Queue, sometimes overnight, the fleeting moment they’ve all been waiting for finally arrives.
Men pause briefly to bow to the coffin while several women perform a deep, respectful curtsey. Some simply smile or nod their head. Others take a moment to blow a kiss toward the catafalque. Then there are the older military veterans, with medals proudly displayed, who stand to attention and perform one last salute to their former commander-in-chief.
Many in the queue have waited for hours and hours to get to this point. But as each person finds their own way to acknowledge the Queen, some stopping the flow of movement for the briefest of seconds, no one complains. Those in line wait patiently for the person ahead of them to do what they need to do before they move forward, and on toward the exit.
As the mourners reach the far side of the hall, almost every single person – including us – stops and turns back for one final look and to say a silent goodbye to the only monarch most have ever known.
(CNN’s James Frater contributed to this story.)
DID YOU KNOW?
Queen’s funeral details revealed.
Friday usually means it’s time for your weekly dose of royal headlines. Clearly this has changed a little since the Queen’s death last week as we’ve been sending a few more editions to make sure you’re kept in the loop on the latest funeral arrangements.
To that end, we wanted to send out a quick note today to make sure you didn’t miss the rundown of ceremonial events for the late monarch’s services on Monday.
The meticulously planned arrangements will see King Charles III and members of the royal family walk behind the coffin once more as it is moved from the heart of the British parliamentary estate to Westminster Abbey for the hour-long service.
There will also be a two-minute nationwide silence held shortly before the end of the state funeral service.
The Queen’s coffin is now at Westminster Hall, where it will remain until 6:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m. ET) on Monday. The state funeral in central London gets underway from 11 a.m. and then a committal service at St. George’s Chapel will take place from 4 p.m.
Only a minority will remember firsthand what life was like the last time the UK buried a monarch. Images taken in 1952 following the death of the Queen’s father, King George VI, reveal just how much the country – and the world – has changed.
Just like today, crowds poured into central London in February of that year, hoping to catch a glimpse of George VI’s funeral procession. But while the time-honored ceremonies remain much the same, the people watching them look quite different.
Check out our photo gallery of what Britain looked like when the last monarch died:
THE QUEUE TO END ALL QUEUES.
It is a moment for which Britain has been in solemn preparation for years. Multiple official agencies were brought together. Meticulous plans were secretly drawn up. Intricate logistical technicalities were ironed out. A route was carefully mapped out. And no country’s population could have been better prepared for it.
We are talking, of course, about the line that Britons must join in order to pay their respects to the Queen. This is not an ordinary line. It has taken on symbolic meaning, a ritual to be undertaken, an embodiment of the national mood. It is, in short, not a queue but The Queue.
It snakes from Westminster Hall, where the late monarch’s body is lying in state, for miles along the south bank of the Thames river. It stretches past landmarks such as the London Eye, the Globe theater and London Bridge. On Friday morning, the line was closed, having reached capacity for “at least six hours,” according to the UK government’s live tracker. Read our full story here.
The Queen’s eight grandchildren will stand vigil on Saturday.
Elizabeth II’s eight grandchildren will stand vigil beside her coffin in Westminster Hall on Saturday evening, a royal source told CNN Friday.
William, Prince of Wales, will stand at the head of the coffin while his brother Harry, the Duke of Sussex, will be at the foot for the 15-minute vigil, the source said. At the King’s request, both will be in uniform.
The Queen’s other grandchildren will be wearing morning coat and dark formal dress with decorations, the source continued. Read more here.
The moment a royal guard collapses by the Queen’s coffin.
While standing guard by the Queen’s coffin, a member of the royal guard collapsed and police rushed to his side. Take a look:
THE ONE ACCESSORY ELIZABETH WAS RARELY WITHOUT.
It wasn’t often that you saw the Queen with her hair uncovered. At state occasions, a crown or tiara rested atop a perfect coif. At the stables of Balmoral, where she tended to her ponies in Wellington boots and a Barbour jacket, a patterned scarf was always tied under her chin. But most often, it was a hat.
“You almost can’t see it in isolation. There’s always a brooch, there’s usually pearls, there’s usually white gloves,” Beatrice Behlen, senior curator of fashion and decorative arts at the Museum of London, said in a 2019 phone interview. “And then the matching hat.”
Hats were a part of the Queen’s life from childhood, when she was photographed in bonnets and berets. She would continue to wear them through adolescence and young adulthood, often coordinating with younger sister Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother. From the outset, her tastes were bold and provocative. Head over to CNN Style to find out more.