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Queen’s Coffin Passes London Landmarks, in a Grand but Hushed Royal Display

LONDON — Carried on a gun carriage and greeted by the drone of artillery cannons and the ringing of the Big Ben bell, Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin was carried from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday, a final transfer of the sovereign’s body from her family to the British state.

At 2:22 p.m., the coffin, draped in the Imperial standard and with the Imperial state crown on a purple velvet cushion, began its stately roll across Buckingham Palace’s forecourt and through the main gate. That precise time was chosen, officials said, because the procession could reach Westminster Hall at 3 p.m. The Queen will remain there until her funeral on Monday.

King Charles III, dressed in uniform and holding a Field Marshal’s baton, walked behind the coffin, accompanied by his sister, Princess Anne, and their two brothers, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. His eldest son and heir, Prince William, recently named Prince of Wales, followed him alongside his brother, Prince Harry.

The procession, one of the most solemn public rites on the occasion of Elizabeth’s death, was intended to have less fanfare than other ceremonies. But like any element of the queen’s mourning period, very little was left to chance. Even the sunny skies over the parade route were cleared of aircraft, with Heathrow Airport disrupting flight schedules to eliminate the distant roar of jet engines.

The procession passed through the most famous symbols of official London – from Buckingham Palace to the Union Jack-lined view of the Mall, then past government offices in Whitehall and Downing Street – before arriving at Westminster Hall, an old building which is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster.

Though starkly formal, the Queen’s 38-minute journey was also personal and poignant. Her family had mourned their beloved matriarch in the intimacy of Balmoral Castle, where she died last Thursday; now they entrusted her to the nation. By mid-afternoon the line of people waiting to view the coffin had meandered across the Thames to south London; the government introduced a electronic tracker so people can check the waiting time.

As the Queen’s casket left the palace, it was accompanied by a face familiar to anyone who saw the Changing of the Guard. Grenadiers and Scottish guards marched in two rows, following the rhythmic blow of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. Behind them walked members of the Queen’s household, including her private secretary and custodian of the purse, as a final gesture of servitude.

By walking behind the coffin, members of the royal family took the same positions as they did during a procession on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on Monday. Their choice of clothing reflected their sometimes turbulent personal circumstances.

Prince Andrew, who served in the Royal Navy during the Falklands War, wore a morning suit rather than a uniform, reflecting his banishment from royal duties due to his association with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sexual predator.

Prince Harry, who retired from his duties and moved to the United States in 2020 with his American-born wife, Meghan, also wore a morning suit. Andrew will be wearing his uniform later this week for a final greeting to his mother. A spokesman for Harry said he was happy to wear civilian clothes.

The female members of the family – Queen Camilla; Catherine, the Princess of Wales; and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, drove to Westminster Hall in advance.

As the procession made its way through the Mall, the crowd was initially silenced. The only sounds were the mournful tones of Beethoven’s funeral march played by the Queen’s band, punctuated by the firing of tiny cannons from the royal artillery in Hyde Park and the distant toll sound of Big Ben, renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 in honor of the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee.

Buckingham Palace decided to record music only after a rehearsal on Wednesday morning, an official said. It was a rare break from the meticulous planning of the events, much of which has been years in the making.

Police erected green metal fences around the parade route, allowing thousands of people to scurry outside to glimpse through holes in the wall or watch live streams of it on their cell phones.

“It’s still freezing,” said Michael Day, 27, a real estate agent who tried to watch the procession on his iPhone. He said he was not surprised by the large crowd, which began to form early Wednesday morning.

“She was a symbol of the UK,” said Mr. day. “She’s such a constant throughout our lives. I think her death is really felt by everyone.”

Being tantalizingly close but not being able to see the procession up close was frustrating for some visitors, especially those who had traveled long distances to London. But for others, the chance to honor the Queen and participate in an event that only happens once in a generation trumped disappointment.

“She really is the matriarch of the UK,” said Anne Telford, 62, a Sheffield physiotherapist who was awarded a coveted ticket to attend a party during the Queen’s platinum jubilee in June. “She defines Britain. We all knew we loved her, but now we know how much everyone really loved her.”

Rosemary Herne, 70, a retired midwife, resorted to peeking through holes in the barriers after being turned away from Green Park and Hyde Park. Still, she said she planned to stay a few more hours to soak up the atmosphere. “You can see it all on television,” she said, “but it’s better to be here in person.”

As the procession passed through the Horse Guards Parade, the crowd began to applaud, their joyful displays of affection contrasting with the dirge songs played by the Queen’s band. On Whitehall, her coffin passed Downing Street, a reminder that in her last official act, the Queen accepted Boris Johnson’s resignation as Prime Minister and greeted his successor, Liz Truss.

Once under the old vaulted beams of Westminster Hall, the Queen’s coffin was placed on a catafalque, with a glittering cross, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, held a short service. “In my father’s house are many mansions,” he said, quoting from the Gospel of John.

Westminster Hall, in the shadow of Big Ben, is one of the most holy places in british public life. Founded by King William II in 1097, it is where King Richard I held his coronation banquet in 1189, Thomas More was tried for treason in 1535 and the body of Winston Churchill was laid in state in 1965.

An invitation to speak there is a great honor. Barack Obama is the only US president to have done so in 2011. He joined a list that included Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela, Pope Benedict XVI and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

On Wednesday, however, the hall was quiet as people marched on to pay their last respects to the Queen. Some cried softly. Others bowed, saluted or blessed themselves. At 5:45 p.m., the ushers stopped in line for a change of guards who kept watch at the coffin and served the queen in her death as they had done in her life.

Saskia Solomon reporting contributed.