The departure of the oak coffin of Queen Elizabeth II from Balmoral Castle, where the flag flew at half-mast, marks the beginning of a national mourning odyssey – Copyright AFP Aamir QURESHI
Callum Paton with Danny Kemp in London
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II embarks on her final journey on Sunday with thousands of her mourning subjects expected to line the path of her coffin from the Scottish sanctuary where she died.
The solemn departure of the Queen’s oak coffin from Balmoral Castle to Edinburgh marks the start of a national mourning odyssey, culminating in her state funeral in London on 19 September.
Her journey begins the day after her son Charles III was formally proclaimed king, and after her feuding grandsons William and Harry and their wives Kate and Meghan were briefly reunited for a walk.
The hearse carrying the coffin of Britain’s longest-lived monarch will make a six-hour journey through Scottish cities before arriving in Edinburgh, where it will rest for two days so people can pay their respects.
The king himself will then travel to Edinburgh on Monday for a prayer service before the body of the queen, who died at Balmoral at the age of 96, is brought back to the capital on Tuesday.
She will then be in state for four days at an event expected to draw at least a million people before the funeral, which will be watched around the world and attract numerous heads of state.
“We are now living in history,” said Laura Burns, 49, who planned to try to see the Queen’s coffin passing in Edinburgh after arriving in the city because her son is going to university.
“It’s a very respectful atmosphere,” she told AFP.
– Unity Show –
While Charles’s accession has pushed Britain into what the newspapers have called a new “Carolian” era, Britain and the royal family still cannot come to terms with the end of the Elizabethan era.
Prince William broke his silence with an emotional tribute to his beloved “grandmother” on Saturday.
“She was by my side in my happiest moments. And she was by my side during the saddest days of my life,” said William, who is now Prince of Wales.
But the Queen’s death also sparked an unexpected display of unity from William, 40, and his younger brother Harry, 37, as they stepped out with their wives to speak with well-wishers outside Windsor Castle near London.
The sight of two couples who have hardly seen each other since 2020 together – even if they have parted ways to talk and shake hands from opposite sides of the cheering crowd – is likely to spark reconciliation rumors.
A photo of the four members of the royal family was published on the front page of The Sun newspaper on Sunday under the headline “All 4 in one”.
Senior members of the royal family, including the Queen’s children, Princess Anne, Princes Andrew and Edward and their families, also toured the flowers outside of Balmoral, where they remained after the Queen’s death.
The Queen’s coffin, adorned with the Scottish Royal Standard and floral wreath, is kept in the Balmoral Ballroom and will be carried to her hearse by the estate’s six gamekeepers.
– “Many, many people” –
The symbolism of the queen’s last journey will be heavy for a nation that has strong royal ties but where there is a strong Scottish independence movement seeking to break the centuries-old alliance with the United Kingdom.
The motorcade will depart at 1000 (0900 GMT), then pass through Aberdeen and Dundee and arrive in Edinburgh at 1600.
Special viewing platforms are being set up along the route, although mourners will be asked not to throw flowers at a passing column.
“We expect many, many people to want to pay their respects,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.
The Queen’s coffin will be taken to Holyroodhouse Palace, the monarch’s official residence in Scotland, where he will rest for the day.
King Charles and other members of the royal family will take part in a procession on Monday to carry her coffin down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile to St Giles’ Cathedral.
The next day, the coffin will be flown by RAF aircraft to Northolt Airfield near London and flown to Buckingham Palace. Then, on Wednesday, he will be moved to Westminster Hall to be on staff.
King Charles will also visit Northern Ireland and Wales as a sign of national unity, accompanied by British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who was appointed by the late Queen only on Tuesday.
He has seen his popularity rebound since Diana’s death in a car crash in 1997, but he takes the throne at a time of deep concern in Britain over the skyrocketing cost of living and international instability caused by the war in Ukraine.
– “Inspirational example” –
Charles vowed at the official Affiliation Council at St. James’s Palace on Saturday that he would “strive to follow the inspiring example set for me” by his mother during her “lifetime ministry.”
The centuries-old tradition was broadcast live for the first time, featuring a fanfare of trumpets and a court official in a feathered hat proclaiming him king from the balcony of the palace.
In recent days, thousands of people have gathered outside Buckingham Palace and other royal residences to lay flowers and offer condolences or simply watch history unfold.
But officials expect many more people to pay their respects while the Queen is in her condition, ahead of a televised funeral service at Westminster Abbey opposite.
The funeral of the Queen, who ascended the throne at the age of just 25 in 1952, will be attended by national leaders including US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and possibly Emperor Naruhito of Japan.
Her record 70 years on the throne have been consistent in a turbulent time for Britain, from a world of post-war deprivation and the loss of her empire to more recent traumas such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Charles’s coronation, an elaborate ritual steeped in tradition and history, will take place in the same historic setting of Westminster Abbey as it has for centuries, on a date to be decided.