Charles III and his brothers and sister walk in the lead. Following, despite their estrangement, are Princes William and Harry. United in mourning, the royal family accompanies Elizabeth II through the heart of London, in front of thousands of people who are often moved to tears.
Like a period of tributes regulated to the millimeter and loaded with historical symbols and traditions, the procession starts at exactly 2:22 p.m. (1:22 p.m. GMT) from Buckingham Palace and the late sovereign leaves for the last time the building where she grew then which became his official residence as monarch for more than 70 years.
At the precise rhythm of 75 steps per minute, typical of funerals, the procession rushes on the Mall, the wide avenue of almost a kilometer where, a little more than three months ago, a joyful crowd celebrated the platinum jubilee of the Queen, for her 70 years of reign.
Silence and contemplation this time accompany the coffin of the adored monarch of the British. Behind him, King Charles III, Princess Anne and Princes Andrew and Edward, followed by three of his grandchildren, including Princes William and Harry, for the second time publicly side by side since the Queen’s death , last Thursday.
The image recalls, 25 years earlier, the day when the two much younger boys walked with their father behind the coffin of their mother Diana, shocking the whole world.
Behind the coffin, in civilian costume, Prince Andrew contrasts with his brothers and sisters, in uniform. The Duke of York was banned from the monarchy and stripped of his military titles earlier this year after he was at the heart of a scandal, accused of sexually abusing a 17-year-old girl.
Imperial crown and white dahlias
Placed on a gun carriage of the Royal Horse Artillery, the coffin is draped with the royal standard on which are placed the imperial crown on a purple cushion as well as a wreath of flowers, composed of roses and white dahlias, as well as foliage from pines, lavender and rosemary from the gardens of the royal residences of Balmoral and Windsor.
Every minute, a cannon shot from nearby Hyde Park and the bell of Big Ben punctuate the procession.
Preceded by police on horseback, and escorted by soldiers from different regiments, the funeral procession slowly advances under a light sun, to the sound of the brass band of the Royal Marines corps, playing funeral marches by Beethoven, Chopin and Mendelssohn.
Applause and crying
In the crowd contained behind barriers and watched by police with their backs to the Mall, some cry as the procession passes. Many were unable to reach the Mall to see the procession pass and follow it on giant screens installed in the capital.
“I remember when King George VI died… I didn’t come, but I saw the photos in the newspaper and the film of the procession at the cinema. Today I really wanted to be here and see“, tells AFP Ian Gammie, a 79-year-old retiree who came with his wife.
“In a way it’s a duty to be here in the procession, after all the Queen has done for the UK and the world“, also believes David Valentine, 48, who came from Manchester with his mother.
Applause greets the procession at Horse Guards Parade Square and then down the avenue leading to Parliament, where the procession passes the statue of Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II’s first Prime Minister.
After a walk of about forty minutes, the procession finally enters the Palace of Westminster, seat of the British Parliament. Eight pallbearers then lift the coffin, enter Westminster Hall, the oldest chamber in Parliament, and lay it on the purple-draped catafalque, accompanied by religious chants that echo through the huge edifice.
It is here that the public will be able to gather in front of the closed coffin of Elizabeth II until the morning of the funeral, Monday, and to say their last farewells to the monarch with unparalleled longevity in the history of the United Kingdom.