Poetic and symbolic, the grandest of the stages for the Queen's final farewell

·4 min read
The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in a Royal Standard and adorned with the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign's orb and sceptre arrives during the State Funeral Service for Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey
The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in a Royal Standard and adorned with the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign's orb and sceptre arrives during the State Funeral Service for Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey

By James Toney

On the grandest stage, with all the pomp and circumstance it is possible to muster, a nation said goodbye to its leading lady.

For more than seven decades, in a starring role she wasn’t born to do, Queen Elizabeth II defined an age and redefined the monarchy.

There is no sufficient superlative for the sheer scale of this final act in such a long-running drama, painted in vivid colours across postcard landmarks from London to Windsor.

There will be time for a discussion about whether traditions entrap your future or connect you to your past but surely that debate can wait.

She reigned at the hinge of history, where scientific and technological discoveries changed the world beyond recognition.

But sometimes it’s possible to find solace in the past and this greatest of state occasions, soaring and humbling in equal measure, was the finest tribute.

Hundreds of thousands lined the 21-mile route from the capital to her adored Windsor, where she was laid to rest with her beloved husband, father and mother at St George’s Chapel.

And billions more formed an invisible community as television linked living room to living room in a commonwealth of grief and gratitude.

The Queen's cortege borne on the State Gun Carriage of the Royal Navy travels along The Mall with the Gentlemen at Arms during her state funeral in London
The Queen's cortege borne on the State Gun Carriage of the Royal Navy travels along The Mall with the Gentlemen at Arms during her state funeral in London

There really shouldn’t be a sense of shock at the death of a 96-year-old woman but the mournful majesty of this day, so beautifully poetic and symbolic, means the nation might need a little space to regain its equilibrium.

It was a day instantly and indelibly imprinted on the national consciousness. From the massed bands to the lone piper, the relentless tolling of Big Ben to the precision metronomic marching through stilled streets, 75 steps per minute, no more, no less.

The Queen, shy despite living in the brightest glare, was said to hate the hush that invariably descended as she entered a room.

However, the pageantry and solemnity of this final engagement in a lifetime of service meant it could not be avoided.

Despite the broad canvas this story was painted on, with its all-star audience of global royalty and world leaders, this was also a very public family funeral.

The wreath on the Queen's coffin contained foliage of rosemary and myrtle, cut from a plant grown from her wedding banquet in 1947.

The hymn 'The Lord’s My Shepherd' was sung at her wedding while 'Love Divine, All Loves Excelling' has long been a royal favourite.

Marriages, births, coronations and deaths, the gilded tapestry of royal life unfolds at Westminster Abbey and this service reflected the Queen's devotion to the faith she loved.

The royal corgis await the cortege on the day of the state funeral and burial of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, at Windsor Castle in Windsor, Britain, September 19, 2022.   REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Pool
The royal corgis await the cortege on the day of the state funeral and burial of Queen Elizabeth, at Windsor Castle in Windsor.

She spent more than 90 years sitting through endless tree plantings, pop concerts, ribbon cuttings and nearly 40 editions of the Royal Variety Performance.

She had insisted she wanted her funeral not to be 'long and boring' and a sharp hour ended with a bugle blast of the Last Post.

Hers was a life lived in words and pictures – no woman was more written about or photographed – but this was a tale of numbers too, with 4.1 billion watching from all corners of her realms and beyond.

Police estimated more than a million people were in the capital as the State Hearse started its journey from Wellington Arch to Windsor, while more than half a million queued for 12 hours or more, walking more than three million miles in total, to pay their respects at Westminster Hall.

Hundreds of thousands have left floral tributes in recent days and on Windsor's Long Walk – those blooms framed the final yards of the Queen's final journey, a herbaceous border that stretched as far as you could see.

Against the soundtrack of horse's hooves, muffled drums, mournful bells, polished boots on hard tarmac and angelic choral voices, there were no half measures to this spectacular rite of nation, bathed throughout in breezeless autumnal sunshine.

The watching world may need to reconsider all they previously thought about British understatement.

There are almost too many enduring images to single out, memories that will pass from generation to generation and into the history books.

However, you can guarantee that nothing will have moved this nation of dog lovers quite like the sight of the Queen's two favourite corgis, watching their master slowly pass in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle.

And that, that is certainly what she would have wanted.