500 dignitaries from around the world are due to attend the state funeral
King Charles and members of the royal family received the coffin of the late Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, after tens of thousands of people lined the streets in heavy rain to mark its arrival in the British capital.
On a dark night, the well-lit hearse travelled slowly from a nearby airport through London, with crowds stood all along the route, some in the road, others throwing flowers, and many ditching their cars or running from nearby streets to catch a glimpse of the cortege.
As it entered the grounds of the London palace, the police outriders who had led the way stopped to bow their heads.
Charles, who automatically became king on the death of his mother last week, had gathered to received the coffin along with his three siblings, two sons William and Harry, and other senior members of the royal family, a palace spokesperson said.
Outside the palace thousands of well wishers cheered as the state hearse, being used for the first time, entered the palace gates as darkness fell. The Queen had been consulted on the plans for the hearse, designed to allow the public to have a clear view of her coffin, and featuring her personal royal cypher.
The coffin was to rest overnight in the Bow Room, where the Queen had entertained foreign royalty, high-profile figures and dignitaries during her reign.
Princess Anne, the queen’s only daughter, travelled with the coffin, first from the remote castle at Balmoral to Edinburgh, where it was greeted by tens of thousands of mourners, and then as it was brought to London.
“It has been an honour and a privilege to accompany her on her final journeys,” Anne said in a personal statement said: “I was fortunate to share the last 24 hours of my dearest mother’s life. It has been an honour and a privilege to accompany her on her final journeys.
“Witnessing the love and respect shown by so many on these journeys has been both humbling and uplifting. We will all share unique memories. I offer my thanks to each and every one who share our sense of loss. We may have been reminded how much of her presence and contribution to our national identity we took for granted.
“I am also so grateful for the support and understanding offered to my dear brother Charles as he accepts the added responsibilities of the monarch. To my mother, The Queen, thank you.”
The coffin was loaded on to The Royal Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, bearing the callsign “Kittyhawk”, the official callsign for any military flight with the Queen on board. It was most recently used to take humanitarian aid and weapons to Ukraine, and in the evacuation from Kabul, and had arrived at RAF Northolt at around 7pm, with the cortege then driving slowly to Buckingham Palace along the A40, the route lined by well-wishers in the evening rain.
Inside the palace, the King and Queen consort gathered with the Duke of York, and Earl and Countess of Wessex were also present. So, too, were the Queen’s grandchildren and their spouses, including the new Prince and Princess of Wales, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. They were joined by Princess Margaret’s children, the Earl of Snowdon and Lady Sarah Chatto.
Earlier, the King had travelled to Northern Ireland for the first time as monarch. A flag-waving crowd, six-deep in places, greeted him and Camilla as they arrived at Hillsborough Castle, near Belfast.
Among his first tasks was a private meeting with the new Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, before meeting leaders of the five main parties across the political divide. In the Throne Room he accepted a message of condolence from the speaker of the Northern Ireland assembly. The royal couple later attended a service of reflection for the life of Queen Elizabeth II at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. Afterwards, he shook hands with the president of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, and though the meeting was informal, this marked the first meeting as a head of state for the King.
Addressing politicians at Hillsborough Castle, the King reflected how his mother “saw Northern Ireland pass through momentous and historic changes”. “Through all those years, she never ceased to pray for the best of times for this place and for its people, whose stories she knew, whose sorrows our family had felt, and for whom she had a great affection and regard,” added Charles, who in 2015 made a personal pilgrimage to the site of his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten’s murder in an IRA bombing.
He would, he pledged, follow the late Queen’s “shining example” as he resolved to “seek the welfare of all the inhabitants of Northern Ireland”.
London is preparing for huge queues for the Queen’s lying in state at Westminster Hall, before which her coffin will be taken in silent procession to Westminster Hall from Buckingham Palace on a gun carriage of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery.
As Big Ben tolls and minute guns are fired from Hyde Park, senior royals will walk behind the coffin, including the King, Duke of York, Princess Royal, Earl of Wessex, Prince of Wales, Duke of Sussex, Peter Phillips, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Duke of Gloucester and the Earl of Snowdon.
As a non-working royal Harry will, like his uncle Andrew, be wearing morning dress at the ceremonies. His spokesperson said: “Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex will wear a morning suit throughout events honouring his grandmother. His decade of military service is not determined by the uniform he wears and we respectfully ask that focus remain on the life and legacy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.”
The coffin will be carried from the gun carriage to the catafalque positioned in the centre of Westminster Hall. A short service will be held, then Westminster Hall will be open to the public to pay their respects from 5pm.
The Queen had lain at rest at St Giles’ Cathedral for 24 hours before making the journey south to England. People queueing overnight to file past the catafalque had faced a wait of five to six hours.
The mood was sombre and reflective, save for a group of civil liberties protesters who gathered on the pavement opposite the cathedral entrance, holding blank sheets of paper and a blank banner and “protesting their right to protest”, following multiple arrests that have happened amid ceremonies for King Charles and the late Queen.
About 500 dignitaries from around the world are due to attend the state funeral.
“This is the biggest international event we have hosted in decades,” a Whitehall source said. For most countries the invitation extends to the head of state plus a guest. It was a logistical task equivalent to organising “hundreds of state visits” within a matter of days, the source said. Invitations have not been sent to Russia, Belarus and Myanmar, sources said, while Iran will only be represented at an ambassadorial level.