The late Queen Elizabeth’s coffin was being driven slowly through London to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, to be met by her son and successor King Charles and her children, grandchildren and their spouses – a historic gathering of the royal family in the final days of mourning before Monday’s state funeral.
The flag-draped coffin was flown to London from Scotland in a Royal Air Force plane after lying at rest in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh overnight. About 33,000 people had filed past the coffin through the night in the Scottish capital to pay their respects to Britain’s longest-serving monarch.
Elizabeth died peacefully on Thursday in her holiday home at Balmoral Castle, in the Scottish Highlands, at the age of 96, plunging the nation into mourning for a monarch who had reigned for 70 years.
Earlier on Tuesday, Charles visited Northern Ireland to lead mourning for the queen there. Political leaders in Belfast paid tribute to his mother’s efforts towards reconciliation between the divided communities of the British-run province and urged him to follow her example.
He then returned to London as the coffin was flown south.
Tens of thousands of people had turned out to observe the procession of the coffin along Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile on Monday after it was brought from Balmoral. On Monday night, Charles, his sister Anne and brothers Andrew and Edward attended a silent vigil at the cathedral.
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Scotland bids farewell
The coffin was taken from St. Giles on Tuesday afternoon and taken by hearse to Edinburgh airport, groups of people standing in silence by the roadside. It was accompanied by Princess Anne.
“It has been an honour and a privilege to accompany her on her final journeys,” Anne said in a statement. “Witnessing the love and respect shown by so many on these journeys has been both humbling and uplifting.”
A party of bearers from the Royal Air Force carried the casket onto the transporter plane. A kilted honour guard from the Royal Regiment of Scotland stood with fixed bayonets as a regimental band played the national anthem as the plane began to taxi. With that, Scotland bade farewell to the queen.
The plane arrived at RAF Northolt outside London to be driven to Buckingham Palace, the main royal residence. Again people lined the route through West London, some huddling under umbrellas as rain poured down.
Crowds of people also gathered outside Buckingham Palace – the site of many memorable festivities during the queen’s reign, from royal wedding celebrations to jubilees.
On Wednesday, the coffin will be taken on a gun carriage as part of a grand military procession to Westminster Hall, where a period of lying in state will begin until the funeral on Monday.
Members of the public will be allowed to walk past the coffin for 24 hours a day until the morning of the funeral, which will be attended by dozens of world leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden.
In Northern Ireland, thousands of well-wishers greeted Charles with handshakes, smiles and warm words as he walked along lines of people crowding the streets outside Hillsborough Castle, the monarch’s official residence in the province.
But the visit was also laden with political significance given Britain’s historical record in Ireland and the more recent years of violence in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles.
At a ceremony at Hillsborough Castle, the acting speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Alex Maskey, paid fulsome tribute to the queen.
“Queen Elizabeth was not a distant observer in the transformation and progress of relationships in, and between, these islands,” said Maskey, a member of Sinn Fein, which seeks the reunification of Ireland.
“She personally demonstrated how individual acts of positive leadership can help break down barriers and encourage reconciliation,” he said.
Maskey, who was himself interned by the authorities as an Irish Republican Army suspect in the 1970s, said Charles had already shown he understood the importance of reconciliation and was committed to it.
“The challenge for all of us is to renew the work that you and Queen Elizabeth have already done,” he said.
In 2011, Elizabeth became the first British monarch to visit the Irish Republic since independence from London almost a century earlier.
Although a potent symbol of the union, she made powerful gestures of reconciliation for Britain’s bloody past in Ireland during the state visit, culminating in a speech in which she expressed regret for centuries of conflict.
A year after her visit to Ireland, the queen, whose cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by the IRA in 1979, shook the hand of former IRA commander and then Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness in Belfast.
It was a milestone in a peace process that largely brought an end to three decades of violence between pro-British, largely Protestant, factions and nationalists, mostly Catholic, seeking to reunited Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Charles, addressing senior politicians at the castle, said he was committed to the welfare of all the people of Northern Ireland. He also paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth.
“My 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,” he said.
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Support for Charles up
A new poll, meanwhile, showed Charles has enjoyed a surge in support since he became king.
Now 63% think he will be a good king, a rise of 24 percentage points since March, while 15% believe he will do a bad job, compared with 31% six months ago, the YouGov poll found.
Charles had carved out a role for himself speaking out on issues from climate change to architecture, an at times controversial contrast to his mother, who kept her personal opinions hidden throughout her reign.
Since becoming king, he has repeatedly said he would follow his mother’s example.