The Daily Telegraph

Fitting send-off for a beloved monarch


In bright autumn sunshine, a welcome contrast to the unseasonal weather that accompanie­d Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, the nation bade farewell to its late sovereign amid solemn ritual and magnificen­t ceremony that will live long in the memory.

It was a fitting send-off for the country’s oldest and longest-reigning monarch, one who was held more highly in the affections of her subjects than probably any other in history.

The occasion was sad, but not gloomy. After all, a full and largely healthy life spanning 96 years is to be celebrated as much as mourned.

The 10 days of national mourning, following Queen Elizabeth’s death at Balmoral, have allowed her people to thank her for the sacrifices they know she made throughout her long life. They culminated in the first state funeral for nearly 60 years – and the first for a sovereign to be held in Westminste­r Abbey since 1760 – a profoundly moving event rooted in the Anglican liturgical tradition that meant so much to the late Queen.

After having lain in state since last Thursday, attracting an estimated 450,000 people to file through the Great Hall at Westminste­r, her coffin was drawn on a gun carriage by naval ratings the short distance to the Abbey for the service.

Draped in the Royal Standard and topped with the Imperial State Crown, orb and sceptre, it stood on a catafalque in the centre of the ancient building that was conceived by Edward the Confessor 1,000 years ago and is a symbol of national continuity. It was in the Abbey that she was crowned in 1953, ushering in the second Elizabetha­n era that has come to a close with the accession of her son King Charles III.

The funeral rites were conducted before a congregati­on 2,000 strong, containing heads of state and dignitarie­s from around the globe. They were followed by a procession one-and-a-half miles long that made its stately way along The Mall, past Buckingham Palace to Wellington Arch, where the coffin was transferre­d to a hearse for the final drive to Windsor.

Hundreds of thousands of people lined the route for one last glimpse. Many of them were no doubt thronging the same streets only a few months ago to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee, a milestone that will almost certainly never be surpassed. The success of that event served to remind the late Queen of how greatly she was esteemed. We should be grateful that she lived long enough to see it.

So much has been written and said in recent days about Queen Elizabeth’s dedication to service that it should have come as no surprise to see the reaction her death caused not only among her subjects at home, but also among her many admirers overseas.

Yet, still, the willingnes­s of people to queue for the best part of 12 hours to pay their respects was extraordin­ary, and testament to personal qualities that transcende­d her status as monarch.

As Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, observed: “People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer.” She was loved in return not only because she was the Queen, but also because of the manner of her 70-year reign – selfless and dutiful beyond measure. “Few leaders receive the outpouring of love we have seen,” the Archbishop added.

Her loyalty to her people reciprocat­ed theirs to her. There have been times in our past when the British have retained a grudging respect for the monarchy even if they have been less than fond of the monarch. That was never the case with Queen Elizabeth. The affection in which she was held was sincere and acted as an important bulwark for the institutio­n itself.

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, Arthur Balfour, told Parliament that: “In all the history of the British monarchy there has never been a case in which the feeling of national grief was so deep-seated, so universal, so spontaneou­s.” If that was the case then, it is even more so now. The loss of Queen Elizabeth is felt by us all.

For the great majority of us, born since she ascended the Throne, she has always been there, a reassuring and unflappabl­e presence, a steady point in often turbulent times. She was the nation’s matriarch; and while it is hard to imagine a world without her, she devoted her life to ensuring a seamless transition of the Crown to her eldest son, and that is her greatest legacy.

As the daughter of King George V’s second son, she did not enter this world to be a queen, yet she departed it every inch a sovereign, more deserving of the title majesty than almost any of her predecesso­rs.

It was at the committal in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where the most poignant moment of a powerfully emotional day unfolded, as the insignia of her office – orb, sceptre and crown – were removed from the coffin before it was lowered into the vault. There she will rest alongside her late consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, and her father, mother and sister. Now she has gone, we lament her passing but celebrate her life. As Wordsworth put it: “We will grieve not, rather find/strength in what remains behind.”

Elizabeth II did not enter this world to be a queen, yet she departed it every inch a sovereign

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