Britain, world leaders and royalty from across the globe are preparing to bid a final farewell to Queen Elizabeth II, the last towering figure of her era, at a state funeral of inimitable pageantry.
At 6.30am on Monday (3.30pm AEST) an official lying-in-state period ended after four days in which hundreds of thousands of mourners queued to file past the casket of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch at London’s historic Westminster Hall.
They, like many across the globe including US President Joe Biden, had wanted to pay tribute to the 96-year-old who had spent seven decades on the British throne.
“You were fortunate to have had her for 70 years,” Biden said.
“We all were.”
Shortly before 11am (8pm AEST), the oak coffin, covered in the Royal Standard flag with the Imperial State Crown on top, will be placed on a gun carriage and pulled by naval personnel to Westminster Abbey for her funeral.
Among the 2000 in the congregation will be some 500 world leaders from Biden and Emperor Naruhito of Japan to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Mark Brown, prime minister of Cook Islands.
The Queen’s great-grandchildren, Prince George, 9, and Princess Charlotte, 7, the two eldest children of now heir to the throne Prince William, will also be attending.
“Over the last 10 days, my wife and I have been so deeply touched by the many messages of condolence and support we have received from this country and across the world,” King Charles III said in a statement.
“As we all prepare to say our last farewell, I wanted simply to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those countless people who have been such a support and comfort to my family and myself in this time of grief.”
The Queen died on September 8 at her Scottish summer home, Balmoral Castle.
Her health had been in decline, and for months the monarch who had carried out hundreds of official engagements well into her 90s had withdrawn from public life, although just two days before her death she had appointed Liz Truss her 15th and final prime minister.
Such was her longevity and her inextricable link with Britain that even her own family found her passing a shock.
“We all thought she was invincible,” Prince William told well-wishers.
The 40th sovereign in a line that traces its lineage back to 1066, Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952, Britain’s first post-imperial monarch.
She oversaw her nation trying to carve out a new place in the world, and she was instrumental in the emergence of the Commonwealth of Nations, now a grouping comprising 56 countries.
When she succeeded her father George VI, Winston Churchill was her first prime minister and Josef Stalin led the Soviet Union. She met major figures from politics to entertainment and sport including Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Pele and Roger Federer.
King Charles, his siblings and sons Princes William and Harry and other members of the Windsor family will slowly walk behind the coffin as it is taken on the gun carriage to Westminster Abbey, led by some 200 pipers and drummers
The tenor bell of the Abbey – the site of coronations, weddings and burials of English and then British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years – will toll 96 times.
Tens of millions of people in Britain and abroad are expected to watch the funeral of the monarch, something which has never been televised before. It will end with the Last Post trumpet salute before the church and the nation falls silent for two minutes.
Afterwards, the coffin will be brought through central London, past the queen’s Buckingham Palace home to the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner, with the monarch and the royal family following again on foot during the 2.5-kilometre procession.
From there, it will be placed on a hearse to be driven to Windsor Castle, west of London, for a service at St. George’s Chapel. This will conclude with the crown, orb and sceptre – symbols of the monarch’s power and governance – being removed from the coffin and placed on the altar.
Later in the evening, in a private family service, the coffin of Elizabeth and her husband of more than seven decades Prince Philip, who died last year aged 99, will be buried together at the King George VI Memorial Chapel, where her parents and sister, Princess Margaret, also rest.