Queen Elizabeth II made a final journey home to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday night as her coffin was received by her family in a small private ceremony before being handed back to the nation for her official lying in state.
Led by the King, her children, grandchildren, and their spouses, gathered inside the palace’s grand entrance as her cortege arrived. Those present included the Queen Consort, Prince and Princess of Wales, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
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.
It was a rare moment of intimacy for her family, whose grief has been on public show, and will be so again on Wednesday during the ceremonial procession taking the coffin to Westminster Hall for her four-day lying in state.
There Charles, William and Harry will join other senior male royals and Princess Anne walking behind the coffin.
The Princess Royal had accompanied her mother as she left her beloved Scotland for the last time on the flight from Edinburgh, where mourners had queued overnight to pay their last respects as the late Queen lay at rest in St Giles’ Cathedral.
In a personal statement Princess Anne 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.