At Queen Elizabeth’s burial: World stands still, King Charles fights back tears, Joe Biden shunts 14 rows back in seating plan




The world literally stood still Monday at England, the United Kingdom as   Queen Elizabeth‘s coffin was lowered into a vault at Windsor Castle, her final resting place.

The memorable event came after a day of inimitable pageantry that drew world leaders, including Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to her funeral and huge crowds to the streets to say farewell to a revered monarch.

Hundreds of thousands of well-wishers lined the route her hearse took from London, throwing flowers, cheering and clapping as it passed from the city to the English countryside that she so loved much.

Many more had crammed into the capital to witness the procession and funeral, in a moving tribute to Britain’s longest-serving monarch who won global respect during her 70-year-reign.

Inside the majestic Westminster Abbey where the funeral was held, some 500 presidents, prime ministers, foreign royal family members and dignitaries, including Joe Biden of the United States, were among the 2,000 congregation.

Later, the attention switched to St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, where some 800 guests attended a committal service ahead of her burial.

It concluded with the crown, orb and sceptre – symbols of the monarch’s power and governance – being removed from the coffin and placed on the altar.

The Lord Chamberlain, the most senior official in the royal household, then broke his ‘Wand of Office’, signifying the end of his service to the sovereign, and placed it on the casket before it slowly descended into the royal vault.

As the congregation sang the national anthem, King Charles appeared to be fighting back tears.

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 in the same chapel where her parents and sister, Princess Margaret, also rest.

It was in the same vast building that the queen was photographed mourning Philip alone during the pandemic lockdown, reinforcing the sense of a monarch in synch with her people during a testing time.

‘Abundant life’

At the funeral, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, told those present that the grief felt by so many across Britain and the wider world reflected the late monarch’s ‘abundant life and loving service’.

“Her late majesty famously declared on a 21st birthday broadcast that her whole life would be dedicated to serving the nation and Commonwealth,” he said.

“Rarely has such a promise been so well kept. Few leaders receive the outpouring of love that we have seen.”

Music that played at the queen’s wedding in 1947 and her coronation six years later again rang out. The coffin entered to lines of scripture set to a score used at every state funeral since the early 18th century.

After the funeral, her flag-draped casket was pulled by sailors through London’s streets on a gun carriage in one of the largest military processions seen in Britain, involving thousands of members of the armed forces dressed in ceremonial finery.

They walked in step to funeral music from marching bands, while in the background the city’s famous Big Ben tolled each minute. King Charles and other senior royals followed on foot.

The casket was taken from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch and transferred to a hearse to travel to Windsor, where more big crowds waited patiently.

Among those who came from around Britain and beyond, people climbed lampposts and stood on barriers and ladders to catch a glimpse of the royal procession.

Some wore smart black suits and dresses. Others were dressed in hoodies, leggings and tracksuits. A woman with dyed green hair stood next to a man in morning suit as they waited for the London procession to begin.

Millions more watched on television at home on a public holiday declared for the occasion, the first time the funeral of a British monarch has been televised.

“I’ve been coming to Windsor for 50 years now,” said Baldev Bhakar, 72, a jeweller from the nearby town of Slough, speaking outside Windsor Castle.

“I saw her many times over the years; it felt like she was our neighbour and she was just a lovely woman; a beautiful queen. It was good to say one last goodbye to our neighbour.”

‘Invincible’

Elizabeth died September 8 at Balmoral Castle, her summer home in the Scottish highlands.

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.

However, in line with her sense of duty, she was photographed just two days before she died, looking frail but smiling and holding a walking stick as she appointed Liz Truss as 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.

Her reign

The 40th sovereign in a line that traces its lineage back to 1066, Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952 and became 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.

Despite being reputedly 5ft 3ins (1.6m) tall, she dominated rooms with her presence and became a towering global figure, praised in death from Paris and Washington to Moscow and Beijing. National mourning was observed in Brazil, Jordan and Cuba, countries with which she had little direct link.

“People of loving service are rare in any walk of life,” Welby said during the funeral. “Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases, those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.”

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 – tolled 96 times.

Among the hymns chosen for the service were “The Lord’s my Shepherd”, sung at the wedding of the queen and her husband Philip in the Abbey in 1947. In the royal group following the casket into the Abbey was the queen’s great-grandson and future king, Prince George, aged nine.

In addition to dignitaries, the congregation included those awarded Britain’s highest military and civilian medals for gallantry, representatives from charities supported by the queen and those who made “extraordinary contributions” to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Towards the end of the service, the church and much of the nation fell silent for two minutes. Trumpets rang out before the congregation sang “God Save the King”. Outside, crowds joined in and broke into applause when the anthem was over.

The queen’s piper brought the service to an end with a lament called “Sleep, Dearie, Sleep” that faded to silence. (Reuters)

Biden shunts 14 rows back

Meanwhile, as the most powerful man on the planet, Joe Biden is normally front and centre of any gathering of world leaders.

Not so when it comes to British Royal decorum. The US President and First Lady were relegated to Westminster Abbey’s rear seats, assigned a pew seven rows from the back of Westminster Abbey’s south transept.

Protocols dictate that at the late Queen’s funeral, Commonwealth political leaders outrank those from the rest of the world, regardless of their importance. And so it was that  Biden found himself 14 rows from the front and nine behind Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, the neighbour that the US normally looks down upon. On this side of the pond, the world order can sometimes turn upside down.

There were other awkward encounters. Spain was abuzz that its disgraced former King Juan Carlos, a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, had not only been invited, but was sat next to his son King Felipe – the first time the men had been photographed together in public since the old king went into exile.

Biden, 79, sat in an aisle seat directly behind Andrzej Duda, the Polish leader, and one row in front of Petr Fiala, the prime minister of the Czech Republic. Jill Biden, America’s First Lady, could enjoy the company of Ignazio Cassis, the president of Switzerland, who sat to her left for the hour-long service.

Across the aisle from Mr Biden was South Korea’s head of state President Yoon Suk-yeol while two rows further ahead in the pecking order sat Emmanuel Macron, the French president.

 The seating arrangements were overseen by Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, who was in charge of the state funeral’s occasionally difficult issues of protocol. The Foreign Office – when asked what input it had had into the seating plan – referred all calls to Buckingham Palace.

With 2,200 guests packed into Westminster Abbey, the state funeral was always going to throw up potential difficulties. Just under a quarter of those invited – in the region of 500 people – were overseas heads of state or foreign dignitaries.

In accordance with protocol, the governors-general of the realms that retain the monarch as their head of state, were seated first with and elected Commonwealth leaders behind them.

That meant sitting Biden some distance back, behind the new King. On the same row as Biden, but on the other side of the aisle, sat China’s representative at the funeral, its vice president Wang Qishan. He was distinguishable by the facemask he wore as he walked into the abbey and which he kept on during the service.

Typically too, the US president is the last to arrive at any major function, the rest of the world kept waiting for him to show up. The US president arrived just after 10am, an hour before the service began and sat waiting with his wife without security detail.

The Bidens arrived at the abbey a little later than planned. World leaders were supposed to be seated in a 20-minute window between 9.35am and 9.55am. But the Bidens arrived 10 minutes after the cut-off and rather than being shown straight to their seats were forced to wait while a procession of George and Victoria Cross-holders went ahead of them. Only once they had passed could the president and First Lady enter the abbey. 

Biden had been granted the right to eschew the coaches that brought other world leaders and travel instead to the abbey in “The Beast”, the heavily armour plated limousine that was flown over especially for the occasion. 

Video footage showed the car travelling slowly down Oxford Street, en route to the funeral, even being brought to a halt at one point outside a branch of the sandwich chain Pret a Manger.

Mr. Macron was also given permission to arrive in his own car.

There was seemingly a protocol to the coaches too. Mr Trudeau had also requested his own car but that was turned down. “A lot of great conversations can happen on a bus,” he said later. Those world leaders arriving for the buses, held waiting for them at the Royal Chelsea Hospital, did so in style. 

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s president, was dropped off in a black BMW with the number plate GER 1, while Anthony Albanese, the prime minister of Australia chose a Jaguar. President Sergio Mattarella of Italy was dropped off in a Maserati with the licence plate ITA 1, which caused quite the stir among onlookers.

In Westminster Abbey, the foreign royals sat opposite their British counterparts with Europe’s longest-serving living monarch, Queen Margrethe of Denmark, at the front. King Charles III, the currently shortest reigning monarch, sat opposite.

King Abdullah of Jordan and his wife, Queen Rania, were seated two rows in front of the Gulf royals, who came unaccompanied by their wives.

Other foreign royals in the front pews included the King and Queen of Bhutan, who arrived with the Emperor and Empress of Japan aboard a royal bus from the Royal Chelsea Hospital.

King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain also travelled by bus, seemingly avoiding the difficulties of an encounter with the king’s estranged and disgraced father, Juan Carlos, who fled Spain under suspicion of fraud two years ago. Except that in the abbey, protocol seemingly dictated that King Felipe sit next to his father.

Carlos, who abdicated in 2014 after a series of scandals and publicised love affairs, and his wife Sofía, arrived separately at the cathedral.

But television cameras soon revealed that the disparate members of the Spanish royal family had been placed on the same pew. It was the first photograph of King Felipe and his father together since the latter entered self-imposed exile in Abu Dhabi more than two years ago. (The Telegraph)

 My relationship with Queen Elizabeth II – Obasanjo

 In a related development, former President Olusegun Obasanjo opened up on his relationship with Queen Elizabeth II, describing it as perfect.

In a statement Monday by his media aide, Kehinde Akinyemi, the former Nigerian leader described her as a personality with great human relations, whom he equally had perfect relationship with.

Obasanjo further eulogised the late Head of Commonwealth of Nations, hinting that he was about to leave the Secondary school, when the late Queen first visited the country in 1956.

Obasanjo said he was fortunate to have hosted the Queen as Nigerian President during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), in Abuja in 2003, “and I can say that she was wonderful.”

Obasanjo said: “My relationship with the Queen was perfect; she was a great, great woman, who had shown great example in human relationship. She carried herself so graciously, so dignified. She was somebody I have tremendous respect for.

“I join the rest of the world to mourn with her family, the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth (because she was the Head of the Commonwealth), and the rest of the world. I also mourn with Prince Charles, who promised to continue from where she had stopped. May her soul rest in peace.” 

Related content you may like