In a final homecoming, the Queen's coffin arrives in London

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In a final homecoming, the Queen's coffin arrives in London
A jewelry store displays a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in London, Sept. 12, 2022. Andrew Testa/The New York Times.

by Megan Specia

LONDON.- Crowds of Londoners lined the streets as Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin arrived at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday night, standing by to catch a glimpse of the royal hearse as it was driven from the Royal Air Force base in the city’s west to the queen’s official residence.

It was a homecoming of sorts. The queen spent most of her time living at Buckingham Palace after her coronation in 1953, although in recent years she increasingly spent time at Windsor Castle and Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

That Scottish home is where she spent her final days, and where she died Thursday. Over the weekend, the queen’s coffin was moved from Balmoral to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, where visitors paid their respects. The queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, accompanied the coffin back to London.

Since early Tuesday, people had flocked to the Mall, the road leading to the front of Buckingham Palace, and by the evening, thousands were lining the streets of the route from the air force base, wearing rain jackets or holding umbrellas as the royal hearse drove by. Some pulled their cars to the side of the road to stop and watch the hearse pass.

Many held their phones in the air to catch an image of the coffin, still draped in the royal standard of Scotland, in the illuminated hearse.

At Buckingham Palace, a guard of honor received the coffin before pallbearers from the Grenadier Guards took the coffin to the Bow Room, the palace said. The coffin will be placed on trestles in the center of the room. King Charles III; his wife, Camilla, the queen consort; and other members of the royal family were present, the palace said.

On Wednesday, a procession will take the coffin to Westminster Abbey, accompanied by the royal family. The queen will lie in state at the abbey before her funeral Monday. Beginning Wednesday evening, the public will be able to file past her coffin in Westminster Hall to pay their respects.

The government released plans for visitors to gain access to the hall beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The line could stretch for more than 4 miles along the banks of the River Thames.

More than 1,000 dedicated volunteers, stewards and officers from London’s Metropolitan Police will be on hand during the viewing days open to the public, according to a statement from the government. With waiting times several hours long expected, toilets and water fountains will be available at locations along the route. And local cafes and theaters will open for extended hours to provide food and drinks around the clock in the area where the throngs will line up.

Earlier on Tuesday, Charles and Camilla traveled to Northern Ireland as a continuation of his tour of the nations of the United Kingdom. They flew to the capital, Belfast, and visited Hillsborough Castle, where thousands of flowers draped the entrance.

The royal couple was greeted on the tarmac in Belfast by local officials, but also by two young people from a cross-community elementary school that brings together children from the Protestant and Catholic communities. Most schoolchildren in Northern Ireland are still educated in schools divided along religious lines.

Crowds cheered as the king and queen entered the village of Hillsborough, and later they spent time shaking hands with those waiting at the castle.

The king met privately with local political leaders at the castle and then received a message of condolence from the speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Hillsborough Castle, a Georgian-era mansion outside Belfast, is a royal residence and the official home of the secretary of state for Northern Ireland. The site played a major part in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement, which ended years of sectarian violence. Political parties held discussions there in 1997 and in 1998, the year the agreement was signed.

“In the years since she began her long life of public service, my mother saw Northern Ireland pass through momentous and historic changes,” Charles said. “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.”

The king’s visit comes at a politically fraught moment in Northern Ireland, amid a political stalemate that has seen the breakdown of a power-sharing agreement between unionist and nationalist parties on either side of the sectarian divide. The impasse has lasted for months, in part because of a debate over Brexit provisions.

The trip was Charles’ 40th to Northern Ireland but his first as monarch. Elizabeth visited Northern Ireland a number of times throughout her reign. One of the most memorable visits was in 2012, during her Diamond Jubilee tour, when she shook hands in Belfast with Martin McGuinness, former commander of the Irish Republican Army. The handshake was seen as a significant gesture for both of them, and an affirmation of the peace process.

Charles also met with religious leaders and attended a service at St. Anne’s Cathedral. The king’s tour of the United Kingdom will end in Wales on Friday.

In Edinburgh on Monday, the new king and his siblings — Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward — walked behind the queen’s coffin as it was moved from Holyroodhouse in the capital to St. Giles’ Cathedral.

Some people in the city stood in line for hours to file past the queen’s coffin overnight. By Tuesday morning, however, the wait time had been reduced to a little over an hour.

Peter Cooper, who works for British Airways and arrived in Edinburgh late Monday, went straight to the cathedral. The long lines overnight deterred him, so he returned Tuesday morning, he said.

“As I walked in there, I was welling up,” Cooper said. “I was in the right place at the right time, and I was really chuffed to be here.”

After prayers in the cathedral, the queen’s coffin was carried from the church Tuesday in a somber, quiet moment that saw Edinburgh momentarily stand still.

The thousands who crowded the streets fell silent as her coffin was loaded into the hearse, with Anne standing by. In a final goodbye, the crowd erupted in applause as the vehicle drove away.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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