She often wore festive, bright colors, during her 70-year reign, to stand apart from the blend of male leaders in their somber suits. But it was also to help her achieve a primary goal. “I have to be seen,” she famously said, “to be believed.”
Queen Elizabeth II, who died at age 96 on Sept. 8, was not actually viewed during her majestic Sept. 19 funeral at Westminster Abbey — her closed coffin was draped in the Royal Standard flag and regalia — but never had all the world believed in her and in the history and great, sweeping tradition of Britain as it did in that moment.
As crowds ringed the London streets and stood at all the royal residences, hundreds of world leaders and dignitaries — including President Joe Biden, French president Emmanuel Macron and German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier — joined the royal family, war heroes and commoners inside the abbey to mourn the country’s longest-reigning monarch and much-loved figure, a woman who deftly seemed both untouchable and maternal to her subjects.
As Gaynor Madgwick, who survived a 1966 avalanche that buried her Welsh village, told The New York Times last week: “She looked over us, she protected us, she had sympathy, she had empathy. The queen has never let us down.”
Her majesty did not want a “long, boring” funeral, the former archbishop of York John Sentamu said in the days prior, and promised that the royal family, guests and all the watching world would be “lifted to glory” in a prayer book service and on the “angelic voices” of the choir of the Abbey plus the Chapels Royal.
She got her wish: The service lasted just over an hour and, along with the events preceding it and the processional that took her to Windsor Castle for burial in the tombs St. George’s Chapel, it offered a host of memorable moments that blended grief and gala, and high order with the touchingly human.
Bells of tradition
As 96 bells tolled, one for each year of the Queen’s life, 142 sailors — from Royal Navy vessels and stations across the U.K. — towed the queen’s coffin to the abbey on the State Gun Carriage of the Royal Navy, a tradition that began with Queen Victoria’s funeral in 1901.