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State funeral for Queen Elizabeth II marks the end of an era

King Charles III and senior members of the royal family capped 10 days of public mourning with a private ceremony for the queen at St. George's Chapel in Windsor.
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LONDON — Monday marked the end of the second Elizabethan age.

After 10 days of very public official mourning was capped by a majestic farewell for Britain’s longest-serving monarch, the coffin bearing Queen Elizabeth II’s body was lowered into the royal vault Monday after a ceremony at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

The elaborate occasion was witnessed by millions of her subjects and by billions more people watching broadcasts around the world.

Elizabeth’s son King Charles III and other members of the royal family are expected to witness the actual burial in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, which is a small alcove on the side of the main building. 

The queen will eventually be joined there by her husband, Prince Philip, after his body is moved from the royal vault where he was interred after he died last year.

Buckingham Palace said it would not release any other details about the “deeply personal family occasion.”

Unlike the public funeral at Westminster Abbey earlier in the day, which was attended by world leaders and others, the final service for Elizabeth in the chapel was a more private end to the grand chain of carefully choreographed ceremonies that began after she died Sept. 8 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

“There’s the queen,” a boy cried out as the crowd on the Long Walk watched the flower-strewn state hearse carrying Elizabeth’s coffin inch its way uphill toward Windsor Castle, accompanied by the booms of cannon fire.

This was what many had camped out for hours to see. And suddenly a forest of camera phones was being held aloft to capture a moment in history that many thought unimaginable during Elizabeth's 70-year reign.

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The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II is pulled past Buckingham Palace after her funeral service at Westminster Abbey. Vadim Ghirda / AP

Earlier, tens of thousands lined the Mall in London to watch the procession that followed the funeral.

The farewell for the monarch — whose 70-year reign began in the aftermath of World War II, outlasted the Cold War and spanned the dawn of the space race to the ubiquity of the internet — also cemented the rule of its new one.

Elizabeth’s coffin was carried on a Royal Navy gun carriage from the funeral service to the Wellington Arch near Hyde Park. It was then transferred to a state hearse for the journey to Windsor.

Before the funeral service, Westminster Abbey’s tenor bell tolled 96 times, once for every year of Elizabeth’s life, before her coffin was carried inside for the state funeral.

Behind the casket followed her eldest son, Charles, who at age 73 is finally taking the reins of the kingdom.

Then, for the next hour, there were tributes to Elizabeth and hymns that culminated in two minutes of silence observed by those in attendance and across the country.

In his sermon, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, recalled that when Elizabeth turned 21 she vowed, in a radio address to her millions of subjects around the world, to spend her life serving the British nation and the Commonwealth.

“Rarely has such a promise been so well-kept,” he said.

Toward the end of the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, mourners gathered in the ancient edifice sang “God Save the King,” a version of the national anthem that had not been heard there in 70 years.

The service took place after the epic line of devoted mourners who had spent four days filing past her coffin was halted, and more than a week of ceremonies steeped in ancient tradition came to a close.

And it was a send-off that played out on a grand scale.

About 4,000 military personnel were mustered to parade on the streets of London and Windsor. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, lined the streets. Inside Westminster Abbey, the guest list included leaders such as President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and European royals, as well as British doctors and other emergency workers.

Queen Elizabeth II Funeral London
Mourners watch the funeral on big screens in Hyde Park, London.Susannah Ireland for NBC News

The TV audience alone was expected to rival, if not surpass, the 2.5 billion estimated to have watched Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997.

The day of national mourning got an early start as the last members of the public were allowed into Westminster Hall to see Elizabeth lying in state at 6:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m. ET). The hall, which was built more than 1,000 years ago, was then closed in preparation for the grandest funeral in British memory.

But there were quiet moments of reflection and intimate remembrances of the only monarch most have ever known.

“It was incredible to be able to come and to be here and to just pay my respects,” said Sima Mansouri, 55, one of the last two members of the public allowed into Westminster Hall. “I’ve adored her since I was a little girl. I moved from the Middle East to the U.S. and then to the United Kingdom for the past 25 years. … I call this place home, and she made me feel like I was at home here and safe.”

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The queen’s coffin was lifted from its platform, known as a catafalque, shortly after 10:35 a.m. (5:35 a.m. ET) by members of the British Army’s Grenadier Guards, soldiers whose iconic tall, black busby hats have appeared in a million tourist photographs outside Buckingham Palace. 

They placed it on a gun carriage, which had been removed from active military service in 1901 to be used for the funeral of Queen Victoria, for a procession across Parliament Square.

It is a journey of barely 500 feet, but it was conducted at such a solemn pace that it took eight minutes.

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Princess Charlotte and Prince George arrive at Westminster Abbey, accompanied by Camilla, the queen consort. Andreea Alexandru / AP

The procession was led by 200 pipers and drummers from Scottish and Irish regiments, as well as Gurkhas — Nepalese fighters who traditionally have fought alongside British troops — and the Royal Air Force.

Flanking the coffin were pallbearers and royal bodyguards, while Charles, his wife, Camilla, the queen consort, and other royals walked behind.

Along with Biden and Macron, world leaders in attendance included the leaders of countries that are former British colonies, such as Indian President Droupadi Murmu, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

The funeral, which began at 11 a.m. (6 a.m. ET), featured readings by recently installed British Prime Minister Liz Truss and prayers from Britain's religious leaders.

The royal family watch as the hearse carrying the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II prepares to depart from near Wellington Arch, on its way to Windsor, in London, on Sept. 19, 2022.
The royal family watched as the hearse carrying the queen's coffin prepared to depart from near Wellington Arch, on its way to Windsor.Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Toward the end of the hourlong service, the last post bugle call sounded before a lament played by the queen’s piper brought the ceremony to a grand close.

Throughout the ceremony, a note topped a wreath of flowers on the queen's coffin.

The flowers were from royal estates, and they were personally chosen by Charles for their meaning: rosemary for remembrance, myrtle as the ancient symbol for a happy marriage and English oak, symbolizing the strength of love.

On the note was written: “In loving and devoted memory. Charles R.”

The “R” stands for “rex,” which in Latin means “king.”