The death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, Sept. 8, at her private residence of Balmoral Castle in Scotland, marked the end of an era in the United Kingdom and around the world.
Her reign, the longest in British history, was celebrated during this summer’s Platinum Jubilee. In 1952, as a young monarch at the age of 25, she symbolized hope and optimism in the postwar period. Over the next 70 years, she was a constant presence with the capacity to change to meet the opportunities of a rapidly evolving world. She had the special magic to simultaneously maintain the dignity of the monarchy while enabling the world to feel deeply connected to her and the crown.
Over the past decade, I’ve traveled to the United Kingdom with students, for my own research, and for holiday. I wrote to the late queen about those travels and was elated to receive several replies. I treasure these letters and my memories of travels to London and throughout her realm.
For visitors to Edinburgh and London, certain sites are obligatory itinerary stops because of their historic or cultural importance. Now, these places will be the backdrop to the mourning period and State Funeral of Her Majesty the Queen.
Here are seven such locations that will play a role in the somber pageantry to honor Queen Elizabeth II’s life and legacy.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
The plans for the queen’s memorial services are a well-rehearsed protocol referred to as Operation London Bridge. The Earl Marshal, the highest-ranking peer in England, will oversee these arrangements. As Queen Elizabeth died while in Scotland, the plans are following a contingency known as Operation Unicorn, a reference to one of the heraldic beasts on the royal coat of arms.
On Sept. 11, a cortege transported Queen Elizabeth’s Coffin from Balmoral Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. The monarch’s official residence in Scotland, the Palace sits at the base of the Royal Mile across from the Scottish Parliament. The Queen’s Coffin rested overnight in the Throne Room.
Holyrood, or Holy Cross, originated as an Augustinian abbey set in the shadow of the windswept crag of Arthur’s Seat. It is perhaps most famous for its connection to Mary, Queen of Scots. The 289-room palace was used each summer by Queen Elizabeth to host official engagements. Holyrood attracts visitors to tour the historic and state apartments throughout the year.
Saint Giles’ Cathedral
Saint Giles’ crown-shaped steeple is a distinctive feature of Edinburgh’s skyline. The historic church is positioned at the midpoint of the Royal Mile between Holyrood and Edinburgh Castle. It is home to the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle, the senior order of chivalry in Scotland.
On Sept. 11, a proclamation of the queen’s death and the accession of King Charles III was read from the Mercat Cross outside of cathedral. The next day, Sept. 12, following a Ceremony of the Keys at Holyrood, the queen’s coffin was transported to Saint Giles’ Cathedral for a memorial service. In the evening, members of the royal family staged a solemn watch, the Vigil of the Princes, which is anticipated to be repeated in London.
The queen’s coffin lay in rest at the cathedral’s high altar guarded by the Royal Company of Archers. The oak coffin was draped in the Royal Standard and surmounted by regalia associated with the crown’s Scottish heritage. Over 24 hours, mourners paid their respects before the coffin’s journey to London on Sept. 13.
As the working residence of the monarchy in London, Buckingham Palace is synonymous with the British monarchy. From the Changing of the Guard to gatherings on the front balcony at times of national celebration, this residence is the centerpiece of the royal lineage.
The palace has 775 rooms, including 19 staterooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, and 92 offices. Once the domain of aristocrats, courtiers, and visitors to official engagements, Buckingham Palace and many other properties were opened to the general public by the late queen.
The queen’s coffin will rest in the Bow Room overlooking the walled gardens behind the Palace. On Sept. 14, a procession will convey the coffin to the Palace of Westminster, the seat of Parliament on the River Thames.
The Ceremonial Route
The streets and buildings of central London are organized like theatrical set pieces to frame momentous occasions in the life of the nation. Thousands of mourners are expected to line the processional route hoping to catch a final glimpse of Her Majesty and partake in this historic occasion.
The queen’s coffin will depart Buckingham Palace and pass the Queen Victoria Memorial. This ornamental statue is dedicated to the late queen’s great-great-grandmother who similarly enjoyed a long reign.
The procession will continue down the Mall. This was the site of the Platinum Jubilee Pageant, a vibrant celebration of Britain’s transformation from 1952 to 2022. With its red pavement, the Mall runs between St. James’s Park and St. James’s Palace where the Accession Council met and the Garter King of Arms read the formal proclamation of King Charles III.
The coffin will notably pass by the statues of the late queen’s parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The procession will continue through Horse Guards Parade, the site of the annual Trooping the Colour, and Horse Guards Arch. As the retinue turns onto Whitehall, it will pass by government buildings like the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street and the Cenotaph, the national World War I memorial.
When the procession enters Parliament Square, the Coffin will pass beneath the watchful gaze of the statue of Winston Churchill, the first of fifteen prime ministers to serve the Queen. Across the road, the recently refurbished Elizabeth Tower with its iconic clock face and signature bell, Big Ben, marks the end of the ceremonial route in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster.
Palace of Westminster
Known in the modern era as the seat of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster traces back to the reign of Edward the Confessor. During her reign, the queen opened every Parliament in person except three.
The medieval Westminster Hall will be the setting for the Queen’s Laying in State. Built in 1097 at the direction of William Rufus, the stone walls and hammerbeam roof create a vast, unobstructed space befitting this solemn moment.
The coffin will rest on a raised platform called a catafalque. The coffin will be draped by the Royal Standard. The Imperial State Crown, orb, and scepter will rest on the coffin. These items, resplendent with precious stones and diamonds, make up part of the crown jewels kept in the Tower of London.
Mourners will have the opportunity to file past the coffin to offer condolences over four days. Members of the military units that serve the royal household will stand vigil.
The Laying in State will conclude on the morning of the State Funeral. Big Ben will toll as the coffin is drawn on the State Gun Carriage of the Royal Navy to the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey’s soaring towers.
Perhaps no building in Britain is more significant for its association with the crown than Westminster Abbey. This has been the site of every English coronation since William the Conqueror in 1066.
Queen Elizabeth II witnessed her own father’s coronation here in 1937. A decade later, she celebrated her wedding to Prince Philip. In 1953, she was crowned with great pomp and ceremony after processing up the 166-foot nave through the gilded quire screen into the heart of the church. The abbey will embrace the queen once more to commemorate her long life of service.
Inside the abbey, 2000 dignitaries will sit in the nave and the more intimate quire. The Choir of Westminster accompanied by the great organ and state trumpeters will provide the soundscape to the service.
Queen Elizabeth II is the first monarch to have a funeral in the abbey since her ancestor King George II in 1760.
When the funeral concludes, a procession will convey the coffin through the streets of London for a final farewell from her subjects before being taken to Windsor Castle.
Windsor Castle traces back to the motte and bailey fortress of William the Conqueror. Throughout the centuries, including this one, monarchs have added their personal touch to this massive structure.
For Queen Elizabeth II, Windsor was her weekend retreat. She spent the early years of World War II here and later took refuge during the COVID pandemic. She held weekly teas with her grandson Prince William while he studied at Eton and hosted numerous investitures, state banquets, and family occasions at the Castle. She could be seen riding in Windsor Great Park or walking her corgis on the grounds well into her nineties.
The magnificent Saint George’s Chapel is home to the Order of the Garter, England’s most ancient and senior order of chivalry. The Queen’s Coffin will be carried there for her family to share a final goodbye and word of thanks to its matriarch. Queen Elizabeth will be interred in the Royal Vault and will then rest along with her beloved Prince Philip in the King George VI Memorial Chapel.
Thank you, Ma’am
On her 21st birthday, while still a princess, Elizabeth pledged to her subjects that her “whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.” She certainly upheld this profound promise. Queen Elizabeth II represented the very best of Britain; her service, grace, and unwavering devotion to duty were inspirational. May the queen now be at peace and at rest.
Main Image: Buckingham Palace and Victoria Memorial; credit: Michael McLaughlin
Article by Michael McLaughlin