King Charles, his sons Princes William and Harry, and other senior royals will lead a solemn procession as Queen Elizabeth’s coffin is carried from Buckingham Palace to Parliament on Wednesday.
Following the queen’s death last week at her Scottish summer residence, Balmoral Castle, her coffin was transported to Edinburgh for a series of touching ceremonies. It was then flown to London late Tuesday afternoon.
Tens of thousands of people lined the 14-mile (22 km) route in driving rain and cars parked up on normally busy roads to see the well-lit hearse driving slowly through the dark towards Buckingham Palace, drawing applause, cheers and the honking of car horns.
At the palace, the flag-draped coffin was met by Charles and all the queen’s children, grandchildren and their spouses who had gathered together for the first time since their matriarch died.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to accompany her on her final journeys,” said Elizabeth’s daughter Anne, 72, who flew from Scotland alongside the coffin. “Witnessing the love and respect shown by so many on these journeys has been both humbling and uplifting.”
The queen’s death, at the age of 96, has plunged the nation into mourning for a monarch who had reigned for 70 years.
On Wednesday, the Imperial State Crown will be placed on top of the coffin, along with a wreath. Prayers will be said with Charles and other royals present.
At 2.22 p.m. (1322 GMT), it will be placed on a gun carriage of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery to be taken through central London to Westminster Hall, a medieval building with origins dating back to 1097 that is the oldest building on the parliamentary estate.
Charles will walk in silence behind the carriage with other senior royals, including his siblings Anne, Andrew and Edward.
Also in the procession will be his sons William, 40, now the Prince of Wales, and Harry, 37, the Duke of Sussex, whose once close relationship has deteriorated in recent years to such an extent that they were said to barely be on speaking terms.
However, they appeared together with their wives when they met well-wishers outside Windsor Castle on Saturday, in a show of unity which hinted at a possible rapprochement.
Kate, William’s wife and now the Princess of Wales, and Harry’s wife, Meghan, will travel by car, as will Charles’ wife Camilla, now the Queen Consort.
With much of central London closed to traffic, large crowds are expected to line the route to watch Wednesday’s procession, which will be accompanied by guns firing every minute at Hyde Park, while parliament’s Big Ben bell will toll.
When the cortege reaches Westminster Hall at the Palace of Westminster, the coffin will be carried inside by soldiers from the Grenadier Guards and placed on a catafalque. There will be a short service conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the Anglican Church.
Four days of lying in state will then begin until the funeral on Sept. 19.
A senior palace official described Wednesday’s event as relatively small and personal. The full-scale ceremonial procession on Sept. 19, the day of her funeral, is likely to be one of the biggest the country has ever witnessed.
With as many as 750,000 mourners expected to file past the coffin during its period of lying-in-state, people queued and slept on the streets in the rain to be able to pay their final respects.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event to honor a once-in-a-lifetime woman,” said Andrew Israels-Swenson from Minnesota, who said his 82-year-old British mother asked him to attend to “represent the family.”
Jacqui D’Arcy, from Essex, eastern England, arrived at the queue at 6 p.m. on Tuesday to pay her respects to the late monarch but also represent her elderly parents. “I still can’t think that she’s not with us,” she said.
In Scotland around 33,000 people filed past the coffin during the 24 hours it was at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, but the memorial in London is a much larger occasion.
The government has warned the queue could stretch for up to almost 5 miles along the southern bank of the River Thames, winding past landmarks like the giant London Eye ferris wheel and a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre.
“You will need to stand for many hours, possibly overnight, with very little opportunity to sit down as the queue will be continuously moving,” the government said.