LONDON – The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II left the monarch’s beloved Scotland and landed Tuesday evening in London, where crowds gathered along the route to Buckingham Palace.
The late queen’s loving daughter, Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, has been by her mother’s side in Scotland since the queen died last week at age 96 at Balmoral Castle. Anne issued a heartfelt statement after the plane landed, thanking the throngs who paid respects on the late monarch’s final journey.
Anne, 72, the second of the late queen’s four children and the only daughter, said she was “fortunate to share the last 24 hours of my dearest mother’s life,” according to the statement issued by Buckingham Palace.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to accompany her on her final journeys. Witnessing the love and respect shown by so many on these journeys has been both humbling and uplifting,” Anne’s statement said.
Anne, who along with her brother, the new King Charles III, was with their mother when she died on Sept. 8 and accompanied her mother’s coffin when it was driven from Balmoral to Edinburgh, at the start of ceremonies, prayer services and processions mounted in Scotland.
With her siblings, Anne, dressed in a Royal Navy uniform, stood vigil around the Royal Standard-draped coffin at St. Giles’ Cathedral on Monday night. Thousands of people lined up through the night in Edinburgh to pay their last respects.
Anne was on the military C-17 Globemaster carrying the coffin when the plane touched down at RAF Northolt, an air force base west of the city, about an hour after it left Edinburgh.
It’s the same Royal Air Force plane that has in the past been used to evacuate people from Afghanistan and to take humanitarian aid and weapons to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, U.K. Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston said.
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The queen’s coffin lay in St. Giles’ Cathedral for most of Tuesday before being flown back to London and driven from the air force base to her official London home, Buckingham Palace, after darkness fell.
Thousands of bystanders gathered outside the palace in near silence on a rainy evening as they waited for the Royal Hearse to arrive at the monarch’s home for the final time.
After the flag-draped coffin passed by, onlookers broke into a slow clap and even cheers as some shouted, “God save the king!” Margaret Pioro of London was among those waiting for the “historically very important” moment.
The queen meant “the continuity of the country, the strength, a sense of national identity … she was a unifying factor in the life of the nation beyond politics, beyond social changes,” Pioro said. “It’s a very befitting farewell and a welcome to the new king, who will be a wonderful king.”
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In the early hours of Tuesday, scores of workers were seen cleaning litter and weeds from the road between the air force base where the plane carrying the queen’s coffin landed and the palace in central London.
Even earlier on Tuesday, a military rehearsal took place for the transfer of the monarch’s coffin from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster, where she will lie in state until the funeral on Monday.
At about 4 a.m. local time, a horse-drawn carriage was observed carrying a black coffin along the route in preparation for the queen’s arrival. There were people representing King Charles III, and other members of the royal family walking behind the coffin, the BBC reported.
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Charles received a rapturous welcome at Hillsborough Castle, the royal residence in Northern Ireland, on his first visit as monarch. While Scotland has been almost universal in its praise for the queen, Northern Ireland comes with more mixed emotions about the monarchy.
There are two main communities in Northern Ireland: Protestant unionists who consider themselves British and largely Roman Catholic nationalists who see themselves as Irish.That split fueled three decades of violence known as “the Troubles” involving paramilitary groups on both sides and U.K. security forces, in which 3,600 people died.
But in a sign of how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace, representatives of Sinn Fein — the main Irish nationalist party — are attending commemorative events for the queen and meeting the king Tuesday.
Hundreds of people lined the street leading to Hillsborough Castle near Belfast as. Charles and Camilla got out of their car to greet villagers and the new king petted a corgi, the breed of dog synonymous with his mother, that was held up by one wellwisher.
Charles offered “the most heartfelt thanks” for the public’s condolences.
“I am here today at a time of great personal sorrow as we mark the death of my beloved mother, after a life most faithfully dedicated to the duty to which she had been called,” he said.
Charles added: “It is fitting that we should meet at Hillsborough, which my mother knew so well, and in whose beautiful rose garden she always took such pleasure.”
The royal standard was raised on the castle’s flagpole as the monarch came in, and a 21-gun salute rang out on the castle grounds.
Charles pledged to follow in the footsteps of his late mother and work for peace in Northern Ireland.
Speaking Tuesday to Northern Ireland’s political leaders, including those from nationalist parties who want Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and become part of the Republic of Ireland, the new monarch said he would draw on his mother’s “shining example” and seek the welfare of everyone in Northern Ireland.
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Irish nationalist Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly praised Elizabeth II’s role in the peace process, in a message of condolence to Charles.
Alex Maskey, a member of Sinn Fein, said at the Belfast ceremony that the example of the queen had helped “break down barriers and encourage reconciliation” in Northern Ireland.
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Contributing: Maria Puente, Elise Brisco, Naledi Ushe and Jane Onyanga-Omara in London, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press