From the moment she inherited the crown, Queen Elizabeth II knew she was pre-destined to lie in state on the exact same spot as her father, her grandfather and great-grandfather before her. Such is the rhythm of royal life.
That destiny was fulfilled when her coffin, draped in the royal standard and with the glittering Imperial State Crown atop, was borne into the ancient splendour of Westminster Hall; the place where palace meets parliament, and a monument to the life of the nation since the 11th century.
Here she will remain, beneath the medieval timbered Angel roof, and under the sightless gaze of the six stone kings, until her state funeral on Monday.
About 300 MPs and peers had quietly filed on to the worn steps inside the huge hall, as the Queen departed Buckingham Palace for a final time. These steps, the scene of historic addresses including from Nelson Mandela and Pope Benedict XVI, have witnessed much. Today it was the handing over of the monarch by her family to the nation for her public farewell.
Her coffin, with its wreath of white roses, white dahlias and foliage including pine from Balmoral and pittosporum, lavender and rosemary from the gardens at Windsor, had been borne from the palace on the George Gun Carriage of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery for its 38-minute-long journey.
Behind the same gun carriage that had borne her father and mother walked her four children, led by the King in his Marshal of the Royal Air Force uniform. They walked solemnly in keeping with the funereal military pace of 75 steps to the minute. In a symbol of unity, the Prince of Wales and Duke of Sussex, the former in RAF No 1 uniform, the latter as a non-working royal in morning suit and military medals, walked side by side, as they had memorably done 25 years earlier behind the coffin of their mother.
Inside the hall the catafalque, draped in purple, stood ready. Only the faint sound of Big Ben tolling at one minute intervals, and the distant firing of minute guns from Hyde Park, broke the overwhelming silence.
About 40 members of the Queen’s wider family stood in line on one side of the hall: the Queen’s niece and nephew, her grandchildren, cousins and their children. They were joined by seven of her ladies in waiting, all in black dresses, hats and pearls, and clutching handbags, in one last act of devoted attendance on their royal mistress.
The procession’s progress was marked as the drumbeat of the military band and strains of Beethoven and Mendelssohn grew louder as it neared.
The Queen Consort, Princess of Wales, Countess of Wessex and Duchess of Sussex, who had all arrived by car, waited by the entrance as the gun carriage came to a halt.
Charles and the senior royals saluted and the royal wives curtseyed as the coffin was carried by a bearer party inside and gently placed on the high catafalque, with the coronation orb and gold sceptre next to the Queen’s crown.
The royal family, led by the King and Queen Consort, then slowly lined up in front of the catafalque, which was flanked with a towering yellow candle at each corner of the wide scarlet platform.
In ceremonial uniforms of gold, crimson and blue braid, almost as historic as the hall itself, Black Rod, the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Lords Chancellor and the Speaker processed through the hall. The Processional Cross of Westminster, taken from Westminster Abbey, was carried by the Crucifer. It will remain at the head of the coffin throughout the lying in state. A short service was conducted by the archbishop of Canterbury supported by the dean of Westminster.
A double tap on the stone floor from the stick of the Officer of the Watch signalled the start of the first vigil. They will continue around the clock throughout the four days of the lying in state.
Four officers from the Household Cavalry, two from the Life Guards and two from the Blues and Royals had the honour of the first vigil. Resplendent in plumed helmet and gleaming cuirasse breastplates, they descended the stone steps in thigh high ceremonial boots and mounted the catafalque, one at each corner.
They turned slowly to face outwards from the coffin, then lowered their swords to the ground. The four would remain motionless, heads bowed, hands folded on to the hilt of their swords, through their 30-minute vigil. The Gentlemen at Arms took up their position around the catafalque.
As they took up watch, the royals each bowed and curtseyed as they walked in front of the coffin before processing out in pairs. Unlike the other senior royals, Harry and Meghan held hands as they walked out. They were followed by the MPs and peers who had been chosen to attend.
British monarchs since Edward VII have lain in state in this same hall, as well as the Queen’s first prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill.
In life, she had sat within its walls on many occasions: to celebrate milestones such as her silver, golden and diamond jubilees, to mark significant moments such as the 50th anniversary of the second world war, to receive and make addresses, even to celebrate the 300th anniversaries of the revolutions of 1688 to 1689.
Now, in death, and with this moment, Britain’s longest reigning monarch also passes into its 900-year-long history.
• This article was amended on 15 September 2022. It was the dean of Westminster, not Windsor, who supported the archbishop of Canterbury’s service at Westminster Hall. This has been corrected.