What to know about Queen Elizabeth’s lying in state in Westminster

  • Members of the public can pay their respects to the monarch until her funeral on Monday, but should be prepared for long queues
  • Elizabeth will be laid to rest in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle with her mother, father, and ashes of her sister; she will soon be joined by the body of Prince Philip
Associated Press |

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Queen Elizabeth lies in state at Westminster Hall in London. The public can pay their respects until the state funeral on Monday. Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via Reuters.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to flock to London’s medieval Westminster Hall from Wednesday to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth, whose coffin will lie in state for four days until her funeral on Monday.

Here’s a look at what to expect for the occasion, including its traditions, the waiting route, and what mourners will see:

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People who want to view the queen’s coffin can do so 24 hours a day until 6:30am on Monday, the day of the state funeral.

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The queue

There are two waiting routes along the River Thames that the public needs to join before they can enter Westminster Hall. The main queue begins on the Albert Embankment and stretches east for miles past the London Eye, the Tate Modern and Tower Bridge. There is a separate, accessible route that people can join from the Tate Britain museum.

Mourners have been warned about long waits, possibly overnight. Extra toilets and water fountains will be placed along the route, and some venues along the way, including Shakespeare’s Globe, will open around the clock to provide refreshments and rest breaks. Airport-style security checks are in place near the front of the line before people can enter Parliament.

People queue to pay respects to the queen. Photo: Reuters

What will people see?

The closed coffin will be draped with a royal flag and adorned with royal regalia, including the Imperial State Crown – the same crown the queen wore for her 1953 coronation.

The coffin will be placed on a raised platform in the centre of Westminster Hall. Royal guards will stand 24 hours a day at each corner of the platform.

When the coffin was in Scotland earlier this week, it was topped with the Crown of Scotland and a wreath of white flowers.

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Lead-lined coffin

The queen’s coffin is constructed out of English oak, lined with lead, and was made decades ago, experts say.

Sarah Hayes, manager for the Coffin Works museum in Birmingham, England, said former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the queen’s husband Prince Philip, and Princess Diana had such coffins made for them.

In this December 1982 file photo, Britain’s Prince William, then six months old, sits with his father Charles and his mother Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales. Diana died in 1997. Photo: AP

“It’s to preserve the body for as long as possible, it’s really about slowing down the process of decomposition,” she said.

This is especially important for the queen because her coffin will eventually be placed in a church, not buried in the ground, she added.

The coffin is made of oak from the royal family’s Sandringham Estate according to royal tradition, Hayes said.

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Westminster Hall

The lying in state takes place at Westminster Hall. Built in 1097, it’s the oldest surviving building of the Palace of Westminster.

The hall has been at the heart of British history for a millennium: It was where numerous kings and queens hosted lavish coronation banquets, and where Guy Fawkes and Charles I were tried in the 17th century. More recently, ceremonial addresses were presented in the hall to Elizabeth during her silver, golden and diamond jubilees.

Big Ben and Westminster Bridge in London. Photo: Shutterstock

Who gets to lie in state?

In Britain, lying in state is reserved for the sovereign, queen consorts, and sometimes prime ministers.

Queen Mary, King George VI and King George V were among royals who lay in state at Westminster Hall. Winston Churchill was the only British prime minister to have a lying-in-state ceremony in the 20th century.

The last person to lie in state in Britain was Elizabeth’s mother, known as the queen Mother. Some 200,000 people paid their respects over three days when she died in 2002.

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Where will the queen’s final resting place be?

After the state funeral, the coffin will be taken to Windsor, about 32 kilometres west of London. The queen will be laid to rest in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, within St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where her mother and father were interred and her sister Princess Margaret’s ashes were placed.

Prince Philip’s coffin, which is currently in St George’s Chapel’s Royal Vault, is expected to be moved to the memorial chapel to join the queen’s.

St George’s is where many of Britain’s royals were baptised, married and buried throughout history. It has long been the resting place for royals, and 10 former sovereigns were buried there.

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