On a day of pomp and ceremony, glimpses of humanity were the most moving | Queen Elizabeth II

The symbolic end of Elizabeth II’s reign arrived at 4.57pm on Monday when the head of her household ceremoniously snapped his wand of office, a thin yellow staff, and placed it on the late Queen’s coffin.

The lord chamberlain, Lord Parker of Minsmere, a former director general of MI5, broke the stick (originally designed to provide discipline to courtiers) in two, marking the conclusion of both his and the Queen’s service.

A few minutes earlier, the crown jeweller, wearing white gloves and lightly sweating beneath the lights, removed the orb, sceptre and crown handed to the Queen at her coronation 70 years ago from the top of the coffin and passed them to be placed on three purple, gold-fringed cushions on the high altar of St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

The four large pear-shaped pearls (possibly once worn by her ancestor Elizabeth I as earrings) that hang from the crown’s diamond-encrusted globe, which have been wobbling so perilously as the coffin was transported around the country over the past 10 days, were finally still.

Heavily trailed as the highlights of the interment stage of the Queen’s funeral, these were strangely unaffecting, arcane moments toward the end of a marathon of funeral pomp, glutted with ceremony.

Much more instantly moving was the sight of the new king, looking tired and pale, biting his lip and closing his eyes at the start of the national anthem; the strained faces of the coffin bearers, jerkily making their way up the chapel steps; and the glimpses of the Queen’s favourite pets brought to pay their respects as her coffin arrived at Windsor Castle.

Her pony Emma, her mane washed and brushed beautifully over one eye, stood by the side of the road, calmly unmoved by the thunderous noise made by the marching feet of several regiments of soldiers (unlike the restless horses of the mounted cavalry, tossing their heads at the canons).

Emma, the Queen’s pony, stands next to flowers from the public arranged along the funeral procession route in Windsor. Photograph: Aaron Chown/AP

A few hundred metres further on, two of the Queen’s corgis, Sandy and Muick, were waiting on leads, panting and looking expectantly toward the funeral cortege.

The black hearse arrived into Windsor, decorated with flowers which had been hurled by mourners lining the road during the slow journey from London.

The same hypnotic, trance-inducing march played along Whitehall was picked up again by new musicians, flawlessly choreographed, but there was an instantly different aesthetic from the London procession.

The first battalion Grenadier Guards’ scarlet uniforms and black bearskin hats stood out starkly against the bright green fields on the approach to the castle.

A peculiarly unfunereal atmosphere had been mounting in the 24 hours before the service: the pubs were unusually crowded, and souvenir shops were doing brisk business selling postcards with black and white images of the late Queen and rapidly manufactured mugs decorated with slightly off-centre pictures of her face and the dates 1926-2022.

Estate agents had removed pictures of houses for sale from their window displays and replaced them with pictures from the Queen’s life. Even the Thai Massage parlour on Windsor’s high street (Thy Spa) had decorated its shopfront with union jack bunting.

Photographs of the Queen
Estate agents’ window display in Windsor. Photograph: Maureen McLean/Rex/Shutterstock

In the castle at 8am, workers were blowing away any stray leaves and making final adjustments to the flowers. Outside the castle grounds there seemed to have been a lighter-touch approach to removing the town’s homeless population from the streets than there was before recent royal weddings.

A man with his dog and belongings was left undisturbed to sleep on the pavement outside the Duchess of Cambridge pub, as people filed past wearing bowler hats adorned with union jacks.

The Windsor service was a smaller occasion than the state funeral at Westminster Abbey, made up of local friends and staff from the Queen’s various estates, as well as a few former prime ministers and representatives of foreign royal families who had traveled from London to be at the second of the day’s three ceremonies.

As they made their way into the chapel, mourners will have caught a burst of the heady smell of thousands of wilting bunches of flowers, carefully arranged in rows, cellophane removed, to create the impression of a fading flower bed.

The bigger, more extravagant bouquets of lilies, roses and orchids from European royal families, decorated with regal sashes, were lined up by the entrance, alongside a white wreath from the archbishop of Canterbury with a handwritten card: “In thankful memory, may Her Majesty rest in peace and rise in glory.”

The dean of Windsor, the Right Rev David Conner, paid tribute to the Queen in his bidding, remembering her public and private personas, noting the monarch’s “kindness, concern and reassuring care for her family and friend and neighbours”.

“In the midst of our rapidly changing and frequently troubled world, her calm and dignified presence has given us confidence to face the future, as she did, with courage and with hope,” he said.

The service felt peaceful after the howling of the bagpipes and the blasts of canons outside. The coffin descended slowly into the royal vault, as the archbishop read Psalm 103, ending with the words: “Go forth upon thy journey from this world.”

Later a smaller group of the Queen’s closest relatives were due to gather at 7.30pm in the George VI Memorial Chapel, a small, bare stone room, for the final stage of the burial.

The Queen was due to be buried next to her husband, Prince Philip, and near the remains of her father, George VI, the Queen Mother and her sister, Princess Margaret.

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