The seven regiments of the Household Division, who have a special relationship with the Sovereign and include some of the Army’s longest serving regiments, have the honour of standing vigil while Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II lies in State in Westminster Hall.
After the military procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall earlier this afternoon, Her Majesty The Queen will lie in state until the morning of her funeral on Monday 19 September.
Hundreds of thousands of members of the public are expected to join a queue several miles long through London over the next four days, for the chance to pay their last respects as they file past the coffin.
The coffin rests on a catafalque, a raised plinth in the centre of the ancient Oak Beamed Hall. The hall was built in 1097 under King William II (Rufus), the son of William the Conqueror. By far the largest hall in Europe at that time, it is still an impressive place of immense power and authority, infused with centuries of British history at the heart of government.
After the coffin was placed on the catafalque by a bearer party made up of soldiers from The Queen’s Company Grenadier Guards, The Royal Standard of the Grenadier Guards Regiment was laid with a flourish at its feet by The Captain of the Queen’s Company Grenadier Guards.
The Royal Standard is a flag that was presented to the Grenadier Guards by the Queen on the commencement of her reign. Unlike other Army regimental flags which are routinely replaced every 10 years, this flag has never been changed or replaced, and was only paraded in the Sovereign’s presence, and then only carried by the Sovereign’s personal company, in this case The Queen’s Company Grenadier Guards.
Made of heavily gold embroidered and tasselled silk, and over six foot square, the Royal Standard is enriched with the Royal Cypher of Elizabeth II in a pattern reversed and interlaced. The pole is topped by a large silver gilt crown, presented to the regiment during the reign of King William IV, and is one of the regiment’s most treasured items. It is, consequently, known for being extremely heavy, and that final flourish takes immense strength and skill to carry.
The vigil, a ceremonial guard of the coffin, is mounted around the clock by four members of the Sovereign's Bodyguard and officers from the Household Division. On duty on a rotation of 20 minutes at a time, the officers stand at each corner of the catafalque, with heads bowed, weapons inverted as a sign of respect, and their backs towards the coffin.
Officers from the five units of the Foot Guards – the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards, Scots Guards, Irish Guards and Welsh Guards; and the two regiments of The Household Cavalry – The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals - provide the inner Guard. All are taking their turn, with each regiment covering a six-hour period each. They are joined by an outer Guard of Her Majesty's Bodyguard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms and The Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard and The Royal Company of Archers.
Lying in state is a key element of a Royal funeral, but in exceptional circumstances has been granted to distinguished national figures. The last person who was not a member of the Royal Family to lie in state was the former Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, in 1965.
The last lying in state was held for Her Majesty The Queen Mother before her funeral in Westminster Abbey on 9 April 2002. Over three days, an estimated 200,000 people paid their respects.
At the lying in state of King George V in 1936, the guard was mounted by his four sons King Edward VIII, the Duke of York (George VI), the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent.
For Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother's lying in state, following her death on 30 March 2002, the guard was mounted by her four grandsons, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex, and Viscount Linley.