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The greatest spectacle of our lifetime

Grenadier Guards: the regiment began as King Charles II’s bodyguard. Jacob King/Pool/AFP/Getty

Of all Britain’s great spectacles over the past 70 years, says Dominic Sandbrook in the Daily Mail, “there has never been one like the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II”. From the Mounties leading the procession to the “haunting, spine-tingling lament” of the Queen’s faithful bagpiper as the ceremony drew to a close, it was at once “Britain’s saddest day and our greatest”. But beyond the pomp was a profound message about a changing nation. The first lesson was read by Baroness Scotland, the daughter of Caribbean immigrants and our first female Attorney General since the post was created by King Henry III in the 13th century. Traditional 18th-century hymns were interspersed with modern compositions written especially for the occasion. This blend of old and new was “supremely fitting” for a Queen who constantly adapted over her 70-year reign, “cautiously, gently, to match her people’s mood”.

We tend to concentrate on what has changed since the coronation in 1953 and forget “everything that has stayed the same”. The guardsmen bearing the Queen’s coffin belong to a regiment that originated as Charles II’s bodyguard and fought in the Battle of Waterloo; the Royal Navy sailors escorting the procession belong to a service that liberated Europe from Napoleon. Westminster Abbey holds the graves of great Britons from William Wilberforce to Isaac Newton and Charles Dickens. As the late Queen takes her place among “the greatest men and women Britain has ever produced”, it is up to the rest of us to write the next chapter in our “magnificent national story”.