Thursday night, beneath black umbrellas defending against heavy showers, a steady stream of visitors had crossed the dark pathways of Green Park to the gates of the Palace, almost in silence. By Friday morning, the clouds were lighter, and the crowds of onlookers in Central London denser. The queue on Constitution Hill moved briskly. Visitors watched the passage of gleaming black horses and mounted soldiers from the Household Cavalry. Stationed outside the palace were their martial colleagues: members of what was until Thursday the Queen’s Guard, and has now become the King’s Guard. Overnight, the nation’s nomenclature has shifted. Britons are now paying taxes to HMRC, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. At Westminster, His Majesty’s Government is headed by a Prime Minister, Liz Truss, whom the Queen had appointed only two days before her death.
The mood outside the palace was sober but restrained. The Queen’s death was a cause for sadness, but it was not a shock, nor was it a tragedy. (We should all hope for such an end to a long life well lived, surrounded by loved ones, at home and at peace and declining heroic measures.) Kathleen Murray, who waited in line with a single red rose in her hand, had come to London from Nottingham to watch a cricket match; when that was postponed, she decided to visit the Palace instead. “I’ve always said that I’m not a huge Royalist, but when I heard the news yesterday, I was actually really upset,” she said. She explained that her eighty-seven-year-old mother, who is devoted to the Queen, has dementia; though Murray was sure her mother would understand that the Queen had died, she was not sure how long she would remember it. “She came to watch the Coronation when she was seventeen and spent the night on the street in the pouring rain,” Murray said. “When the Queen’s carriage passed, the Queen looked in the other direction. It wasn’t the Queen’s fault, but my mother was disappointed.” A moment on the Mall some seventy years earlier had become a story passed down, like an inheritance, or a crown.
Some of the flowers bore messages: “There are no words strong enough to describe how loved you were. You were the consistent in all our lives.” “You were an incomparable beacon of duty, faith, steadfastness, humility, humanity, and British values.” Children who later would be far too young to remember the day the Queen died, or the day after the Queen died, were being ferried past the Palace by parents. Sleeping babies were parked for an instant by the gates and photographed under the tolerant, watchful eye of a policeman. “Where’s the tiger?” one preschooler asked, perched on the rim of his sleeping sibling’s stroller. “What tiger, my love?” his perplexed caregiver asked. “The Queen’s tiger,” he replied. Wherever it is, it’s the King’s tiger now.