LONDON – The Queen Mother Elizabeth was a wise and loving presence and "an institution in her own right," Prince Charles said in a nationwide broadcast Monday as the royal family mourned their matriarch's death at age 101.
The prince broadcast a very personal tribute to his "gloriously unstoppable" grandmother, who died Saturday at Windsor.
The widow of King George VI and mother of Queen Elizabeth II was "an institution in her own right, a presence in the nation, at once indomitable, somehow timeless, able to span the generations; wise, loving, and an utterly irresistible mischievousness of spirit," he said.
"Her heart belonged to this ancient land and its equally indomitable and humorous inhabitants, whom she served with panache, style and unswerving dignity for very nearly 80 years," he said.
The heir to the throne spoke quietly and only came close to losing his composure at the point when he described the Queen Mother's humor.
"Above all, she saw the funny side of life and we laughed until we cried — oh, how I shall miss her laugh and wonderful wisdom born of so much experience and an innate sensitivity to life," he said.
The Queen Mother's coffin rested in a small stone chapel at Windsor Castle, where family and staff could pay their respects before she is taken to lie in state in London before her Westminster Abbey funeral.
At noon, artillery pieces thundered the start of 41-gun salutes at a dozen locations around the country and in the colony of Gibraltar in honor of King George VI's widow. The salutes, fired at the rate of one gun per minute, traditionally mark a royal death, but the reason for the odd number appears to have been lost over time.
The Racing Post, a daily horse racing paper, covered its front page Monday with a photo of the Queen Mother and the headline "A sport in mourning." She was a trackside regular and very successful horse breeder, and once said she read the Racing Post every morning with her breakfast.
At Towcester racecourse in central England, jockeys and spectators stood for a minute's silence and the national anthem before beginning the races. At soccer games and other sports, similar gestures of respect were made.
Flags flew at half-staff and thousands of admirers of the enduringly popular former queen signed condolence books that were opened Sunday at royal palaces and homes around the country.
Bright bouquets of spring flowers, with fond messages attached, were placed at St. James's Palace and the adjacent Clarence House, which had been the Queen Mother's London home since her husband's death in 1952 and the accession of her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.
The queen, who has lost her mother and her only sister, Princess Margaret, within seven weeks, led her family in prayer Sunday evening at the foot of her mother's coffin. All four of her children, Princess Margaret's son and daughter, Prince Charles's sons and other close relatives attended.
The Queen Mother's coffin was carried to the chapel on Sunday from her house in Windsor Great Park, where she first lived as Duchess of York before her husband was unexpectedly thrust onto the throne in 1936 by the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII.
The coffin will remain at the chapel until Tuesday, when it is moved to the Queen's Chapel at St. James's Palace. On Friday it will be moved to Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament to lie in state. There the public will be able to pay their respects before the Westminster Abbey funeral service at 11:30 a.m. (1030 GMT) April 9.
After the service, the coffin will be driven to Windsor for interment in a side chapel at the magnificent St. George's Chapel, within the precincts of Windsor Castle.
The Queen Mother will be laid to rest alongside her husband in the George VI Memorial Chapel at St. George's. At the same time, the ashes of Princess Margaret will be taken from the royal vault in St. George's and interred with her parents at the George VI chapel.
The royal family, preparing for a second funeral in as many months, will remain in mourning until April 19, after a memorial service for Princess Margaret. The queen's only sister died Feb. 9 at age 71 after years of illness and was cremated after a private funeral at Windsor.
The Queen Mother, who had been at the center of public life for more than half a century, was as popular at the end of her life as she had been as the queen consort of George VI during World War II.
It was during the war that she and the king won the enduring support of the wartime generation, sharing as best they could the ordeal of the London blitz and the devastating bombings suffered by the rest of the country.
She did not retire after the king's death, but took on a busy schedule of engagements that she carried out at full tilt into her 90s. Her flowery image, her obvious pleasure in meeting people and her engaging sense of humor ensured the Queen Mother's lifelong popularity.
In the 1990s, when her grandchildren's highly publicized marital troubles eroded respect for the royal family, her dignity and popularity were especially valued.