Guns were fired from Edinburgh Castle as King Charles accompanied the Queen’s hearse along the Royal Mile and the crowd of thousands crammed on to the narrow pavements fell hushed.
It was the first opportunity for the public to see the new king and the Queen’s coffin together on the second stage of the Queen’s journey towards her funeral in London next Monday.
Charles walked behind the cortege as it proceeded from Holyroodhouse to St Giles’ Cathedral for a service of prayer and reflection on the Queen’s life. Alongside him were the Earl of Wessex, the Princess Royal, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence and the Duke of York. Unlike his siblings, Prince Andrew was not wearing military uniform, because he is a non-working royal after the scandal of his involvement with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender.
Camilla, the Queen Consort, wearing a thistle brooch given to her by the Queen, and other members of the royal family including the Countess of Wessex, who had grown close to the Queen, followed in cars.
The high windows of buildings overlooking the historic thoroughfare were filled with onlookers. As the hearse went by, the chatter of the crowd quietened to a hum and phones were held aloft to capture the moment, and applause followed once the cortege passed.
One man in the 12-deep crowds was detained after he allegedly shouted abuse at Prince Andrew. He was bundled to the ground by other onlookers, some of whom began chanting “God save the King” to drown out his shouts, before he was taken away by police.
Charles and Camilla had earlier flown to Edinburgh from London after attending Westminster Hall, where both houses of parliament met to express their condolences and Charles told them he was resolved to follow his mother’s “example of selfless duty”.
Arriving at Holyroodhouse, he inspected the guard of honour and took part in the ceremony of the keys, a tradition when the monarch arrives at Holyrood.
From dawn, tens of thousands of people from across the UK and abroad had begun crowding into Edinburgh’s ancient city centre to witness the latest phase of the royal transition. The crowds – which security contractors and police at times struggled to marshal – were a foretaste of what is to come in London, when far larger numbers are expected to fill the streets daily as the Queen lies in state at Westminster Hall.
“I have got huge respect for the Queen, but also for Charles,” said Pete Binder, 60, who had travelled from Scotland’s north coast to be one of the first paying respects to the Queen at St Giles’ Cathedral on Tuesday evening. “I think he is going to be a brilliant king. I think he connects with people.”
Wiping away tears after the coffin passed, Jane Anderson, a radiology manager from Fife, said: “It was very poignant. Seeing it like this brings it into your own community. It must be so difficult for her children because they are still on duty yet that’s their mum. They have no privacy. The Queen lived her life like that.”
Charles and other royals joined scores of members of the public from across Scotland at the service of thanksgiving in St Giles’, known as the high kirk of Edinburgh and originally founded in 1124. Political leaders at the service included the prime minister, Liz Truss, the former prime minister Gordon Brown, and Alec Salmond, the former first minister.
Scotland’s current first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, read the first Bible lesson with verses from Ecclesiastes that began: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven, a time to be born, and a time to die.” The national anthem, God Save the King, was sung loudly and the service ended with a Bach fugue in C minor.
His Majesty and other members of the royal family were due to return to the cathedral on Tuesday evening to take part in a vigil beside the Queen’s coffin.
The King was due to have audiences with Sturgeon and the Scottish parliament’s presiding officer, Alison Johnstone. In a statement, Sturgeon described the Queen as “the anchor of our nation” and pledged support to Charles “as he continues his own life of service and builds on the extraordinary legacy of his beloved mother Queen Elizabeth – the Queen of Scots.”
King Charles is the first British monarch to accede to the throne in Scotland since James VI of Scotland became James I when Elizabeth I died. It may help him bind the union, some suggest, and many people in Edinburgh voiced gratitude that Scottish people had been such a central part of the ceremonials, which would not have happened had the Queen died in England.
But antipathy to the monarchy is higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK, polling timed to the Queen’s jubilee in March showed. While across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales 58% still want to keep the monarchy, the number falls to 45% in Scotland, British Future found.
The effect of Charles’s accession on Scottish independence is an open question. The crown was unified in 1603 under James I and the parliaments did not join until 1707, and some pro-independence leaders, including Sturgeon, want an independent Scotland to retain the monarch as head of state.
Chris McEleny, the general secretary of the pro-independence Alba party, has described that as “an absurdity”. Salmond, who now leads the Alba party, has said the effect of Charles’s accession will be only “on the margins”. But Adam Tomkins, a professor of constitutional law at Glasgow University, sees it as “quite a dangerous moment”.
“Nobody is going to vote yes [for independence] rather than no because a 96-year-old woman has died, but identity politics is about sentiment,” he said. “The Queen was held in much greater affection than any of her children. There are quite a few people who are thinking this isn’t the end of a life but the end of an age.”
Tomkins said: “[The royals] are seen as [representative] of a certain part of Scotland – rural, farming and aristocratic – which exists in Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, the Borders and Dumfrieshire, and nowhere else. The vast majority of the urban population see this as historic and rarefied and not part of the modern Scotland.”
Malcolm Fraser, the convener of Common Weal, a pro-independence thinktank, described the transition as a “sideshow”. The question of who is the head of state was a matter of personal taste, he said, but “there are more democratic emergencies affecting Britain. We are more concerned about the parallel coronation of Liz Truss by a small elite.”