Queen Elizabeth II: from public pomp to a private family farewell

Ceremonial splendour in London gave way to a quiet burial in Windsor as Britain said goodbye to its longest-reigning monarch

After the majestical funeral pomp and military spectacle, unsurpassed in the nation’s living memory and watched across the world, the final farewell to Queen Elizabeth II would belong only to her family.

Night had fallen as she was laid to rest next to the Duke of Edinburgh in the George VI Memorial Chapel, Windsor, in private and away from cameras.

With only her family present, it was a wholly intimate ceremony, one for a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother who also was a Queen.

The contrast with the earlier grandeur of Britain’s official goodbye, with its pipers, buglers and muffled bells, its kings, queens, prime ministers and presidents in the gothic splendour of Westminster Abbey, could not have been more marked.

Or with the ritual and symbolism, burnished over centuries, of the committal service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

There, in the town she called home, the nation’s longest-reigning monarch was finally divested of her earthly sovereign’s duty when the imperial state crown, the orb and sceptre– her instruments of state – were removed from her coffin and placed on the high altar.

Her most senior official, the Lord Chamberlain, broke his wand of office, signifying the end of his service to her. The coffin gently sank through the quire floor into the royal vault beneath.

The imperial state crown is removed from the coffin at the committal service for the Queen at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
The imperial state crown is removed from the coffin at the committal service for the Queen at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Photograph: Reuters

The chapel filled with a piper’s lament, gradually ebbing into silence as he walked slowly away. Then came a jolting, full-throated God Save the King.

In that moment, as one reign had slowly faded, a new one had sprung.

It was the last the public would see of its Queen, with her family finally reclaiming her burial for their own.

It marked the end of a day that seamlessly wove the historic with the intimate with, perhaps, the most personal of touches being the presence of Queen Elizabeth II’s two small great-grandchildren.

The image of the small figures of Prince George, nine, and Princess Charlotte, seven, at the centre of this immense state occasion, walking through Westminster Abbey hand-in-hand with their parents, the Prince and Princess of Wales, behind the coffin, was potent.

For the two, now second and third in line to the throne, this must have been a daunting and extraordinary introduction to official royal life, walking among 18 royals, including the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, through the hushed sea of black mourning dress and hats.

Earlier, the late Queen’s coffin had made its short journey from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey on the Victorian state gun carriage, pulled by 142 naval ratings, to the wail and beat of 200 pipers and drummers.

The King led the procession of royals behind it. In Royal Navy No 1 uniform, freighted with medals, neck orders and sashes, his sword in place, Charles walked with his sister, his brothers, his sons, the Queen’s grandson, Peter Phillips, nephew, Earl Snowdon, cousin, the Duke of Gloucester, and Princess Anne’s husband, Sir Tim Laurence. Prince William was in uniform, Prince Harry was not. He was in morning dress.

Inside, the congregation had taken its seats as the tenor bell at the Abbey tolled for 96 minutes, one for each year of her life.

About 2,000 had been invited – including world leaders, ambassadors, politicians and foreign royals – to this service of unprecedented scale in the abbey’s 1,000 year history, and the first monarch’s funeral here in 262 years.

The late Queen’s six surviving former prime ministers, and their spouses, had walked to their seats in date order – Sir John Major, Sir Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May and, finally, Boris Johnson. Her fifteenth prime minister, Liz Truss, appointed two days before her death, read a lesson, as did Lady Scotland, secretary general of the Commonwealth.

Strict protocol dictated the US president, Joe Biden, sat in the area reserved for heads of state, about 14 rows back on the south transept, with realm governors generals and Commonwealth countries taking precedent in front.

The US president was behind Poland, and in front of the Czech Republic. Across the aisle was the Republic of Korea.

Overseas VIPs had earlier disgorged from coaches, shuttled en masse to the abbey from their muster point at the Royal Chelsea hospital to avoid road congestion. Only Biden’s “the Beast” armoured car was allowed special direct abbey access.

This was the stage on which so many of the Queen’s most auspicious moments had played. She took her coronation oath, and made her wedding vows, on the same altar before which her coffin now lay.

Pall bearers carry the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II into St. George’s Chapel.
Pall bearers carry the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II into St. George’s Chapel. Photograph: Reuters

Myrtle, grown from a sprig from her wedding bouquet, was arranged now in her wreath, along with flowers in hues of gold, pink and deep burgundy to reflect the colours of the royal standard and grown in royal gardens. A handwritten card, tucked among them, read simply: “In loving and devoted memory. Charles R”.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave the sermon. “People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer,” he said. “But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are forgotten.

“The grief of this day – felt not only by the late Queen’s family but all round the nation, Commonwealth and world – arises from her abundant life and loving service, now gone from us.”

As the last post performed by state trumpeters faded, two minutes’ silence fell over the nation. The skies were silent too – with no planes taking off from Heathrow. Then came the reveille and national anthem.

As the Queen’s piper, Paul Burns, played the lament Sleep, Dearie, Sleep, the King, Queen Consort, the Prince and Princess of Wales, their children and the other royals followed the coffin out.

The monumental military procession that then escorted her coffin stretched past London’s landmarks to Wellington Arch in a wide rich ribbon of the gold, scarlet, blue and black of ceremonial uniforms; its length so long that as its front reached Whitehall, its rear still stretched up Victoria Street. About 4,000 military personnel from the UK and the Commonwealth were involved.

Westminster Abbey’s bell tolled fully muffled, as is traditional after the funeral of a monarch. Minute guns fired from Hyde Park, and Big Ben tolled as the cortege wound its way through Parliament Square, Whitehall, Horse Guards, the Mall.

The great funeral marches of Mendelssohn and Beethoven were played along the route. As it passed Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s staff lined up outside, and bowed and curtsied in one last act of obeisance.

At Wellington Arch, a royal salute and the national anthem sent her on her way – home to Windsor in the state hearse.

It arrived in the town with its bonnet strewn with flowers thrown from the crowds that lined the 23-mile route.

In Windsor, they were 10 deep in the street, many only able to capture its passing by holding cameraphones aloft. The castle’s Sebastopol and Curfew Tower bells tolled.

Her two corgis, Muick and Sandy, were brought into the castle’s quadrangle for the coffin’s arrival. Her fell pony, Emma, stood between the thousands of floral tributes on the grass approach to the castle.

King Charles and members of the royal family follow behind the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II as it is carried out of Westminster Abbey.
King Charles and members of the royal family follow behind the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II as it is carried out of Westminster Abbey. Photograph: Reuters

Beneath the silken banners of the Garter knights in St George’s Chapel, where just 17 months ago she had sat alone at Prince Philip’s funeral, her coffin was borne into the chapel, past a guard of honour and under the watchful eye of the Military Knights of Windsor.

This was a more intimate and personal service, with many of her past and present staff invited, and prayers by ministers from Sandringham, Windsor and Crathie Kirk, the churches she was most familiar with.

The Dean of Windsor, the Right Rev David Conner, knew her well.

“Here, in St George’s Chapel, where she so often worshipped, we are bound to call to mind someone whose uncomplicated yet profound Christian faith bore so much fruit. Fruit, in a life of unstinting service to the nation, the Commonwealth and the wider world, but also (and especially to be remembered in this place) in kindness, concern and reassuring care for her family and friends and neighbours,” he said in the bidding.

There was one last public act for the King, her son, to undertake.

As the final hymn, Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation, ended, Charles walked slowly to the coffin and placed the Queen’s company camp colour upon it.

The Lord Chamberlain’s broken wand of office was placed alongside. Both were buried with the coffin, which was then gradually lowered as the Dean of Windsor recited Psalm 103.

The garter king of arms read aloud the late Queen’s style and titles. The piper piped a lament.

A prayer was said for the new King, and the national anthem sung. It was the end.

At 7.30pm, the late Queen was laid to rest in the George VI Memorial Chapel, alongside Philip, “her strength and stay” throughout almost all of her 70 years’ reign, and near to her mother, Queen Elizabeth, her father, King George VI, and the ashes of her sister, Princess Margaret

“Us Four”, as George VI would refer to his family, were together once more.


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

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