The King appeared to blink back tears as he gazed toward his mother’s coffin and the sound of a piper’s traditional lament, Sleep, Dearie, Sleep, faded to silence inside Westminster Abbey.
At the conclusion of the Queen’s state funeral, Charles III’s features welled with emotion. At times during the hour-long ceremony he closed his eyes or appeared lost in thought. But it was the sound of the Queen’s piper, warrant officer Paul Burns, who used to play for her at Balmoral, that seemed to finally come close to overwhelming him.
As the bagpipes played, his mother’s casket rested before him adorned with the imperial state crown and a wreath of flowers, leaves and herbs, some from his own gardens at Highgrove and Clarence House. It featured his handwritten message: “With loving and devoted memory, Charles R.” The King seemed heartbroken.
Monday’s funeral, committal and burial marked the end of 11 intense days for the 73-year-old sovereign involving 10 days packed with public engagements, 1,900 miles of travel and only one day out of the eye of the cameras. The purpose: to cement his status as the new sovereign of all four nations.
But inside he has been grieving. On Thursday he retreated to Highgrove where he has built a sanctuary from local stone, timber and clay bricks. It has been reported that he prayed inside what is in effect a private chapel.
Over the past week he has been determined to describe the Queen as a model of public service. She was “a pattern to all princes living”, he said, quoting Shakespeare, and he told parliament he was “resolved faithfully to follow” her “example of selfless duty”.
But he has also described his “great personal sorrow”, “a profound sense of grief” and “irreparable loss”. Finally on Monday he was able to lay his “darling Mama” to rest. Frequently his features looked close to liquefying into grief, eyes reddening and watery.
The King is renowned for his stamina for public engagements, but this was a long day. He set out for Westminster Hall at 10.30am and wasn’t due to bury his mother alongside his father, who died in April 2021, until a private service starting at 7.30pm.
Processing with the coffin from Westminster Hall, where the Queen had lain in state for more than four days, to the abbey, the King marched to the rear of the state gun carriage, which has been used for the funerals of the three monarchs who preceded Elizabeth II as well as Winston Churchill and the King’s beloved great uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten.
He was flanked by his siblings in order of age: the Princess Royal, a half step behind the King, the Duke of York, clearly emotional at the loss of his “dear mummy”, and the Earl of Wessex, who was later seen wiping his eyes inside the abbey, alongside the equally emotional Countess of Wessex.
Directly behind him marched his heir, the Prince of Wales, alongside his brother, the Duke of Sussex, and Peter Phillips, son of the Princess Royal and the Queen’s oldest grandchild. Sarah, Duchess of York, who has stayed close to her former husband, Prince Andrew, was among the mourners but not part of the procession.
Toward the end of the service after the archbishop of Canterbury commended the Queen’s soul “to the mercy of God”, the King stood with eyes closed in contemplation as a new anthem by the Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan was played with words taken from Romans 8, which asks: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
After the funeral, the same core group walked behind the coffin to Wellington Arch with Big Ben sounding on the minute, before the funeral party proceeded by cars to Windsor Castle for the committal service and burial.
Inside St George’s Chapel, Charles listened as the dean of Windsor, David Conner, described how “in the midst of our rapidly changing and frequently troubled world, her calm and dignified presence has given us confidence to face the future”. The King watched carefully as the crown he will one day wear was removed from the Queen’s coffin and placed on the altar.
He took the Queen’s Company camp colour of the Grenadier Guards and placed it on his mother’s coffin, to be buried with her before the casket was slowly lowered into the royal vault.
“Go forth upon thy journey from this world, O Christian soul,” said Conner, reading from psalm 103. The Queen’s piper played once more and walked slowly away from the chapel, the music fading before Charles III was proclaimed as “the most high, most mighty, most excellent monarch”.
As he left the chapel with the Queen Consort, something seemed to lift. The King smiled and laughed a little as he exchanged words with the archbishop of Canterbury. All that was left was a private burial service with the Queen’s closest family in attendance.