The king seemed to blink away his tears as he stared at his mother’s coffin, and the sound of a traditional bagpiper’s lament, Sleep, Dearie, Sleep, faded to silence in Westminster Abbey.
At the end of the Queen’s state funeral, Charles III’s features were brimming with emotion. Sometimes during the hour-long ceremony he would close his eyes or seem lost in thought. But it was the sound of the Queen’s bagpiper, Petty Officer Paul Burns, playing for her in Balmoral, that finally seemed to overwhelm him.
While the bagpipes played, his mother’s coffin 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 contained his handwritten message: “With loving and devoted memory, Charles R.” The king seemed heartbroken.
Monday’s funeral, capture and burial marked the end of 11 intense days for the 73-year-old Sovereign, which included 10 days of public engagements, 1,900 miles of travel and just one day out of sight of the cameras. The goal: to strengthen his status as the new sovereign of all four nations.
But inside he is sad. On Thursday he retired to Highgrove, where he has built a sanctuary of local stone, wood and bricks. It has been reported that he prayed in what is essentially a private chapel.
For the past week, he was determined to describe the Queen as a paragon of public service. She was “a patron to all living princes,” he said, quoting Shakespeare, telling parliament he was “determined to follow” her “example of selfless duty.”
But he has also described his “great personal grief”, “a deep sense of sadness” and “irreparable loss”. On Monday he could finally put his “darling mama” to rest. Often his features seemed to almost dissolve in sorrow, eyes turned red and watery.
The king is known for his stamina for public appearances, but this was a long day. He left for Westminster Hall at 10:30 am and would not bury his mother next to his father, who died in April 2021, until a private service that began at 7:30 pm.
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, half a step behind the king, the Duke of York, clearly emotional over the loss of his “dear mama”, and the Earl of Wessex, who later became given his look inside the abbey, alongside the equally emotional Countess of Wessex.
Immediately behind him marched his heir, the Prince of Wales, along with his brother, the Duke of Sussex, and Peter Phillips, son of the Princess Royal and the Queen’s eldest grandchild. Sarah, Duchess of York, who has remained close to her former husband, Prince Andrew, was among the mourners but was not part of the procession.
Towards the end of the service, after the Archbishop of Canterbury praised the Queen’s soul “at the grace of God”, the King stood with closed eyes in contemplation as a new anthem by Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan was played with words 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 as Big Ben sounded on the minute, before the funeral party with cars headed to Windsor Castle for inaugural service and burial.
In St. George’s Chapel, Charles listened as the Dean of Windsor, David Conner, described how “in the midst of our rapidly changing and often troubled world, her calm and dignified presence has given us confidence to face the future”. The king watched intently as the crown he will one day wear was taken from the queen’s coffin and placed on the altar.
He took the color of the Queen’s Company encampment of the Grenadier Guards and placed it on his mother’s coffin, to be buried with her before slowly lowering the coffin into the royal vault.
“Continue on your journey from this world, O Christian soul,” said Conner, reading from Psalm 103. The queen’s bagpiper played one more time and walked slowly away from the chapel, the music fading before Charles III was proclaimed to “the highest, most powerful, 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 remained was a private funeral in the presence of the queen’s immediate family.