Windsor, England | Queen Elizabeth’s last journey began in Scotland more than a week ago when her coffin left Balmoral, the estate she adored, sought rest and where she died.
On Monday, that odyssey ended in a place she reportedly loved just as much: Windsor Castle, the home she preferred during her long reign and the place where she was buried alongside her husband, father and other relatives.
In Windsor, as in London, thousands gathered in the sun to pay their respects, along the imposing entrance to the castle, known as the Long Walk, to watch the funeral procession.
Like the events in London, this too was a ceremony performed with military precision and the pomp and circumstance in which Britain excels.
But after the state funeral at Westminster Abbey, attended by world leaders, Windsor was where the royal family said goodbye to the Queen – a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother – as her coffin was lowered into the royal vault. A lone bagpiper played a lament, the sound of which faded into the distance as he withdrew.
For people living in or around Windsor, which sees itself as the home of the monarchy, the event was poignant due to its long association with the Queen.
Windsor was where young Elizabeth spent much of her time during World War II. When she became queen, she regularly spent weekends at the castle, enjoying the extensive grounds where she could walk or ride horses with her dogs.
When parts of Windsor Castle were destroyed by fire in 1992, it was one of many evil events that year that contributed to what the Queen called her ‘annus horribilis’.
More recently, the castle, which has been a royal home and fortress for 900 years, became a refuge for the Queen during the pandemic. She was only seen on horseback in the castle grounds last year.
“It seems good to pay our respects and watch her travel home,” said Ben Pearson, of nearby Maidenhead, as he waited for the coffin several hours before arriving in Windsor.
Windsor is also special to the British Royal Family, so special that it took the town’s name as its own in 1917, during the First World War, when Britain was at war with Germany. Sensing the unpopularity of all things German, the royal family became the House of Windsor through a proclamation of King George V, replacing the historic name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
Just a few hundred yards from the Queen’s private apartments in Windsor is St George’s Chapel, begun in 1475 by Edward IV and completed by Henry VIII in 1528, and is now her final resting place.
Throughout the Queen’s long life, this has been a place of worship and the scene of important ceremonies, including Garter Day and royal weddings, such as those of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018.
St George’s Chapel is also the favorite burial place for the Royal Family, and it was there last year that the Queen mourned the death of her husband, Prince Philip, who is more than 70 years old. The Queen was seen sitting alone during a sparsely attended service and wearing a mask to comply with coronavirus rules.
Monday’s events in Windsor had strong echoes of that funeral as King Charles and other members of the royal family walked behind the Queen’s casket, just as they had done behind Prince Philip’s last year. (In his case, at his request, the hearse was a Land Rover SUV that he had helped customize.)
At some earlier moments in British history, Westminster Abbey, where the Queen’s state funeral took place yesterday, was the most popular resting place of British royalty. Among those lying there is Elizabeth I. But King George II, who died in 1760, was the last monarch to be buried in Westminster Abbey.
After Prince Philip’s funeral last year, his coffin was lowered into the royal vault at St. George’s while awaiting a post-mortem reunion with the Queen. That took place last night during a private service, where the Queen’s remains would be buried alongside those of Prince Philip in the King George VI Memorial Chapel. That small chapel also houses the remains of the Queen’s father, mother and sister, Princess Margaret.
Given her long association with Windsor, Monday’s procession to the castle and the funeral service felt like a homecoming to Queen Elizabeth for many.