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Privacy for royal grief at last as Queen Elizabeth II is laid to rest at Windsor

19 September 2022

Sarah Meyrick reports on the Service of Committal in St George’s Chapel


The King and Queen Consort follow the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II as it is carried into St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, for a Service of Committal, on Monday afternoon

The King and Queen Consort follow the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II as it is carried into St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, for a Service of Committa...

AND so to Windsor Castle, the late Queen’s childhood home, her haven during the pandemic and, finally, her resting place alongside her beloved husband, sister, and parents.

Flowers and their perfume were in abundance: inside St George’s Chapel, there were formal displays of white lilies, dahlias, roses, Bouvardia, Eustoma, and greenery picked from the Queen’s Home Park.

Outside, there was a combination of florists’ wreaths — some of the messages, such as that from the Archbishop of Canterbury, personal and written by hand — and the carpet of flowers retrieved from the Long Walk, where members of the public have left them ever since the news of the Queen’s death emerged.

Hundreds of crates have been required to rehome them within the castle walls, according to a passing police officer.

The Service of Committal, which began a little after its scheduled 4 p.m. start, was the second part of a tripartite funeral, coming before the third and final element, the private interment at 7.30 p.m. when Queen Elizabeth II was finally laid to rest in the King George VI Memorial Chapel.

After a stately procession that stretched 25 miles west from the Abbey, the flower-strewn hearse arrived at the Castle in sunshine in the middle of the afternoon, cheered on its way by crowds of supporters. Well-wishers thronged either side of the two-and-a-half-mile Long Walk in Windsor Great Park to catch a glimpse of the Queen’s final journey, before watching the service on vast outdoor screens.

One of those on the Long Walk was the Revd Catharine Mabuza, Vicar of Warfield, in Berkshire. She and her friend arrived at 5.30 a.m. to secure a prime position. “It was a very profound experience,” she said afterwards. “It was lovely to be able to join in with the worship from here.” It had been “well worth” the early start, she said.

From the Long Walk, then, to the Cambridge Gate, along Cambridge Drive, through the George IV Gate and into the Quadrangle, where the King and other members of the Royal Family took up their positions once more behind the Queen’s coffin.

After the morning’s grandeur of the Abbey, the service at St George’s Chapel was a little more intimate: a mere 800 made up the congregation. There were royals and state leaders, of course, but many of those in the Chapel were members of the late Queen’s Household. Only a few had been in the Abbey that morning.

In recent years, this Royal Peculiar has often been the site of the distribution of the Maundy money. Royal weddings have been celebrated: the Earl and Countess of Wessex were married here in 1999, and the Sussexes in 2018 (News, 25 May 2018). In 2005, the marriage of the King and Queen Consort was marked here with a service of prayer and dedication.

It has also been the venue for royal funerals, such as that of Princess Margaret. But the service that most of us remember is, surely, the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh in April last year, when pandemic restrictions permitted a congregation of just 30 (News, 23 April 2021) . The picture of the Queen’s lonely figure became an iconic image of the isolation of the time.

There was the bare minimum of musicians at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. Not this time. Music for this service of committal was provided by the Organ Scholar, Miriam Reveley, and the Assistant Director of Music, Luke Bond, on the organ, and the choir of St George’s Chapel, conducted by James Vivian. There was strong representation from composers associated with St George’s: Sir Henry Walford Davies and Sir Walter Parratt were both its Organists, as was Sir William Henry Harris, who held the post between 1933 and 1961, and is believed to have taught the late Queen the piano.

And it was all signed off by the Queen herself, palace aides said, with the exception of the final hymn, which she left to the King to choose in consultation with the Dean.

The coffin, draped in the royal standard, was carried into the chapel up the West Steps from the Horseshoe Cloister, to the accompaniment of the choir singing Psalm 121 (“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills. . .”) to a Walford Davies setting. Once the coffin was safely on the catafalque, and the Royal Family members seated, there followed the Russian Contakion of the Departed (“Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints: where sorry and pain are no more”), a piece included in the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

The Dean of Windsor, the Rt Revd David Conner, delivered a bidding that he composed only after the late Queen’s death. He spoke of her “uncomplicated yet profound Christian faith” and her “life of unstinting service” to the nation, the Commonwealth, and the wider world, as well as to her family.

“In the midst of our rapidly changing and frequently troubled world, her calm and dignified presence has given us confidence to face the future, as she did, with courage and with hope,” he said as he prayed.

The hymn “All my hope on God is founded” followed. Then the reading from Revelation 21: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea,” a familiar passage that was included in the funerals of King George VI, in 1952, and those of King George V and Queen Mary.

The prayers were shared by the late Queen’s three domestic chaplains: the Rector of Sandringham, Canon Paul Williams; the Minister of Crathie Kirk, the Revd Kenneth MacKenzie; and the Chaplain of the Royal Windsor Great Park, Canon Martin Poll.

After the Lord’s Prayer came the motet “Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven”, words by John Donne set to music by Harris.

There was a solemn moment of symbolism when the Instruments of State — the Sceptre, the Orb, and the Imperial State Crown — were taken from the top of the coffin by the Crown Jeweller and placed by the Dean upon the altar in recognition of the end of the Queen’s reign.

This all happened in silence — a quiet broken by the confident singing of the hymn “Christ is made the sure foundation”.

The Queen’s Company Colour of the Grenadier Guards was placed on the coffin by the King, and then came another moment of drama: the Lord Chamberlain snapped his wand of office in two and placed it on the coffin, in recognition of the change of monarch. This and the small flag will be buried with her.

The Dean read verses from Psalm 103 (“Like as a father pitieth his own children: even so is the Lord merciful unto them that fear him…”), and, at the same time, so slowly that the movement was almost imperceptible at first, the coffin was gradually lowered into the royal vault below.

“Go forth upon thy journey from this world, O Christian soul,” prayed the Dean. “In the name of God the Father Almighty who created thee; in the name of Jesus Christ who suffered for thee; in the name of the Holy Spirit who strengtheneth thee. In communion with the blessed saints and aided by Angels and Archangels, and all the armies of the heavenly host, may thy portion this day be in peace, and thy dwelling in the heavenly Jerusalem. Amen.”

The Garter King of Arms pronounced the styles and titles of the Queen, and there followed the poignant sound of the sovereign’s personal piper piping a lament from the doorway between the Chapel and the Dean’s Cloister.

The service ended with a blessing by the Archbishop of Canterbury, followed by the National Anthem — during which the King looked almost overcome by emotion — and a rousing Bach voluntary on the organ.

This was a day of colourful pageantry and complex choreography, decades in the planning. At least 6000 military personnel were involved in the funeral. One of those, former Scots Guardsman Brigadier Harry Nickerson, a member of the King’s Bodyguard for Scotland, the Royal Company of Archers, marched at the King’s side in the London procession. He said afterwards that taking part had been “a very special but poignant honour”.

Brigadier Nickerson had met the late Queen on several occasions in his military role. “But I first met her as a young chorister at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where six of us would sing private services for her,” he said.

“Before major services, our choir would wait for her beside the King George VI Memorial Chapel, where on the railings of her father’s tomb is Minnie Louise Haskins’ poem which has been for ever etched in my memory and begins, ‘And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

“Life is strangely symmetrical and today, I took my place among six Archers in the funeral procession escorting her from Westminster Abbey back towards the George VI Memorial Chapel. Through all the sadness of this moving event, it was an uplifting thought that she was approaching her own ‘gate of the year’ to be reunited with her beloved Prince Philip and her parents, leaving all of us with her eternal legacy after an extraordinary life of service.”

Never has the funeral of a monarch been so publicly shared, with cameras zooming in on every tiny moment. The only private part was the final interment in the King George VI Memorial Chapel. No cameras were allowed at this point, and no details have been released. Those who loved the late Queen as a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were — at last — given the chance to say goodbye away from the glare of publicity.

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