The Daily Telegraph

Queen Elizabeth’s last great act of service


Once again, Scotland took centre stage for the ceremonial­s attending the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and Edinburgh Old Town in particular. The coffin of the late sovereign, after resting the night in the Throne Room at the Palace of Holyroodho­use, was taken along the Royal Mile to St Giles’ Cathedral for a service of Thanksgivi­ng.

The King, who had earlier received the keys of the city, followed the hearse on foot together with his brothers, the Duke of York and Earl of Wessex, and sister, the Princess Royal. Vast crowds lined the street in glorious sunshine for a dignified procession of great solemnity, with thousands staying on to file past the coffin.

Later, His Majesty attended a meeting of the Scottish parliament, mirroring an earlier event in Westminste­r Hall where the King accepted the condolence­s of MPS and peers before reaffirmin­g his mother’s pledge “to maintain the precious principles of constituti­onal government which lie at the heart of our nation”.

He added: “This vow she kept with unsurpasse­d devotion. She set an example of selfless duty which with God’s help and your counsels I am resolved faithfully to follow.”

Today, the nation’s capital will be involved in the proceeding­s for the first time when the coffin is transferre­d to London before being taken to Westminste­r Hall tomorrow in a procession along The Mall and down Whitehall.

Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people are expected to queue for hours in London to pay their respects by filing past Queen Elizabeth’s catafalque upon which she will lie in state until the state funeral next Monday.

Until now, Scotland has led the way because the late Queen was the first sovereign of the United Kingdom to die north of the Border. Had she died in England it was not envisaged that Scotland should play such a pivotal role in these sombre proceeding­s.

That would have been a great pity given her strong personal associatio­n with the country. Her mother was a Scot descended from the Royal House and Queen Elizabeth could trace her ancestral line back to James VI of Scotland, later James I, and beyond.

Since her death on Thursday, events have been governed by the provisions of Operation Unicorn, which was triggered only because she was at Balmoral when the end came. Given that she was 96 and her health was ailing she could always have stayed at Windsor but clearly wanted to be in Scotland, as she was every summer. It has produced some indelible impression­s as a result.

The fact that the late Queen was at Balmoral meant the new UK Prime Minister, Liz Truss, was confirmed in office in Scotland, not in London, itself a first. It meant that the service in St Giles’ was a Scottish communion to bid farewell to a Scottish queen, her coffin draped in the Royal Standard of Scotland and topped by the ancient Crown of Scotland.

It could not have been any more magnificen­t. To paraphrase TS Eliot in Little Gidding, history is now and Scotland.

Whether any of these abiding images and rituals will have long-term ramificati­ons for the stability of the Union is as yet unclear. But Queen Elizabeth’s last great service to her kingdom may well have been to reinforce its integrity by drawing its people together in lamenting her passing and seamlessly proclaimin­g her eldest son monarch in her stead.

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