The Daily Telegraph
The grief of a thoughtful, emotional son
The King has the hardest of all acts to follow, but with quiet dignity and dutiful regality he did his late mother proud
HE BECAME monarch the moment his mother died 12 days ago, but to the watching world, and perhaps even to King Charles III, this was the moment his reign truly began.
It was to the King that mourners and the country at large looked for leadership and solace, and they found it in his pitch-perfect combination of regality and sentimentality.
There was the strength and discipline of a 73-year-old man shrugging off the exhaustion of the past week to march in time behind the gun carriage, but there were also deeply personal touches: the flowers he chose for the wreath; his hand-written note that went with it and the hymn he chose for the woman he called “Mummy”.
In between the most formal elements of the day, he returned to safe anchor beside his Queen Consort, whose love and support will be so vital to the success of this new chapter in the ongoing story of the crown. Queen Elizabeth II set a new standard of royal duty, and on the evidence of yesterday there is every reason to believe that her son – and his Queen – will live up to her example.
The King’s schedule has been so packed that he has not had time to grieve, and has barely had time to sleep, as he indicated during a visit to a police control room at the weekend. For the next week he will, finally, have time to mourn his mother and reflect on events, but first he had to get through a day in which the world’s spotlight was on him, and he did not let anyone down.
Having hosted the “diplomatic reception of the century” at Buckingham Palace on Sunday night, the King had little time to prepare himself for what was to come, either mentally or emotionally.
Dressed in his Royal Navy uniform as an Admiral of the Fleet, the King’s first duty of the day was to march behind the late Queen’s coffin as it was taken from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. It could not have been a more formal moment, yet as the coffin emerged into the sunshine, complete with crown, orb and sceptre, another side of His Majesty was in full view – the thoughtful, emotional son. A new wreath adorned the coffin, replacing the white flowers that had been specified by the late Queen for her lying in state. It comprised flowers and foliage from the Buckingham Palace garden and his own homes at Clarence House and Highgrove, each of them lovingly steeped in symbolism.
The myrtle was picked as an “ancient symbol” of a happy marriage, according to Buckingham Palace – grown from a sprig in the late Queen’s wedding bouquet in 1947, representing her 73-year marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh. There was rosemary, signifying remembrance, and oak, representing the strength of love, and some of the King’s and the late Queen’s favourite scented flowers, pelargoniums, roses, hydrangea, sedum, dahlias and scabious.
The gold, pink and deep burgundy of the flowers were chosen to reflect the Royal Standard on the coffin, and the King even specified that the wreath should be held together with moss and oak twigs, rather than floral foam, in keeping with his environmental principles. On top of it, on black-fringed card from Buckingham Palace, was a handtuesday
written message: “In loving and devoted memory. Charles R.”
Once inside Westminster Abbey, the King looked drawn at times, and appeared emotional as the congregation sang God Save the King at the end of the service, an anthem which he has sung countless times, but will never sing again. Beside him, his Queen Consort looked bereft at times, but she knows she must now become the “strength and stay” that Prince Philip was to the Queen, and when events moved on to Windsor, and the more intimate committal ceremony inside St George’s Chapel, she walked beside her husband as the coffin was carried down the nave. Almost every detail of the day had been decided in advance by the Queen herself, but she left one gap in the schedule for her son and heir to fill.
The late Queen wanted the King to choose one of the hymns sung at the committal service, and after talking the matter over with the Dean of Windsor, David Conner, the King chose Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation, sung to the music Westminster Abbey, which in turn was adapted from the Alleluyas in Purcell’s The words of the hymn, which date back to 7th century Latin, describe Jesus as “the precious cornerstone”, a sentiment that echoed the late Queen’s own deep religious beliefs. The King, who in accordance with tradition did not speak at either of the services, thought deeply about his personal input to the ceremonies, using such symbols to communicate his love and his sorrow.
As well as being King, Charles is also a father and a grandfather, and by giving his blessing for Prince George and Princess Charlotte to take part in the coffin procession he was not only showing his trust in his family but was also sending a reassuring message: that the future of the monarchy is secure.
Until the committal ceremony was almost over, the most powerful symbols of monarchy – the Imperial State Crown, the orb and sceptre – had remained on the Queen’s coffin, giving the impression they still belonged to her and that the King, though officially proclaimed, remained in a period of constitutional limbo. Then came perhaps the most deeply symbolic moment of the whole day, when the instruments of state were removed from the coffin by the Crown Jeweller and placed by the Dean of Windsor on the high altar in St George’s Chapel.
This was the most public expression of the fact that the Royal family had finally let go of Queen Elizabeth II, and that the crown had passed into the hands of her son. He will not officially receive them until his coronation next year, but they are now his and his alone.
The King’s last duty in the presence of his mother’s coffin was to place the small Camp Colour of the Queen’s Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards on top of it, signalling the end of the former monarch’s reign, before the Lord Chancellor split his stave of office and placed it alongside it. He maintained a stoic presence throughout, but as the National Anthem was sung again at the end of the committal, the burden of the day again seemed to pass over his face.
Last night, away from public view, the King laid his mother to rest alongside his father as he said his final goodbye. As his reign begins in earnest, he has the hardest of all acts to follow, but the Queen’s flawless stewardship of the monarchy also means King Charles III has the best possible head start.