Around 10.06 am on 11 September, the hearse bearing the mortal remains of Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, passed through the gates of Balmoral Castle to commence a journey of 175 miles to Edinburgh and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Sovereign’s Official residence in Scotland. The oak coffin was covered by the Royal Standard of Scotland atop of which was a single wreath composed of the late Queen’s favourite flowers including phlox, dahlias, sweet peas, white heather and pine fur. Not long before, Her Majesty’s coffin was carried from the ballroom of the Castle, where it had lain since shortly after her death last Thursday, by six estate gamekeepers, to the accompaniment of the Sovereign’s Piper playing the haunting airs ‘Balmoral’ and ‘Glen Gelder’.
In the cortège immediately behind the hearse was Her Majesty’s daughter, the Princess Royal along with her husband, Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence. Also accompanying the seven-car royal motorcade, as it wound its way along the banks of the River Dee, on a bright Sunday morning, via the A93 towards Aberdeen, was the minister of the church near Balmoral, Crathie Kirk, the Reverend Kenneth Mackenzie (known officially as a Domestic Chaplain to the Sovereign).
At Ballater, the first village on the route (where the Queen knew most of the shopkeepers personally) local residents (and the Member of Parliament) lined the main street in sombre silence. However, the mood was subsequently somewhat lightened when a group of Aberdeenshire farmers mounted a salute by tractors in a roadside field, while an aptly equine tribute to this well-known royal horse owner (and accomplished horsewoman) was provided by some local riders on horseback. As the cortège reached the next main town, Banchory, gentle applause could be heard, and a local member of the British Legion dipped his banner in salute to his late Sovereign Lady.
After the procession had passed by Aberdeen’s Duthie Park, it took the A90 road southwards towards Dundee, quickly passing by fertile farmlands. En route, just after the cortège had entered the County of Angus, there was a brief ‘refreshment’ stop at the small cathedral city of Brechin, before recommencing the journey just after 2pm to travel past the county town of Forfar. It was this stage that the motorcade passed within a few miles of Glamis Castle (which lies just to the south), the birthplace of the late Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret and the ancient ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore, from whom Her Majesty was directly descended, as a granddaughter of Claude Bowes-Lyon, the 14th Earl. It was at Glamis that the young Princess Elizabeth of York (as Her Majesty was then known) learned to appreciate the countryside of Highland Scotland during long summer holidays in the company of numerous cousins.
The cortège then gathered pace until it reached the city of Dundee. The long Kingsway (planned in the reign of King Edward VII but not completed until the reign of his son George V) was lined by thousands of Dundonians, many of whom clapped as the hearse went by. Although the Queen had often visited the city on official duties, she probably would have remembered it better from her youth, as she accompanied her grandmother, Cecilia, the Countess of Strathmore, to a local toy shop in Whitehall Crescent or when, accompanied by her mother, Queen Elizabeth, she enjoyed pre-war shopping trips to a local jeweller in the city’s Nethergate to buy gifts.
The small motorcade then journeyed down the Carse of Gowrie, a fruit growing area, famous for its succulent raspberries and strawberries. There were not so many convenient viewing points from the A90 roadside here, but wherever there was a flyover or a hill, determined groups of locals gathered to salute their late Sovereign. This was particularly so as the cortège merely had time to skirt past the eastern extremities of Perth on the M90 motorway, via the Friarton Bridge. Again, many inhabitants of the ‘Fair City’ travelled out by car to roadside lay-bys to pay their respects; others impulsively slowed down or stopped their cars in the neighbouring northward lane.
The M90 is a fast-moving motorway at the best of times, but it seemed even more so on this historic Sunday afternoon. Other than large clusters of people as the motorcade passed the towns of Milnathort and Kinross, the route was devoid of crowds and the pace quickened. Meanwhile, clearly visible over to the left was Loch Leven, where the late Sovereign’s ancestor, Mary, Queen of Scots had been imprisoned for nearly a year, following her surrender to the Protestant nobles at the Battle of Carberry Hill in 1567. Royal history of even earlier times might also be recalled as the cortège passed the turn-off for Dunfermline, a Royal Burgh and the final resting place of King Robert the Bruce in 1329.
As the might Firth of Forth appeared in the horizon, the hearse carrying the late Queen travelled across the Queensferry Crossing, the newest of three neighbouring bridges which traverse the River Forth at this point. The Queen had opened this structure in 2017, as well as the neighbouring Forth Road Bridge in 1964. Then, as the suburbs of Edinburgh beckoned, the pavements grew busier with onlookers, particularly so in Queensferry Road. After crossing the Dean Bridge spanning the Water of Leith, the motorcade turned right into Lothian Road and eventually ascended to the Royal Mile which links Edinburgh Castle (at the top) with the Sovereign’s official residence in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse (at the bottom). Here the crowds were up to ten deep on either side and as the road grew noticeably narrower, policemen had to ensure the way was kept clear. Again, just prior to reaching the Palace, the cortège passed by the Scottish Parliament which the Queen had opened in 2004. History, on this journey, was indeed all around.
On reaching the Palace of Holyroodhouse, around fifty staff, as well as members of the royal family including Prince Andrew and the Earl and Countess of Wessex and Forfar, were waiting at the palace entrance to receive the Queen’s mortal remains, along with officials including the High Constables of Holyroodhouse. They were soon joined by the Princess Royal and her husband as they exited the State Bentley in which they had travelled for over six hours from Balmoral. The Queen’s daughter subsequently curtsied deeply to the coffin. A bearer party, formed from the ranks of the Royal Regiment from Scotland, of which Queen Elizabeth II was Colonel-in-Chief, carefully carried the coffin from the hearse (provided by the Aberdeen funeral directors, William Purves) and proceeded with it through the central principal entrance, along the colonnaded piazza of the Quadrangle, up the tapestry-lined Great Stair and into the oak-panelled Throne Room. It is here the late Queen will lie at rest till the afternoon of Monday 12 September, to allow palace staff and members of the Royal Household in Scotland to pay their respects.
Then, a procession, led by His Majesty the King on foot, will accompany the coffin to St Giles’ Cathedral. After a short service to receive the late Queen’s mortal remains, it will lie at rest guarded over by members of The Royal Company of Archers, to allow the people of Scotland to pay their respects. The Queen’s coffin will travel from Scotland by Royal Air Force aircraft from Edinburgh Airport, accompanied on the journey to RAF Northolt in London by the Princess Royal, in the early evening of Tuesday, 13 September. As has already been announced Her Majesty’s funeral will take place at 11am on Monday 19th September at Westminster Abbey in London. Queen Elizabeth II will then be laid to rest at St George’s Chapel Windsor in the afternoon.
Robert Prentice is a royal biographer and regular contributor to Majesty magazine.