The Queen’s Final Journey.

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.

Death of an Iconic Princess.

At 11.40am on 27 August 1968, Princess Marina died peacefully in her sleep at her apartment in Kensington Palace, from an inoperable brain tumour. This had only been discovered by doctors, on 18 July, when she entered the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases for ‘various tests’, as Marina had increasingly found it difficult to put weight on her left leg, which kept giving way, causing her to stumble badly. This devastating news, along with the doctors’ prognosis that the Princess had only six or seven months left to live, was known only to her children, Edward, Alexandra and Michael. Even her beloved older sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, was kept in the dark noting, ‘I can’t make it out exactly what is the cause…’ Marina herself thought it was rheumatism. Although, following her discharge from hospital, she needed daily assistance from a nurse, the Princess was still able to pay a visit to her daughter and grandchildren at Alexandra’s home, Thatched House Lodge, in London’s Richmond Park, on 23 August. Furthermore, on 25 August, Alexandra, her husband Angus Ogilvy and their children, James and Marina, lunched with the Princess at Kensington Palace. Marina’s close friend, Zoia Poklewski was also present. At this stage there seemed no immediate cause for alarm. However, in the evening, Marina suffered a brief blackout and, on the morning of 26 August, she said, ‘I feel tired. I think I will go to sleep.’ It was a sleep from which she would never awaken.

Thus, when word was released of her death, people both in Britain and the British Commonwealth (for the Princess had travelled extensively on official duties to Commonwealth countries both in the Far East, as well as-inter alia-to Canada, Australia and Ghana) were shocked by the news, for she was only 61 years of age. Many could still recall Marina’s arrival in Folkstone, in September 1934, as the chic future bride of the handsome and popular Prince George, youngest surviving son of King George V. Others remembered her as an enduring presence (for some 25 years) when, as President of the All England Tennis and Croquet Club (“Wimbledon” in everyday parlance), she presented the trophies to the champions and runners-up at the end of the famous tennis tournament. The Australian Women’s Weekly called her ‘the smartest of the royal women’ in terms of dress sense and, in England, the late Princess even had a colour named after her, Marina Blue.

It was announced on 28 August that the funeral would take place in private at St George’s Chapel Windsor. It was the height of the holiday season and most of the British Royal family travelled down from Balmoral on Royal Deeside for the service. The Princess’ mortal remains were carried into the chapel by eight officers from regiments of which she was Colonel-in-Chief, her personal standard and flowers atop the coffin. The service was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Ramsey, assisted by Archimandrite Gregory Theodorus of the Greek Orthodox Church. The latter’s participation was particularly apt as Marina had been raised in the Greek Orthodox faith and had remained a regular attendee, during Holy Week, at the Orthodox Easter services at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sofia in London’s Moscow Road. The moving service also included the collect hymn of the Holy Orthodox Church, Give Rest, O Christ, to Thy Servant with Thy Saints. Marina was subsequently laid to rest at the Royal Burial Ground at nearby Frogmore. Interestingly, on the previous evening, the mortal remains of her late husband, Prince George, who died on active service in a flying accident in 1942, had been removed from the Royal Crypt at St George’s Chapel and transferred to Frogmore. Now husband and wife were once again reunited.

In addition to Marina’s three children and other royalties, also present was Marina’s sole surviving sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia. The latter had hastened over from her holiday home near Florence, after being told that Marina’s health had suddenly deteriorated, so as to be at her younger sister’s side for the final hours of her life. Olga wore Marina’s own mourning outfit and veil at the funeral for, in the rush, she had no chance to pack her own. The Duke of Windsor also made a rare appearance at Windsor, to salute a royal sister-in-law who was, after all, the widow of his favourite brother, George.

A public memorial service (which was televised to millions) was held in Westminster Abbey on 25 October. Among the two thousand present were representatives of the British, Greek, Danish, Yugoslav and Russian Royal Families. The presence of the latter was particularly prescient as Marina was (through the maternal line) a great-granddaughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. However, in a nod to the Princess’ down-to-earth character, also present were two representatives of a garage in Iver, where she lived for so many years on the Coppins estate. The Dean of Westminster summed up Marina’s salient characteristics succinctly: ‘her grace and beauty, her spirit of spontaneity, her courage in adversity, her unswerving service to this land of her adoption, her faithfulness in friendship…[and] not least do we thank God for the mutual affection which was established between her and our people…’ And that was Marina’s secret-the British people had taken her to their heart almost from the first; yet equally she had reached out to them. In essence, it was a case of ‘mutual admiration’.

As the years have moved on, Marina is still remembered with great affection. This warmth has long been extended towards her children, particularly Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Lady Ogilvy who, although in their late eighties, continue to carry out a wide range of official engagements, for dedication to duty was at the heart of their late mother’s ethos.

Robert Prentice is a biographer and regular contributor to ‘Majesty’ magazine in the United Kingdom. His biography of the late Princess Marina’s sister, ‘Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times’ is available to purchase in hardback or as an e-book through Amazon.

Queen Mother Helen returns.

On a dark morning at Geneva’s international airport, a coffin, covered in a royal standard, was loaded onto the rear of a Romanian military transport plane. The casket contained the mortal remains of Her Majesty Queen Mother Helen of Romania, Princess of Greece and Denmark and the senior Greek Princess of her generation. Helen is the latest (and probably one of the last) members of a royal family of a former Eastern Bloc country whose remains have been repatriated.

At the time of her death on 29 November 1982, Queen Mother Helen was living in an apartment in Lausanne. Given that Romania was at that time ruled by a communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, who would certainly not have countenanced the interment of a member of the country’s former royal family in his fief, a plot had been purchased in the Boix-de-Vaux cemetery in Lausanne as a resting place for Helen. Yet, she was not to be alone: Helen’s cousin Olga’s husband, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, had already been interred there following his death in 1976, as had the mortal remains of his son Prince Nicholas who had died in a car accident in England in 1954 (his body had been brought over from the churchyard near his late Aunt, Princess Marina’s former home at Iver and reinterred in Lausanne at the request of Princess Olga). In 1997, Princess Olga was herself buried in the Bois-de-Vaux following her death at the age of 93.

However, following the ‘rehabilitation’ of Prince Paul by the Serbian High Court in 2011, he, Olga and Nicholas’ bodies were exhumed and reburied, with great ceremony, in the crypt of the Karageorge Royal Mausoleum at Oplenac in Serbia, on 6 October, 2012.

Meanwhile, since the fall of the Ceausescu regime in December 1989, the popularity of the former Royal Family was gathering pace in Romania. Much of this can be attributed to the dedicated involvement of Queen Mother Helen’s eldest granddaughter, Margareta (who now lived in Bucharest) and her Princess Margareta of Romania Foundation. Indeed, as early as 2003, Helen’s ex-husband, King Carol II’s mortal remains had been reburied in his homeland (from their original resting place in the Braganza Pantheon in Lisbon) in a side chapel of Curtea de Argeș Cathedral in the Carpathians. On 16 December 2017, his son King Michael I was also buried at Curtea de Argeș, although in a newly-constructed Royal Mausoleum, beside the remains of his late wife, Queen Anne, who died in August 2016.

Yet, all this while Queen Mother Helen’s mortal remains still languished in Lausanne. However, in early September, it was announced that Her Majesty body was to be returned to Romania and reinterred at Curtea de Argeș. Which brings me back to Geneva International Airport on the morning of 18 October: Having obtained the necessary air clearance, the Romanian military aircraft flew to Otopeni Airport, Bucharest where Her Majesty’s coffin was received, just after 11am, by an Honor Party formed by the 30th Guards Brigade and carefully taken out of the plane preceded by a large wooden cross bearing the inscription ‘Elena-Regina 1896-1982’. Looking on were the Custodian of the Crown of Romania (Margareta), her husband Prince Radu and two of Helen’s other granddaughters (Princesses Sophia and Maria.) Also present were a plethora of politicians and representatives of Romanian religious denominations and, particularly apt, of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Following a brief religious service, Her Majesty’s coffin was later taken to the Elisabetha Palace, where it lay in state for a short while in the King’s Hall. The funeral cortege then processed northwards to Curtea de Argeș, arriving in the late afternoon to a warm greeting from a large crowd. The coffin-still draped with the royal standard-was then placed on a bier at the Old Cathedral. The public were subsequently allowed to pay their respects. Touchingly, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, issued a statement describing Queen Mother Helen as ‘ a powerful symbol of dignity, honour and courage and a special figure of moral conduct in the dark twentieth century.’

Just prior to noon on 19 October, members of the Romanian Royal Family and representatives of foreign royal houses (the Earl of Rosslyn represented the Prince of Wales) gathered in the Old Cathedral for the religious service. Thereafter, Queen Mother Helen’s coffin, containing her mortal remains, was borne by soldiers to the new Royal Mausoleum nearby. Her Majesty is buried alongside her beloved son King Michael and Queen Anne. The remains of her former husband, King Carol II, also rest nearby, having been transferred to the new Royal Mausoleum in the spring of this year.

Please read my various recent blogs on the life of this unique and charming Greek Princess and Queen Mother of Romania who surely ranks as one of the royal icons of the 20th century.