Nine-year old Prince George and Princess Charlotte, seven, were the youngest mourners following the Queen’s coffin as they marched through a nave packed with world leaders in an expression of continuity of the British monarchy.
The Queen’s great-grandson, who became second in line to the throne after her death on 8 September, wore a dark blue suit and black tie as he walked alongside his father, the Prince of Wales, King Charles III’s immediate heir, in his RAF No1 uniform. Alongside him walked his younger sister, in a black dress and wide-brimmed hat, and her mother, the Princess of Wales.
The siblings started a new school in Berkshire only days before the nation went into mourning for its longest-serving monarch. But on Monday they joined the core royal party, behind the King and Queen Consort as the Queen’s body was borne into the Abbey. Their younger brother Louis, four, was not present.
The children’s role in the hour-long ceremony only emerged on Sunday night and is certain to have been the subject of considerable deliberation.
At previous state funerals for monarchs, grandchildren, let alone great-grandchildren, have not typically played a formal role. That change is in part a consequence of the Queen’s 70-year reign and long life, but also as part of the current monarchy’s desire to project stability to the UK and Commonwealth.
Two days after the Queen’s death, the Prince of Wales reportedly told a member of the public on a walkabout at Windsor that “they were trying to keep some sense of continuity for them at school and keep things as normal as possible”. On Sunday, it was reported that George and Charlotte’s presence was suggested by “senior palace advisers”, with an unnamed official saying George’s presence would be desirable “if only to reassure the nation of the order of succession”.
As they entered the abbey, George glanced around him at the assembled dignitaries and world leaders, while Charlotte peered out from beneath her hat’s brim, her mother placing a hand on her shoulder.
They were seated alongside their parents in the front row facing the coffin. Charlotte’s legs swung beneath her, still too short to reach the Abbey’s black and white chequered floor, as Lady Scotland, the secretary general of the Commonwealth, read the first lesson from I Corinthians, which asked: “O death, where is thy sting?”
A couple of seats along, their great uncle and aunt, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, wiped their eyes. Further along sat the King, their grandfather, face sombre, mouth downturned, his left hand gripping the handle of his ceremonial sword as he silently read the order of service.
The Prince of Wales, no doubt with the blend of anxiety and love familiar to any parent of a child asked to sit patiently in a formal setting, looked across at his children. There was no need to worry as under the gaze of scores of world leaders and millions of TV viewers, they sang along with the version of the Lord is My Shepherd that was sung at the wedding of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in 1947.
As the archbishop of Canterbury delivered his sermon, which referenced “the grief of this day felt not only by the late Queen’s family but all around the nation, Commonwealth and world”, Princess Charlotte whispered to her mother.
Their appearance came amid a narrowing of the royal family’s focus on figures at the top of the direct line of succession, overseen by the King. That was exemplified when the Queen, Charles, William and George were among a slimmed-down cast that took to the Buckingham Palace balcony for the platinum jubilee in May without the Duke of York, the Duke of Sussex or the Earl of Wessex.
The Prince of Wales has previously spoken of how walking behind his mother’s coffin in 1997, aged 15, after she died in a Paris car crash was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done”. The Duke of Sussex, who was nine at the time, has said: “I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances.”
The circumstances for the Queen’s funeral were different from Diana’s funeral procession in which William and Harry walked in the open air down the Mall with only Charles, Prince Philip and Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer. Here they were in the bosom of their family.
At the end of the state funeral, the children stood immaculately as the congregation sang God Save the King. George held his arms by his sides and Charlotte clasped her in front of her.
The prince and princess were not expected to attend the later service of committal at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.