Royals stage vigil as mourners stream by queen's coffin

·6-min read

King Charles III and his siblings on Monday staged a vigil over the coffin of their mother, Queen Elizabeth II, as thousands of mourners in Edinburgh filed past to pay their final respects.

The new monarch, Princess Anne, Prince Edward and Andrew stood with heads bowed on the four sides of the oak casket lying in rest at the 12th-century St Giles' Cathedral.

The 10-minute ceremony -- known as the "Vigil of the Princes" -- came after the queen's children had walked slowly behind the hearse carrying their mother's body in a solemn procession through the heart of Scotland's capital.

Accompanied by kilted soldiers, the late monarch's coffin was taken from the royal residence of the Palace of Holyroodhouse where it had remained overnight for a prayer service attended by dignitaries at the cathedral.

The doors of the cavernous church were then opened to tens of thousands of well-wishers hoping to bid their own final farewell to the monarch known as "Queen of Scots".

Queues snaked back for hours as people waited to pass by the coffin before it gets flown back to London on Tuesday afternoon ahead of the state funeral at Westminster Abbey on September 19.

The huge numbers who lined the streets of Edinburgh are a taster of the crowds expected in London when the late queen will lie in state for four days at Westminster Hall from Wednesday.

Fiona Miller, 45, said she wanted to bring her granddaughter Poppy to see the latest step in the historic 11-day mourning process after the death of Britain's longest-serving monarch last week at the age of 96.

"It just felt it had to be done, part of history that I don't think we'll see again in Scotland," she told AFP on Monday in the Scottish capital.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon -- who is spearheading a push for independence -- offered her nation's "sincerest condolences" to Charles at a special sitting of the parliament in Edinburgh.

"For people across our country this is a time of profound sorrow. Well, the nation's grief is for our queen. The royal family's is for their beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother," she said.

- 'Guiding compass' -

Britain has been plunged into grief by the death of Elizabeth II, who has been a fixture of the nation's life and consciousness for seven decades.

But for the royal family a very personal tragedy is playing out against the backdrop of global attention.

Prince Andrew was not wearing his military uniform for the procession, unlike his siblings, after stepping back from public life following a scandal over his links to US sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

But his presence represented a show of unity, as did a joint appearance at the weekend by Charles's warring sons William and Harry, as they surveyed flowers and cards left outside Windsor Castle.

Harry, the youngest, who renounced royal duties in 2020 and moved to the United States, paid tribute to his grandmother on Monday, calling her his "guiding compass".

"You are already sorely missed," the 37-year-old said in his first statement since her death, adding that he and his American wife Meghan Markle "now honour my father in his new role".

While the government said organisations need not cancel events, everything from strikes to football matches have been postponed in honour of the only sovereign most British people have ever known.

Flowers, cards and candles have been left at royal residences across the country, where crowds have massed to say farewell to the late queen and hail their new king.

Many were left by tourists and well-wishers from abroad.

"We've known her face all of our lives," said Aurelie Mortet, a 46-year-old Frenchwoman at London's Columbia Road flower market, which has seen a huge rise in demand.

But the Royal Parks -- which oversees Green Park where tributes from the palace are being taken -- on Monday asked visitors not to bring any more soft toys after a flood of Paddington bear tributes.

- Weight of history -

Around 750,000 people are expected to queue for a chance to see the queen's coffin and the first person arrived in line on Monday -- more than 48 hours before it officially opens.

The queen's funeral is also expected to draw huge numbers to London, as well as some 500 world leaders and heads of state, including US President Joe Biden.

Decades in the planning, the aftermath of the queen's death has been full of pomp and ceremony.

Earlier Charles and his Queen Consort, Camilla, sat on gold thrones in London's 900-year-old Westminster Hall to receive the formal condolences of the UK parliament.

"I cannot help but feel the weight of history which surrounds us," the king replied to the assembled lords and MPs, vowing to follow the "example of selfless duty" set by his "darling late mother".

The monarch is a largely ceremonial figurehead in Britain but retains constitutional powers, from officially appointing governments to approving legislation and meeting weekly with prime ministers.

"Parliament is the living and breathing instrument of our democracy," Charles said.

As he takes on what he has called the "heavy responsibilities" of kingship, he will also make his first visits as monarch to Northern Ireland and Wales this week in a show of national unity.

While large crowds are expected to welcome him in Northern Ireland Tuesday, the visit to the deeply divided region scarred by sectarian violence could prove testing.

Charles will meet Belfast's feuding political leaders -- split between fiercely loyal unionists and nationalists who want to reunify with Ireland -- before attending an Anglican religious service in the city.

The president, prime minister and foreign minister of Ireland are also set to attend.

- Queen of the world -

Charles has seen his popularity recover since the death of his former wife Diana in a 1997 car crash. But he has been embroiled in several scandals in recent years.

He takes the throne at a moment of deep anxiety in Britain over the spiralling cost of living and international instability caused by the war in Ukraine.

With republican movements gaining ground from Australia to the Bahamas, the new king also faces a challenge keeping the Commonwealth realms in the royal fold.

In Barbados, which cut ties with the British crown last year after nearly four centuries, there were mixed reactions to her death.

"It's tragic in a sense because we have lost a page in history," said retired Bridgetown resident Alfred McClean.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, a British colony for more than 150 years until it was returned to China in 1997, crowds gathered in sweltering heat to pay their respects.

Emily Ng, 30, clutched a portrait she painted of the queen, describing how her grandmother used to tell her stories about the royals.

"I hence felt very connected to the royal family and even after the handover I would like to maintain that connection," she told AFP.

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