Insofar as a funeral attended by 450 mourners including the Queen and watched from a discreet distance by a few hundred wellwishers and several television crews can be described as intensely private… Princess Margaret had had a quiet funeral in Windsor.
On the 50th anniversary of the burial in St. George’s Chapel of her father, King George VI, the Queen’s younger sister, who died aged 71, was given her funeral service in the same surroundings, before her body was driven the eight miles to Slough Crematorium for a municipal cremation.
This was not quite setting a precedent – one of Queen Victoria’s daughters chose cremation in 1939 – but was said to reflect the princess’s longstanding wish. The princess’s ashes were taken back to the royal vault under the chapel at Windsor for interment near her father.
The princess died in her sleep in a London hospital, after suffering her third stroke the previous afternoon, following a long illness.
The details of the funeral service, devised in accordance with the princess’ wishes, following the traditional King James version of the rite, were given out, but the most that outsiders saw of the ceremony was the hearse making its way to Slough afterwards.
The royal family turned out in force: the Queen, dressed in black following a morning’s work at Buckingham Palace, arrived with the Duke of Edinburgh in the royal Rolls-Royce. Her children and grandchildren walked ot the chapel in a phalanx of black. Princess Margaret’s children, Viscount Linley and Lady Sarah Chatto, arrived together, and her former husband, Lord Snowdon, was also present, as was Roddy Llewellyn.
The Queen Mother, frail but determined to be present at the age of 101, was driven up from her home at the Royal Lodge across Windsor great park and was escorted through a back entrance.
She was said to be quite well after many weeks secluded at Sandringham, the family’s Norfolk retreat, with a chest infection, and to have recovered from the hour-long helicopter flight on Thursday afternoon needed to get her to the funeral.
Others in the congregation included courtiers and friends, many from the world of the arts that the princess loved. They included the lazz artists Cleo Laine and her husband Johnny Dankworth. The music reflected the princess’s choice as well as royal obligations: Brahms’s second symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake together with the Last Post and a lament plated by a piper from the Royal Highland Fusiliers.
Afterwards the mourners retired to the castle for tea while the coffin was taken to a crematorium, accompanied only by the princess’s former private secretary and Lord Luce, the Lord Chamberlain, representing the Queen.
She had chosen the details of the funeral herself, right down to the scriptures, the prayers and the hymns. And after the splendour of Windsor, she had chosen the cremation, in the humility of the municipal crematorium in Slough.
No member of the Royal Family accompanied Margaret on this last journey. Not even the children of whom she was so proud and whose dignity marked the day.
It was a day when the solemnities and traditions of royal life were put to one side to celebrate ‘Margo’, the free spirit of the Queen’s family.