The death of Queen Elizabeth on 8 September 2022 signalled the end of an era. Very few of us have any meaningful recollection of a time when she wasn’t on the throne. Although she reigned over no fewer than 14 sovereign nations, in Scotland she was very much the Queen of Scots, the direct heir of the oldest Royal House in the world, with a documented history stretching over 15 centuries. She was, in a very real sense, the direct heir and successor of Kenneth MacAlpine, Macbeth, Malcolm Canmore, Robert the Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots, from whom she was descended many times over.
She died at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, the family estate she had known all her life and which she appears to have loved over all other of her many residences. It’s a community where she and her family are known personally; there, she was the local laird, not the most famous monarch in all of history, often seen driving her Landrover, riding her Highland pony, or walking in the hills. So it was fitting that, during the first stage of her final journey, her coffin was borne from the castle by a group of ghillies from the Balmoral estate, all of them men who knew her well – she was, in a very real sense, their boss.
Her connections with Scotland ran deep and she was closely connected to most of Scotland’s principal families, via her Scottish mother, originally Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, a daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. Among these are the Hays and she was directly descended from both of the main Hay lines of Erroll and Yester. The present Chief of Clan Hay, the 24th Earl of Erroll, was her fifth cousin, twice removed. More to the point, he is the hereditary Lord High Constable of Scotland, the most senior of Scotland’s Great Officers of State, an office that’s been in the possession of the Hays since 1308. In that capacity, our Chief would play a central role in the days immediately following the queen’s death.
Her body was taken in procession from Balmoral to Edinburgh, the long route lined with local people paying their respects with quiet dignity to a much loved and respected sovereign. On her arrival in Edinburgh, her Scottish capital, she was met by her daughter, The Princess Royal, and her youngest son. Accompanying them, in his capacity as Lord High Constable of the Kingdom, was our Chief.
The following day the new King Charles III came to Edinburgh to join in the beginning of his mother’s funeral ceremonies. The late queen’s body was taken in procession up the Royal Mile from the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where it had lain in state, to St Giles Cathedral, the ancient High Kirk of Edinburgh. for a moving service in celebration of Her Majesty’s long life. In that procession, her coffin was immediately followed by her four children, but our Chief, the Earl of Erroll, was immediately behind the new King both in the procession and in the cathedral itself, dressed in his Hay tartan and sporting the three eagle feathers of a Chief.