The Queen's grandchildren hold vigil at her coffin - the tradition explained

Princes William and Harry led the historic vigil on Saturday the 17th September, but what is the Vigil of the Princes?

The Queen's grandchildren vigil tradition
(Image credit: Yui Mok-WPA Pool/Getty Images/Future)

The Queen’s grandchildren stood vigil beside her coffin in Westminster Hall for 15 minutes on Saturday night (17th September) in anticipation of her state funeral on Monday the 19th September.

  • All eight of the Queen's grandchildren stood in silent vigil beside her coffin on Saturday 17th September, following a tradition dubbed the 'Vigil of the Princes' before the state funeral on Monday
  • The event goes down in the history books as the first time that the grandchildren of a monarch have taken part in the ceremony.
  • In other royal news, The Queen's funeral will take place on the 19th of September, here you can find a timeline of what will happen on the day

On Saturday 17th September, at the Vigil of the Princes, Prince William and Prince Harry, both in uniform at the King's request, were accompanied by the Queen's six other grandchildren, all of whom were in morning suits and formal dresses. 

Prince William, the Prince of Wales, stood at the head of the coffin, with Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, at the foot. Either side of Prince William stood his cousins, Zara Tindall and Peter Phillips, the children of the Princess Royal, while Prince Harry stood with the Duke of York’s two daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.

The Earl of Wessex’s children, Lady Louise and Viscount Severn, stood either side of the middle of their grandmother’s coffin. The two young siblings, aged 18 and 14 respectively, garnered great praise for their poise and composure during the vigil across social media, with many drawing comparisons between Viscount Severn and a young Prince William.

Before the vigil, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie issued a statement praising the late Queen. The sisters wrote, "We, like many, thought you'd be here forever. And we all miss you terribly. You were our matriarch, our guide, our loving hand on our backs leading us through this world. You taught us so much and we will cherish those lessons and memories forever."

What is a vigil

A vigil is a period of 'devotional watching' or observance, usually undertaken during the night before a significant event. The term has developed from the Latin “vigilia,” meaning “wakefulness,” and it is usually used to describe religious celebrations and occasions of public mourning.

For royal ceremonies, vigils are undertaken to pay respect to the late monarch and will be held by both members of the royal family and members of the armed forces. While the Queen's coffin sits in Westminster Hall, the seven regiments of the Household Division, in their own words, 'have the honour of standing vigil' while the public come to pay their respects.

Usually it is the children of the monarch who hold vigil during a late monarch's lying-in-state, and while the Queen's children did do this on September the 16th, the grandchildren's vigil will go down in the history books as the first time the grandchildren of a monarch have taken part in the ceremony.

What is the Vigil of the Princes?

This tradition dubbed the Vigil of the Princes refers to occasions when members of the British royal family have stood guard during the lying in state of one of their relatives. The name refers to the fact that the family members usually have royal titles such as Prince.

The tradition has taken place only three times before. The first ever Vigil of the Princes took place in 1936 when the four sons of King George V kept watch over his coffin as it lay in state. In 2002, the four grandsons of the Queen Mother, the then Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex and Viscount Linley, now the Earl of Snowdon, kept vigil at her coffin in Westminster Hall.

The third time came only on Friday the 16th of September 2022, when King Charles III, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward held vigil for their mother. In doing so, Princess Anne became the first female member of the Royal Family to hold vigil.

There was no such vigil for George VI, the Queen's father, as, when he died, he had two daughters and his grandchildren were very young. 

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News writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is a news writer for Goodtoknow, specialising in family content. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.