How the Royal Family Came Together amid Tensions to Honor Queen Elizabeth: 'Everyone Was Hurting'

With poise and precision, Queen Elizabeth’s family came together to lay her to rest — but wounds remain raw

Photo: (Portrait)Royal Household/Ranald Mackechnie/PA Wire

With watery eyes, King Charles III faced Prince William and Prince Harry across the stone aisle of St. George's Chapel on Sept. 19. The father and sons watched in somber silence as the coffin of their beloved mother and "Grannie" was lowered into the Royal Vault, beneath the chapel nave. Together, but also apart.

"When families have a falling-out, you long for them to hug one another," royal biographer Penny Junor tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story. "It broke my heart."

For all the fairy-tale trappings of the global farewell to Queen Elizabeth II — thousands of members of the British Armed Forces marching in precision, hundreds of world leaders gathered and the rare appearance of the Imperial State Crown — the interment of Britain's beloved monarch, who died at age 96 on Sept. 8, was, at heart, a painful family funeral.

Through 10 days of national mourning, the family did their duty to serve the public. In walkabouts, stunning vigils before the Queen's coffin and receptions with heads of state to formalize the transfer of power, Charles, 73, his three siblings and his two sons modeled the stoicism and stability that their matriarch unwaveringly displayed during her reign.

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The youngest royals — Prince George, 9, and Princess Charlotte, 7 — also did their duty, with Charlotte whispering at one point to her brother, "You need to bow!"

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But strain still showed. Harry's estrangement from his father and older brother over leaving royal life in 2020 with his wife, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, was never fully out of mind.

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"This week has brought a lot of emotions to the surface and has been a kind of triggering of past grief for Harry," says a friend.

Of the grief that played over the faces of each family member, Samantha Cohen, the Queen's former assistant private secretary, says, "They looked tired. Now it's real, and the real mourning starts. The reality of life without the Queen starts now."

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As the world watched below the glow of what Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby called "the brightest spotlight," the royal family's personal grief — along with their flaws and fissures — has been subtext to the historic death of Queen Elizabeth. Harry, 38, was not invited to fly with William, 40, and their uncles to the Queen's bedside in Scotland after news came that the end was near.

Arriving after the Queen's death, Harry stayed at Balmoral with his uncles and aunts while Charles and William left for a private dinner. "Everyone was hurting," says another close source.

Olive branches were extended to the California couple, who relocated to the U.S. under a cloud of accusations and hurt feelings to raise their young children, Archie, 3, and Lilibet, 1.

In his first address as King, Charles spoke of "my love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas." The next day, William invited his brother and sister-in-law — by text, says a close insider — to join him and wife Kate Middleton, the new Princess of Wales, in greeting crowds outside Windsor Castle.

But there was no real togetherness on that outing and no progress toward reconciliation, says the insider: "It was awkward. Both couples found it hard. They were in a stoic spirit of just getting through it for the Queen."

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Those close to King Charles and Queen Camilla hope, for the sake of his new reign, if not salvaging ties, that William and Harry will now follow their grandmother's lead.

"You'd think that all members of the family would unite and support the King, especially," says a source close to Charles. "Perhaps some wounds can be healed in the process." It would likely have been Elizabeth's dying wish. Adds the close source: "She knew that conflicts were a part of life, and she didn't hold grudges. Most of all, she wanted to see her family happy."

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Whatever becomes of the fractured bonds within, the royal family will carry on, insiders say.

Charles and Camilla "will show the nation that the monarchy is still offering stability and an example of service and duty," says the source close to the King.

Adds Charles's former press secretary Paddy Haverson: "He will apply himself 1,000 percent to the job at hand."

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