After a sea of onlookers, a final island of privacy Diana is buried on a lake at her ancestral home with rosary from Mother Teresa

Farewell To A Princess

September 07, 1997|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ALTHORP HOUSE, Northamptonshire -- On a tiny island, set in a small lake, Diana, Princess of Wales was laid to rest yesterday at her ancient Northamptonshire home.

The "People's Princess" was brought here in a hearse after the grand procession and funeral in London's Westminster Abbey. Buried with her was a rosary given to her by Mother Teresa.

It took the cortege about two hours to cover the 68 miles from Central London to the gates of Althorp. People watched in towns and villages along the way. The fever of grief of the past week seemed to be abating. Gone were the tears and red eyes among those waiting at the gate.

Diana grew up here, played on the vast grounds. She was often seen in the villages and hamlets around it. Here she met her former husband, Charles, Prince of Wales.

She planted oak trees as a child on the island that now holds her grave, in ground recently consecrated. She had her sons, Princes William and Harry, do the same when they were younger.

The island is overwhelmed by old oaks. There is a small temple, put there in the 1880s by the fifth Earl Spencer. The oval lake occupies a part of the grounds of Althorp known as the Pleasure Garden.

The current Earl Spencer, Diana's brother, said he will build a bridge to the island, and allow the public to visit her grave at certain times of the year.

The burial service was reserved for family and friends: Spencer; Prince Charles and the two boys; Diana's two sisters and their husbands; Diana's mother, Frances Shand Kydd; and Diana's butler, Paul Burrell.

Spencer decided that a private service would be more appropriate for his sister, whom he had described in his funeral address as "the most hunted woman in the world."

Diana was originally to be buried beneath the family chapel at St. Mary the Virgin Church in nearby Great Brington. Fears that the village of about 200 people would be overwhelmed by mourners, then later by tourists, led him to shut out the public.

But the church had a part to play. Six men began pulling steeple ropes about nine in the morning. The sound of St. Mary's bells rolled across the hills, even to the gates of Althorp, for about 3 1/2 hours.

Having escaped a fate nobody wanted, Great Brington withdrew into itself, retreated behind its yellow walls. Except for the bells, not a sound was heard in town. The pub was shut, even the post office; not a person, except the odd police officer, was on the streets.

Early yesterday, all roads leading to the estate, and to the village, were sealed to vehicles. People could walk a mile or so to the gate from Harlestone, the final village through which the hearse would travel.

The people came, slowly in the morning, but more numerously after it was learned that the hearse had left the abbey. They continued to bring flowers and piled them upon those at the gate.

"A lot of people didn't realize how much they loved her," said Felicity Wilde as she strode the winding road from Harlestone to the gate at Althorp. "Then she died, and many people suddenly felt that they had to do something, like come here.

"The picture of her is not all roses. It's good she is being recognized now. Why can't people respect people during their life for what they do?"

The messages deposited at Althorp were indistinguishable from those laid at the palaces in London. They had the same desperate expressions, the same words to say the same things. "I'm so sad." "All the world misses you."

But this is not London. The sky is bigger here than it is over London. When the sun came out, the clouds, big as continents, moved away. Their shadows rolled over the hills of Northamptonshire, over the gold hay and gray wheat, and the tiny roads winding and twisting and pressed between hedgerows.

The road runs about seven miles from the bucolic precincts of Althorp to the unlovely city of Northampton. People had lined up all along the way by 2 in the afternoon. They brought blankets and folding chairs and thermoses, and their dogs. Many dogs.

The progress of the hearse along the highway was relayed up and down the line. "It's just got on to the M1," a police constable reported. "It's in Northampton," another assured a tired couple.

Necks turned southward. The hearse was said to be traveling only 10 miles an hour in the built-up parts, 40 on the motorway.

Babies cried in Harlestone by the bridge that crosses a little stream there. The world's press, taking all the best spots, turned its electronic eyes on the road, fiddled with camera lenses.

People waited, some more patiently than others.

One man complained that the only pub in Harlestone was closed. The owner had turned it over to the British Broadcasting Corp. "Doesn't the owner of a public house have a duty to the public?" he growled, but went thirsty.

The imminent arrival of the hearse was heralded by a beating high above the road. Then one police motorcycle outrider flashed by, then three more, in blazing yellow jackets.

The hearse came up in a cloud of silence. As it went by people straightened and clapped, lightly, politely.

Diana was swept through and out of Harlestone with its perfect cottages and slate roofs. The hearse climbed the hill, descended the other side, up and down, around a curve and arrived at the black steel portal to Althorp between the two white gatehouses.

It turned in, and Diana's story was over.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.