Photo credit: Gareth Cattermole/ Sept 2022/ Getty Images
On 19th September 2022, the UK witnessed the state funeral of its longest service monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended the throne in 1952. The country has been in a state of national mourning since the announcement of her death on 8th September. The funeral, and the procession, were one of the most complex events carried out in the UK since the Second World War, with thousands taking part in the operation. The procession, which was around a mile and a half long in its entirety, involved the Royal Family, the military and those who have dedicated their lives to the service of the Queen, who herself devoted 70 years to the UK and Commonwealth. Many different uniforms and attires were witnessed in the 4,000-strong parade, with 3,000 in London and 1,000 in Windsor. There were also around 2,000 in the guard of honour and lining the routes. Below breaks down the day’s events, including examples of those regiments involved in the processions.
At 8 am, the lying-in-state at Westminster Hall came to an end after hundreds of thousands of members of the public queued for up to 16 hours over a period of four days. Ahead of the state funeral at Westminster Abbey at 11 am, a short procession took place as The Queen was moved between the buildings. The Queen’s coffin was carried to the abbey on the State Gun Carriage of the Royal Navy, drawn by 142 sailors. This tradition dates back to Queen Victoria’s funeral in 1901 when plans were changed last minute after the horses pulling the carriage panicked and reared up, threatening to topple the coffin. This has then been followed at all state funerals including Edward VII nine years later, King Georges V and VI and Sir Winston Churchill. The gun carriage was last used for Lord Mountbatten’s funeral in 1979.
The coffin was topped with the Royal Standard (the flag flown when the Queen was in residence), the Imperial State Crown (which symbolises the sovereignty of the monarch) and the Sovereign’s orb and sceptre (used at the coronation). The wreath, at The King’s request, contained foliage of rosemary, English oak and myrtle (cut from a plant grown from the Queen’s wedding bouquet) and gold, pink, burgundy and white flowers, cut from the gardens of Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Highgrove House. The wreath was completely sustainable, in a nest of English moss and oak branches, free of floral foam. There was a card that read: ‘In loving and devoted memory, Charles R’.
The route was lined by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, and a guard of honour stood in Parliament Square made up of the three military services, accompanied by a Royal Marines band. The Pipes and Drums of the Scottish and Irish regiments lead the ceremony, as well as members of the Royal Air Force and the Gurkhas. Senior members of the Royal Family, including the Queen’s four children, led by the new King Charles III and some of her grandchildren, Princes William and Harry and Peter Phillips, followed the gun carriage.
During the hour-long service in Westminster Abbey, attended by 2,000 guests, her life-long sense of duty was remembered. Guests included family members, the new Prime Minster Liz Truss, former Prime Ministers including John Major, Tony Blair, David Cameron and Theresa May, and other heads of state including US President Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, French President Macron and leaders of the Commonwealth. Royalty from across the world also gathered, including the King and Queen of Jordan, Belgium and Spain, the later of whom said that Queen Elizabeth 'set an example for us all'. Westminster Abbey is where all previous British monarchs have been crowned, including the Queen’s own in 1953, as well as where the then Princess Elizabeth married Prince Phillip in 1947. The funeral of the Queen Mother was also held there in 2002. In the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘Her Late Majesty famously declared on a 21st birthday broadcast that her whole life would be dedicated to serving the Nation and Commonwealth. Rarely has such a promise been so well kept!’ At the end of the service, the Last Post, a short bugle call, was played, followed by a two-minute silence. The national anthem was sung, and a lament played by the Queen’s piper as he slowly walked out of the Abbey. The role of Piper to the Sovereign dates back to Queen Victoria and is responsible for playing the bagpipes at the request of the Sovereign, acting as a personal alarm clock by playing under the Queen’s window at Balmoral in the morning.
At 12.15 the main procession began, starting at the Abbey and ending at Wellington Arch, the centrepiece of Hyde Park Corner (the original entrance to Buckingham Palace, later becoming a victory arch proclaiming Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon). At one-minute intervals, Big Ben rang and gun salutes were fired from Hype Park. With the route lined with military personnel and police, crowds of mourners filled the streets of London. The procession was divided into seven groups, each with its own band. The coffin was again placed on the gun carriage and followed by the Royal Family. Led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Mounted Metropolitan Police, the procession involved members of the armed forces from the UK and the Commonwealth, as well as the Royal Household, emergency services and NHS. At Wellington Arch, the coffin was transferred into the State Hearse and travelled to Windsor Castle, the permanent home of Queen Elizabeth and the late Duke of Edinburgh during the pandemic.
Another procession took place up Windsor Castle’s Long Walk, again lined by the armed forces, and packed with members of the public to see the Queen’s coffin for the last time. The castle's Sebastopol and Curfew Tower bells were rung every minute and gun salutes were fired from the castle's grounds. The Queen’s horse, Emma, whom the Queen loved to ride around the castle grounds, as well as her corgis, Muick and Sandy, waited at Windsor to welcome the late monarch home for the final time. At 4 pm, a committal service was held in St George’s Chapel, where the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral was also held in 2021. This was the first time this service had ever been seen by the public, as it last occurred in 1952, with the death of George VI and was not televised. This was a much more personal congregation, with around 800 guests, largely made up of staff from the Queen’s household. The King placed the Queen's company camp colour, or flag, of the Grenadier Guards on the coffin, and the Lord Chamberlain (the most senior official in the Royal Household) ‘broke’ his wand of office, signalling the end of his service to the sovereign. The Queen was then lowered into the royal vault, where the Duke of Edinburgh has lain since his death. The Sovereign’s piper then played again at the personal request of the Queen. Later that evening, in a private family service, the Queen was buried, with her husband, at the King George VI memorial chapel, in St George’s Chapel, with her mother, father and sister.
It was estimated that around 4 billion people would watch the funeral, over half of the world's population and more viewers than Princess Diana's funeral in 1997 or the moon landing. This makes it the largest single event watched or streamed in history. For comparison, in 1953, when the Queen was crowned, the world population was just over 2.5 billion. The 70 years during which Queen Elizabeth II was one of remarkable change and development, and she has definitely made her mark in history.
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