The Funeral of Elizabeth II (Sept. 16-19)

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Yesterday saw the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey, followed by a committal service of her coffin to St George’s Chapel at Windsor. In the evening, after the public events, Queen Elizabeth was privately laid to the rest alongside her parents, George VI and The Queen Mother, her husband, The Duke of Edinburgh, and her late sister, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon.

The Brits do their ceremonies very well, so, unsurprisingly, yesterday was executed flawlessly. I’m going to break up information into sections, and then backtrack a bit to cover the vigils that occurred over the weekend.

The First Funeral Procession

In Monday’s first funeral procession, Queen Elizabeth’s coffin was transferred from Westminster Hall, where she has been lying-in-state, to Westminster Abbey, for a state funeral ceremony. Her coffin was transferred to a gun carriage last used in 1979 for the funeral of Louis, Earl Mountbatten of Burma (namesake of Prince Louis of Wales), and also used in the 1952 of funeral of Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI.

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Three rows of members of the Royal Family followed the carriage on foot. The first was comprised of Queen Elizabeth’s four children: King Charles III, The Princess Royal (Anne), The Duke of York (Andrew), and The Earl of Wessex (Edward).

The second was comprised of her three adult grandsons: The Prince of Wales (William), The Duke of Sussex (Harry), and Peter Phillips.

The third was comprised of The Duke of Kent (Edward, Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin, another grandchild of George V), The Earl of Snowdon (David, Queen Elizabeth’s nephew, son of the late Princess Margaret) and Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence (Queen Elizabeth’s son-in-law, husband of Princess Anne).

Royal women (besides Anne) and children were driven to Westminster Abbey where they met the party.

The Second Funeral Procession

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Monday’s second procession was the walk down the Abbey’s nave. Here, the royal women entered the fray.

Row 1: King Charles and Queen Camilla

Row 2: Anne and Timothy Laurence

Row 3: Andrew

Row 4: Edward and The Countess of Wessex (Sophie)

Row 5: William and The Princess of Wales (Catherine)

Row 6: Prince George and Princess Charlotte of Wales

Row 7: Harry and The Duchess of Sussex (Meghan)

Row 8: Peter and The Earl of Snowdon (he’s better known by his title than David)

Row 9: The Duke of Gloucester (Richard, Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin, another grandchild of George V)

Row 10: The Duke of Kent and Prince Michael of Kent (The Duke of Kent’s younger brother)

As we have seen throughout this process, events focused on the funeral (as opposed to the Accession) are emphasizing generations, not the line of succession. Put another way, Anne, Andrew, and Edward are given a prominence over William and Harry at regular intervals on the grounds that they are Queen Elizabeth’s children versus her grandchildren. (And obviously Harry is a bit of a special case here, but you know what I mean.)

Inside Westminster Abbey

As we have now learned from Commonwealth Day, memorial services, and Jubilees, seating charts are a dicey little game in the royal world. I will not cover every single Windsor from the extended family in attendance, but I will cover the first two rows on each side.

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Row 1 Right: From R to L, King Charles, Queen Camilla, Anne, Timothy Laurence, Andrew, Edward, and Sophie

Row 2 Right: From R to L, Harry, Meghan, Princess Beatrice (Andrew’s daughter), Edo Mapelli Mozzi (Beatrice’s husband), Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor (Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter via Edward), The Viscount Severn (James, Queen Elizabeth’s grandson via Edward).

Row 1 Left: From R to L, William, George, Catherine, Charlotte, Peter Phillips, Zara Tindall (Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter via Anne), Mike Tindall (Zara’s husband)

Row 2 Left: From R to L, Jack Brooksbank (Princess Eugenie’s husband), Princess Eugenie (Andrew’s daughter), Sarah, Duchess of York (Andrew’s ex-wife), The Earl of Snowdon, The Viscount Linley (The Earl of Snowdon’s son), Lady Margarita Armstrong-Jones (The Earl of Snowdon’s daughter)

There’s a couple things to note here. We’ll start with the big one – Harry and Meghan in the second row. There’s some discrepancy over when and how William and Catherine made the decision to have George and Charlotte attend, but the gist is that it was a more last-minute decision and that sounds correct to me. Had George and Charlotte not been in attendance, I believe Harry and Meghan would likely have joined William and Catherine in the first row on the left. With George and Charlotte there, sitting directly behind the King and Queen is not a bad spot.

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It’s also worth reminding everyone that we’ve seen Harry and Meghan in the second row before. This wasn’t a snub, it has to do with the hierarchy within the Royal Family and the fact of the matter is, while the Sussexes were once senior, there are still many royals who outrank them, particularly in a situation like this, where the focus isn’t on the King and his children, but rather the King and his *siblings*.

It is obviously also notable that Sarah, Duchess of York (Fergie) was present. Other divorced spouses were not invited, but an exception was made for Fergie because she maintained a personal friendship with Queen Elizabeth after her divorce. It’s worth underscoring that Queen Elizabeth was very close with the entire York family and therefore including Fergie here was a kind gesture.

Divorced spouses who didn’t make the cut? Peter Phillips’s ex-wife, Autumn. The Earl of Snowdon’s ex-wife, Serena, Countess of Snowdon. Anne’s ex-husband, Captain Mark Phillips.

As for Westminster Abbey, this is of course not a surprising venue, but bear in mind the personal nexus for Queen Elizabeth – the Abbey is also the site of her wedding, her father’s funeral, and her coronation, to name but three seismic events that not only impacted the monarchy, but the personal makeup of her private family life.

International Royalty in Attendance

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Here is who was in London yesterday:

  • Emperor Naruhito & Empress Masako of Japan
  • King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway
  • Prince Albert II & Princess Charlene of Monaco
  • King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of The Netherlands (King Willem-Alexander’s mother, Princess Beatrix, an abdicated queen, was also present)
  • King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden
  • King of Philippe and Queen Mathilde of the Belgians  
  • King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain (King Felipe’s parents, King Juan Carlos & Queen Sofia were also present – Juan Carlos abdicated)
  • Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and Crown Prince Frederick
  • Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg
  • King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema of Bhutan
  • Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei and Prince Abdul Mateen
  • King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan
  • King Letsie III of Lesotho
  • Hereditary Prince Alois and Princess Sophie of Lichtenstein
  • King Tupou VI of Tonga

Not Invited/Restricted

Several heads of state from foreign countries or Commonwealth countries were also there, but I’m not going to tick through them all. I will, however, flag who didn’t make the cut: Russia, Belarus, Myanmar, Syria, Venezuela, and Afghanistan.

Iran, Nicaragua, and North Korea were invited to have an ambassador attend, not a head of state.

The Third Funeral Procession

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The funeral procession then left the Abbey to wend its way to Wellington Arch, about a 45-minute process. Once again, Queen Elizabeth’s coffin was followed by male members of her family and Anne on foot.

This time, Queen Camilla, Catherine, George and Charlotte followed in one car, with Meghan and Sophie directly behind them, and Beatrice and Eugenie third.

This was Queen Elizabeth’s last presence in London, passing the military monuments and state buildings that made up so much of her adult life, including Buckingham Palace, which became her home at 10 years old. The procession also passed monuments to her parents, whose tombs she has been now laid to rest beside.

At Wellington Arch, Queen Elizabeth’s coffin as transferred to a hearse that then carried it to Windsor. The Royal Family also traveled the rest of the way via car.

The Committal Service  

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This final ceremony saw the formal laying to rest of Queen Elizabeth. The late Queen took a personal interest in this leg of the service, hand-selecting the music played. Per the BBC:

“Much of the music at the service has been composed by Sir William Harris, who served as the Organist at St George’s Chapel between 1933 and 1961, for much of the Queen’s childhood. The young Princess Elizabeth would often visit the Organ Loft to watch Sir William play, and it is believed he taught her to play the piano.”

A key moment in the service is when the trapping of the monarch, conveyed at the coronation, are removed. The Imperial State Crown, the Orb, and the Sceptre are taken off the coffin and placed back on the altar. They will now remain in the Tower of London until King Charles’s coronation.

Then, the Lord Chamberlain, Baron Parker, breaks his wand of office and places it on top of the coffin. It is the Lord Chamberlain’s job to plan events for the monarch and help oversee the royal staff. In other words, his work for Queen Elizabeth is now complete.

Queen Elizabeth’s coffin was then slowly lowered into the royal vault alongside her husband and birth family while her piper played a final lament. With a final blessing from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the congregation sang the (new) national anthem: God Save the King.

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As for the King himself, he cried. You will note that the cameras panned to him only occasionally out of respect, cutting away to other members of the family and the rest of the audience as needed. It is worth underscoring that this is the first committal service in history to be televised. Previous monarchs would have been on display to the congregation, yes, but not photographed and videoed at such a personal moment of grief.

Later on, in the evening, Queen Elizabeth’s close family returned to the Chapel for a private ceremony that saw the final interment. As stated above, her remains are now alongside Prince Philip’s, George VI’s, and The Queen Mother’s. Due to a shortness of space, while Princess Margaret is also there, her remains were cremated and installed in the vault in an urn.

Back in 1946, then-Princess Elizabeth became engaged to Philip at Balmoral at the age of just 20. King George requested that the couple keep it a secret until after his daughter’s 21st birthday for a variety of reasons, not least of which was that he was loathe to give up “us four” – the nuclear family of George VI, Queen Elizabeth, and their two daughters. All three women were devastated by the premature death of the King in 1952, and it’s said that the double deaths of her mother and sister in 2002 left Queen Elizabeth with a vacuum of company that was never quite filled in her last two decades. This resting place is thus entirely fitting.

The Vigils

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Now let’s quickly backtrack to the weekend. A week ago, we saw Queen Elizabeth’s four children stand vigil beside her coffin at St Giles’s Cathedral in Edinburgh while we were still on the Scottish leg of this journey. As a refresher, this ceremony was started in January 1936 with the death of Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, George V. His widow, Queen Mary, had her four sons participate in standing guard beside her husband’s coffin. Since then, it has only been conducted on one other occasion – The Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002.

The vigil was repeated during Queen Elizabeth’s lying-in-state in Westminster Hall, which began on Wednesday. On Friday, her four children, once again, took their turns standing on each side of her coffin. If you haven’t already watched the footage or seen photos, this means that the King and his siblings quite literally stood at their mother’s coffin, facing outward, while the public walked through in a line, paying their respects and, well, staring.

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On Saturday, we saw Queen Elizabeth’s grandchildren take their turn. All four of her grandsons participated – Peter, William, Harry, and James. I would argue this was the most public moment of 14-year-old James’s life thus far. While he turns up at certain public functions and is visible at events like Christmas and Trooping the Colour, as a minor and not one who will work on behalf of the Royal Family someday, he has very much flown under radar. While clearly deemed too young to walk in the funeral procession, he was allowed – or requested – to join his cousins in this moment and it was poignant to see.

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But so did the granddaughters, making history with the Vigil of the Princesses. Zara, Beatrice, Eugenie, and Louise also took their place, marking the first time that royal women have participated in this ceremony (including Anne). After 11 days of flawless tributes to the late queen, this one may have been the most perfectly emblematic of the very quiet and subtle way she evolved the monarchy into the 21st century.

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The Buckingham Palace Reception

Against a backdrop of mourning and preparing for a historical ceremony, there was also the logistical consideration that dozens of heads of state and international royalty would be congregating in London all at once as the guests of the Windsors. A diplomatic reception was hosted at Buckingham Palace, while a variety of 1:1s took place over the weekend.

Catherine made headlines for meeting with First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska.

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But the real headlines were about the news that the Sussexes were invited to attend by the Palace, and then uninvited. We don’t know exactly what happened – let’s start there. And then let’s note that these plans – Operation London Bridge – have been in development for decades. The first framework was actually drawn in the 1950s while Queen Elizabeth was still in her 20s. Why? Because you never know when the monarch is going to die – naturally or unnaturally – and the literal second that he or she does, everything we’ve just seen kicks into gear immediately. So, you need to be prepared.

What I’m getting at is that I think it’s entirely possible, Harry and Meghan were once on a guest list and then never removed.

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And if you’re wondering why they wouldn’t have been there, I have to again emphasize that this wasn’t a snub. This reception was about the literal work the monarchy conducts on behalf of the UK and Commonwealth. There was nothing about this event that had anything to do with the Royal Family as a family. Harry and Meghan aren’t working royals. While it’s unfortunate that an invitation was made and then rescinded, it’s better than having them there.  

For those who thought their presence had to do with the Bidens – absolutely not. The Sussexes are not ambassadors to the United States. Quite the opposite, they use the American media market and public as a weapon against the Royal Family with regularity, while Harry has stated on the record that he consider the UK to be a racist country. You may well agree with that statement, but it’s quite literally not the work of diplomacy or statesmanship.

Uniforms

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This has obviously been a sticking point over the last week or so. The initial guidance was that only working members of the Royal Family would be invited to wear military uniforms for funeral events, however an exception was being made for Andrew at one specific event (Friday’s vigil). There was massive outcry that Andrew was being mollified, but Harry wasn’t. Particularly given that Harry saw active service in Afghanistan. As you may recall, I disagreed with the Palace’s initial decision.

Long story short, the Palace backtracked and Harry was allowed to wear a uniform when he stood vigil with Queen Elizabeth’s other grandchildren on Saturday. It’s unclear what the decision-making process behind the reversal was, but it’s safe to say that King Charles had the final say.

The issue came up again on Monday when Harry and Andrew appeared sans uniform for the procession. This means that when the procession passed the Cenotaph, they bowed their heads instead of offering a military salute. And yes, there’s something to be said for the fact that the two members of the family not in uniform are the only two who saw active service.

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Here’s where I land on this:

  • Leaving royal work of your own accord is very different than being “fired” because of your involvement in a sexual abuse lawsuit
  • There is a difference between the death of your mother versus your grandmother
  • This was likely Andrew’s final act on the world stage and he was never proven guilty in a court of law
  • The same rule should have been applied to Andrew and Harry consistently

As you can see, those are rather disjoined thoughts and I can understand why the Palace grappled with how to handle this. To be honest, I probably would have recommended that Andrew and Harry be allowed to wear military uniform for the funeral, not the vigil. But that was likely a decision that Queen Elizabeth herself weighed in on, so there you have it.

Charles III

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These last 11 days have been the biggest of his life, no question. There has been speculation for decades over how the public would react to the reality of King Charles, and whether he would able to take on the mantle of sovereign with as much as grace as his mother. So far, what we’ve seen is a spike in his approval ratings and the flawless execution of a punishing schedule during an extremely difficult time. There was one day in the midst of all of this that he woke in Edinburgh, flew to Northern Ireland for public engagements, and then ended his day in London. His first public address was nearly universally lauded. He has taken unscheduled moments to greet the public lined up to offer him condolences. I’m both incredibly impressed and, because I’ve always thought highly of him, wildly unsurprised.

It’s early days yet – the goodwill we’ve seen so far is tightly wrapped up in public mourning and that’s been extended to the family. The next few months may well be tricky as everyone starts grappling with the reality of a new reign. But he passed his first test with flying colors.

Queen Camilla

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Queen Camilla was a quiet presence over the last 11 days, which is pretty indicative of her royal life, and which I think we’ll continue to see from her in the coming months and years. She very much defines her royal life as supporting her husband, and while we may see her role as consort evolve and elevate her profile, I think she is going to be one of the lowest-maintenance queens we’ve ever seen. Considering the scrutiny, unpopularity, and unflattering attention she once endured, I continue to find it remarkable how seamless this accession as been for her.

Catherine

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One never really knows what Catherine is thinking, but it’s worth underscoring that while all of this has been going on, she has only just moved her family to a brand new house, while her children’s first day at a new school was on the day Queen Elizabeth died. What she’s demonstrated over these last several days is what we’ve seen for the last three or so years, someone who is ready for the next phase of their royal career.

All of that said, I think it’s also entirely likely that there is some grief that is inward-focused on her family. She and William had a lot more flexibility as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – for their own schedules and for how they guarded their children. That’s come to an end. I think it’s telling the statement greenlit from her camp was that she would define her own path – separate from the legacy of Diana, Princess of Wales – but the fact of the matter is, we’re going to see even more of her and the pressure will be higher in big and small ways.

George & Charlotte

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I was glad to see George and Charlotte on Monday, but not surprised. As a future king, it’s fitting that George took his place alongside his father, and I think it’s in keeping with William and Catherine’s parenting that they included Charlotte as well. Queen Elizabeth, after all, was also her great-grandmother. Seeing the two of them together is reminiscent of how close Charles and Anne were prior to their marriages, and I imagine it’s less strange to have a peer when navigating these surreal events.

William & Harry

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We’ve seen more of these two together in the last 11 days then we have in nearly three years. While I think it’s significant that they were able to stomach walking beside each other, and the olive branch extended by William for the Windsor Walkabout was meaningful, I don’t think anything has changed here. Meghan’s language in The Cut was threatening and Harry’s memoir still remains in the ether. I’ll dig into this more in a later post, but no, I don’t think a reconciliation has occurred or will for the time being. At best, I think we’ve de-escalated from congealed ice to whatever temperature the water in which the Titanic sank was.

Anne & Sophie

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These two usually fly under the radar in royal coverage, but this was a hell of a run for them. Anne’s unique role as Queen Elizabeth’s only daughter, and the only royal princess of her generation, was at the forefront in a very touching and appropriate way. It’s unclear to what extent her workload will change in the coming months – there have been years when she’s outstripped the King – but I think she will be a key support for her brother, if for no other reason than she, like him, truly understands this position in a way I don’t think anyone else in the family really does.

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As for Sophie, we don’t know if the King is going elevate her and Edward to Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, but we *do* know that a slew of Queen Elizabeth’s patronages will go to her in honor of her close relationship with her late mother-in-law. What we also saw from her was a very real rapport with Catherine and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if we saw that relationship grow further still.

Harry

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Harry has never had a great poker face. I will say that there were moments I was impressed by Harry since September 8th – the statement he released re: the uniform debacle was appropriate, and he took his place seamlessly alongside his father, brother, and the rest of the family when he was called upon. I don’t imagine that was easy or comfortable.

If the grief he visibly expressed while in the UK was anything more complicated than sadness for his grandmother, then what I will say is this: I’m not sure what he or any of his fans expected. He left this life behind and then made himself a liability to his family. You can think he was right to do so if you like, but you can’t quibble over there being consequences.

Meghan

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I will say only two things: 1) I don’t think she put a *public* foot wrong at any event she attended and 2) no, contrary to what many of her fans are saying online, she was not the only member of the Royal Family to cry at the funeral.

As for the rest, we’ll come back to that on a later day.

Scotland

I want to re-emphasize how significant it was that Queen Elizabeth died in Scotland. A monarch hasn’t died there since 1542 and that was James V, father of Mary, Queen of Scots. But Queen Elizabeth has solid Scottish blood and it’s also worth pointing out that the Windsors as a whole are descendants of as many Scottish kings as they are English. So much of the UK and the monarchy are Anglo-focused and, given Queen Elizabeth’s love for Scotland, it was gratifying to see the flawless execution of Operation Unicorn.   

Emma & the Corgis

Along the procession route, the Queen’s horse, Emma, and her remaining corgis were brought out to pay their respects. They say that Queen Elizabeth’s greatest loves were horses and dogs, so those symbols so synonymous with her reign were pitch perfect. Truly, only the Brits.

What’s Next

The mourning period will continue for another week. Royal engagements, I believe, have been canceled. If we do see any carried out they will most likely be thematically appropriate and the royals in question will wear black.

After the interment, King Charles and Queen Camilla left London for Scotland. They’re believed to be residing at Balmoral, which, of course, now belongs to them. The latest flutter of news is that the King may choose France as the location of his first international visit, which is a surprising but not unwelcome choice if true.

William and Catherine, presumably, are back at Adelaide Cottage with their children. Harry and Meghan are believed to have flown back to California.

In other words, everyone has returned to their corners. We’ll see what happens next.

6 thoughts on “The Funeral of Elizabeth II (Sept. 16-19)

  1. LEW

    Ah, Rebecca, wonderful. What a day it was. I managed to see quite a bit and was just impressed by the ceremony and grandeur of it and how it was managed.

    Until the lane before the Long Walk where the procession and the green fields were in a strange unity. Until Emma the pony. Until those damned corgis.

    For me, Windsor felt like the “real” funeral, for a well liked rather posh lady in a somewhat grand country church. Until they stripped her coffin of the emblems of state, Cullinan 1 and II and the Black Princes Ruby and all the rest and sent her off as “our sister, Elizabeth”. Until Charles’ crumpled face for the anthem that must still be unfamiliar in this form and I believe she asked specially to be sung.

    Sleep, Dearie, sleep.

  2. KellySue

    For every George, there is a David as a foil…for every Elizabeth, there is a Margaret as a foil. For every Charles, there is an Andrew as a foil. For every Diana, there is a Fergie as a foil. For every Will and Kate, there is….who? Their foils moved away. This will be interesting.

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