During the new King’s address to Parliament last Monday, he told peers and MPs that he felt “the weight of history which surrounds us”. It’s a sentiment most of us share, as we’ve watched ancient ceremonies that form the way this country deals with the death of one monarch and the accession of another. And there is more historic pageantry to come with the Queen’s funeral.
Yet relatively recent innovations – planes, trains and automobiles – have transformed how we mourn a monarch. Since the start of the twentieth century, speedy transport has encouraged people to join in royal mourning and make the death of a sovereign a far less private, family event.
Trains were used to transport the bodies of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V and George VI to their funerals, and they allowed crowds of people to travel to catch a glimpse of their corteges, and in the case of the three kings, to attend their lyings in state. All of them had funerals in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and the public travelled there to catch a final glimpse of their monarch before they were taken past the gates of Windsor Castle for the final time. Last week, a plane brought the Queen back to London for her lying in state at Westminster Hall prior to her funeral at Westminster Abbey.
You have to go back to 1760 and George II for the last sovereign’s funeral there. St George’s Chapel is not big enough for all the kings, queens, presidents and other world leaders wanting to pay their respects to Elizabeth II, our longest-reigning monarch. Could there be a more fitting farewell for Her Majesty than the site at which she both married her beloved husband, Philip in 1947, and was crowned in 1953, where so many earlier monarchs are buried?
Like other sovereigns before her, Elizabeth II will have planned her own funeral. A devout Anglican all her life, this is bound to be a traditional Church of England funeral. I understand she was keen to include the hymn The Day Thou Gavest and something by her former music teacher, Sir William Henry Harris. Harris’ Evening Hymn would be ideal, for its words sum up the Queen’s faith in the Resurrection: “when I shall never sleep again, but wake forever”.
Catherine Pepinster is the author of Defenders of the Faith – the British Monarchy, Religion and the Next Coronation, published by Hodder and Stoughton