Queen's funeral: Why was a white staff broken over her coffin?

·4-min read
The Lord Chamberlain breaks his Wand of Office at the Committal Service for Queen Elizabeth II held at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, Berkshire. Picture date: Monday September 19, 2022.
The Lord Chamberlain breaks his Wand of Office at the Committal Service for the Queen. (PA)

The day of the Queen's funeral has been filled with solemn pomp and ceremony.

Hundreds and thousands of mourners came to London and Windsor to pay their final respects as millions of people were glued to their screens at home.

Around 2,000 people gathered in Westminster Abbey for her funeral, before a committal service later at Windsor Castle, which was attended by about 800 mourners.

The day has seen a number of different royal traditions and protocol utilised as part of the state funeral.

The breaking of the white staff

King Charles III watches as the Lord Chamberlain breaks his Wand of Office at the Committal Service for Queen Elizabeth II held at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, Berkshire. Picture date: Monday September 19, 2022.
King Charles watches as the Lord Chamberlain break the Wand of Office. (PA)

One of the most unusual moments came at the end of the last hymn of the committal service, and saw the ceremonial breaking of the white staff.

The Imperial State Crown, Orb and Sceptre, were removed from the Queen’s coffin and placed onto the altar of St George’s Chapel by the Dean of Windsor.

Former MI5 spy chief Baron Parker – the Lord Chamberlain and the most senior official in the late Queen’s royal household – then "broke" his Wand of Office and placed it on the coffin.

The purpose of breaking the wand is to create a symmetry with the three Instruments of State that had been removed from the coffin.

Sailors accompany the coffin

The Queen's coffin was carried from Westminster Hall to her state funeral at Westminster Abbey on a 123-year-old gun carriage.

The gun carriage was towed by 98 Royal Navy sailors in a tradition dating back to the funeral of Queen Victoria, while 40 sailors marched behind to act as a brake.

On the day of Victoria’s funeral in 1901, her coffin was to be carried on the gun carriage through the streets of Windsor but, in the bitter cold of that February day, the horses which were going to pull it panicked and reared, threatening to topple the coffin from the carriage.

The State Gun Carriage carries the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in the Royal Standard with the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign's orb and sceptre, in the Ceremonial Procession during her State Funeral at Westminster Abbey, London. Picture date: Monday September 19, 2022.
Royal Navy sailors pull the gun carriage carrying the Queen's coffin. (PA)
The State Gun Carriage carries the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in the Royal Standard with the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign's orb and sceptre, as it leaves Westminster Hall for the State Funeral at Westminster Abbey, London. Picture date: Monday September 19, 2022.
The Queen's coffin is taken to Westminster Abbey on a gun carriage carried by Royal Navy sailors. (PA)

Captain Prince Louis of Battenberg, the future First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, intervened and suggested to the new king, Edward VII, that the senior service should step in.

Once this was agreed, the horses were unharnessed and improvised ropes were attached to the gun carriage, which weighs 3,000kg (2.5 tonnes), and the team of sailors was brought in to ensure the coffin was carried safely for the rest of the route.

Only nine years later, at the funeral of Edward VII, the new routine became enshrined as a tradition which has been followed at all state funerals since, including those of kings George V and VI, Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Louis Mountbatten – the son of Captain Prince Louis of Battenberg.

The Grenadier Guards’ Queen’s Company Camp Colour

King Charles III places the the Queen's Company Camp Colour of the Grenadier Guards on the coffin at the Committal Service for Queen Elizabeth II, held at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, Berkshire. Picture date: Monday September 19, 2022.
King Charles places the the Queen's Company Camp Colour of the Grenadier Guards on the coffin. (PA)

At the end of the last hymn, King Charles stepped forward and placed the Grenadier Guards’ Queen’s Company Camp Colour – a smaller version of the Royal Standard of the Regiment – on the coffin.

The Grenadier Guards are the most senior of the Foot Guards regiments and the Queen was their Colonel in Chief.

Only one Royal Standard of the Regiment is presented during a monarch’s reign, and it served as the Queen’s Company Colour throughout her lifetime.

Read more: Mourners describe 'eerie but beautiful' Westminster Hall atmosphere

The Dean of Windsor then said a psalm and the Commendation while the Queen’s coffin was lowered into the royal vault.

The Sovereign’s Piper then played a lament and the Archbishop of Canterbury pronounced the blessing.

Where will the Queen be buried?

Later in the evening, there will be a private interment service with senior members of the royal family.

The Queen’s final resting place will be the King George VI memorial chapel, an annex to the main chapel where her mother and father were buried, along with the ashes of her sister, Princess Margaret.

Philip’s coffin will move from the royal vault to the memorial chapel to join the Queen’s.

Live updates
  • Tom Parfitt

    Thanks for following today's coverage

    Following 70 years of service, the monarch has been laid to rest on an emotional day for the Royal Family and the country.

    Hundreds of thousands lined the funeral procession route from Westminster Hall to her state funeral and on to Windsor Castle.

    Senior royals, including King Charles, will say a final goodbye to Elizabeth II at a private service at 7:30pm tonight.

    Thank you for following our live coverage.

    Photo by WPA/Getty Images

  • Tom Parfitt

    Royals gradually leave St George's Chapel

    Members of the Royal Family gradually left St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle following the committal service for the Queen.

    The Prince and Princess of Wales left the chapel by car with their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

    The Duke and Duchess of Sussex departed separately shortly after.

    Photo by PA Media

  • Tom Parfitt

    Queen's coffin lowered into Royal Vault

    The Queen's coffin has been lowered into the Royal Vault of St George’s Chapel.

    As the coffin was lowered, the Dean of Windsor recited Psalm 103, which includes the traditional line: "Go forth upon thy journey from this world, O Christian soul."

    He also offered the commendation – a prayer in which the deceased is entrusted to God's mercy.

    The Garter King of Arms then pronounced the styles and titles of the Queen.

    The King appeared emotional as those in attendance at St George's Chapel sang the National Anthem.

    Charles sat in the same seat the Queen had sat in for Prince Philip's funeral during COVID pandemic.

    Photo by PA Media

  • Tom Parfitt

    Crown, Orb and Sceptre removed from coffin

    The Imperial State Crown, Orb and Sceptre, have been removed from the Queen's coffin by the Dean of Windsor.

    The final hymn was sung as the King prepared to drape the Queen's Company Camp Colour of the Grenadier Guards on the coffin.

    Once in place, the colour was then accompanied by the Lord Chamberlain's Wand of Office, which he symbolically broke.

    The purpose of breaking the wand is to create a symmetry with the three Instruments of State that had been removed from the coffin.

    Photo by PA Media

  • Tom Parfitt

    Dean of Windsor praises Queen's 'calm and dignified presence'

    The Dean of Windsor, the Rev David Conner, praised the late Queen's "calm and dignified presence" in a "rapidly changing and frequently troubled world".

    He said the late monarch's disposition "has given us confidence to face the future, as she did, with courage and with hope".

    He then gave a reading from Revelation 21.1.

    The same passage was read at the funerals of the Queen’s father King George VI and her grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary.

    Photo by PA Media

  • Tom Parfitt

    Committal service begins

    The service has begun with the choir singing Psalm 121, set to music by Sir Henry Walford Davies.

    Following the psalm, the choristers sing The Russian Contakion of the Departed, which was also performed at Prince Philip's funeral last year.

    Photo by PA Media

  • Tom Parfitt

    Queen's coffin carried into St George's Chapel

    The Queen's coffin has been lifted from the state hearse and carried into St George's Chapel ahead of the committal service.

    The procession was led into the chapel by members of the Queen's royal household.

    Photo by PA Media

  • Tom Parfitt

    Queen's corgis make poignant appearance during funeral procession

    The Queen's beloved corgis and one of her favourite ever horses made a special poignant appearance at Windsor during the procession.

    The young dogs – Muick and Sandy – were brought out by two pages in red tailcoats for the arrival of the Queen's coffin.

    Emma, the Queen's Fell Pony, had greeted the procession, standing between the floral tributes along the Long Walk in honour of her late owner.

    Photo by Getty Images

  • Tom Parfitt

    King re-joins funeral procession behind Queen's coffin

    The King has re-joined the funeral procession behind the Queen's coffin.

    Also with him are the Princess Royal, the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Sussex.

    The coffin is heading in the direction of the West Steps of St George's Chapel for the committal service.

    Photo by PA Media

  • Tom Parfitt

    Queen's coffin passes along Long Walk towards St George's Chapel

    Thousands of people fell silent, held their phones aloft and waved flags as the Queen's coffin passed along the Long Walk towards St George's Chapel.

    The crowd was so dense that those at the back could only view the procession through their phones held high on selfie sticks.

    Children sat on their parents' shoulders and some clapped as the procession passed by.

    Photo by Getty Images