Royal Funerals of the Twentieth Century
“The candle burned out long before the legend ever did”
These were amongst the evocative words sung by Sir Elton John in his reprise of the hit tune “Candle in the Wind” to mark the death of Princess Diana or otherwise known as “England’s Rose”
For many people, the date of her death, August 31st 1997 is etched on their minds- people often recall exactly what they were doing and the outpouring of grief was exceptional. The country had never seen anything like it for any member of the Royal Family. The reaction to her death eclipsed that to the death of Mother Teresa on the following day.
Princess Diana was buried on a Saturday. It was not a public holiday but the whole nation stopped to watch the service and the funeral procession up the M1 motorway to her final resting place
Read on for a perspective on Royal Funerals in the twentieth century.
Queen Victoria's funeral
Queen Victoria was the first monarch to die in the twentieth century when she died on 22nd January 1901 whilst at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The Queens funeral was held at St George’s chapel, Windsor. She was buried with her husband at Frogmore the Royal family mausoleum. There is film of her funeral but it is grainy and in black and white, it marked a major point for the fledgling film industry which was involved in “event” filming and this was an event with worldwide interest.. The most noted part of the funeral was that the horses pulling the Gun carriage in Windsor became very cold and restless. To avoid any embarrassment a team of sailors took over the role of pulling the Queen’s coffin to its final resting place. Have a look at the DVD with its original film, but the commentary is definitely twenty first century!
Funeral of Edward VII
Edward V11 died at Sandringham on May 6th 1910 after a fatal heart attack. His body was taken by train to Windsor and from there to lie in state at Westminster Hall and then to St George’s Chapel, Windsor and Frogmore where he was buried on May 20th 1910. It marked a new tradition for Royalty to lie in state at Westminster Hall, as up until 1882 the hall was in daily use for criminal courts. This allowed an estimated quarter of a million people to file past the coffin, a new tradition that was repeated on the deaths of King Edward V11’s son and grandson, George V and George VI. Arrangements were made so that M.P’s and members of the House of Lords and their families did not have to queue with the general public. This was the first royal occasion where colour filming techniques were used. However I have been unable to locate any footage of the funeral taken in colour. The King’s funeral was attended by relatives and royalty from around the world. The monarchs who followed his funeral procession all suffered with the world war as the King was no longer there to hold Europe together. The procession was followed by the Kaiser, Emperor of Germany who within ten years was a destroyed man living in exile in Holland. George who was the King of the Hellenes was later assassinated as was Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914, an incident that contributed to the start of the First World War. Prince Michael Romanov was there, he would be murdered along with his family by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. The fate of exile, at least temporarily for the extent of the war fell to Albert, King of Belgium, Alfonso, King of Spain, Constantine of the Hellenes and the King of Portugal who sought exile in England following the Revolution of October 1910, and for the King of Bulgaria abdication was his future. What an ill starred gathering!
Funeral of Queen Alexandra
Queen Alexandra, the widow of King Edward V111th died on 20th November 1925. Again a new tradition started as the Queen was granted a state funeral with a procession through the streets of London and a lying in, not in Westminster Hall but in Westminster Abbey where the general public could again file past and pay their respects. The Queens body was taken by train to Windsor and she was buried with her husband at Frogmore
Funeral of King George V
King George V died at Sandringham on 20th January 1936 and his body was brought by special train to lie in state in Westminster Great Hall. Like his father and Grandmother he received a state funeral with all the pomp and ceremony that the was now a tradition at these funerals. A service of remembrance was held in the hall before the Kings body was taken to Windsor and Frogmore where he was buried.
Funeral of King George V1
The funeral of King George V1 on 11 February 1952 was altogether quite a different occasion. The King had died at night, whilst he was at his Sandringham Estate and although he had been unwell he had been fit enough to spend the day shooting. The funeral was shown as a British Pathe newsreel and most people would have watched the newsreel at the cinema or followed the newspaper reports. The King’s body left Sandringham by gun carriage followed by the Queen her sister Margaret and her mother. The car was followed by 300 staff from the estate, many of whom had attended a service at the church on the estate. The coffin was then transferred to the Royal Train which proceeded towards London where it was draped with the Royal standard and the King’s Crown. The family went to Buckingham Palace by car but on a cold and wet day the three mile route was lined by silent crowds. The Kings body was taken to rest in Westminster Hall for anyone to visit and mourn where they were met by three queens, his mother Queen Mary, his wife Queen Elizabeth and daughter Queen Elizabeth. For three days the queues moved slowly with people paying homage to the King- most people queued for at least five hours. It is recorded that 305,806 filed past the King’s coffin to pay their respects to this much loved monarch
Funeral of Queen Mary
On 24th March 1953 Queen Mary the wife of King George V and mother of Queen George V1 passed away aged 85 years old. Her body lay in state, again at Westminster Hall where over 120,000 people had the opportunity to pay remembrance. The service was televised by the BBC who were using it as a trial as the Queen’s coronation was due three months later. After the funeral a service of thanksgiving was held at St Paul's where 4000 people attended.
Funeral of the Duke of Windsor
King Edward V111th son of George V1 abdicated his throne in 1936 so that he could marry a divorced American woman, Wallis Simpson. However in 1972 he was buried as a member of the Royal family, described as “sometime…..the monarch Edward V111th” The service took place at St George’s chapel Windsor and he was buried within the Royal burial grounds at Frogmore where he was joined in 1986 by his wife Wallis in a small funeral but with the Royal Family and Prime Minister in attendance. The duchess had requested a simple funeral- no address or ovation and even no mention of her name- only 8 friends or retainers came apart from the official guests. The Queen Mother did not attend such was the ill feeling between the two women, it was suggested that she should remain at home.
Funeral of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
On 30th March 2002 George V1’s wife and consort, Elizabeth, died at the grand age of 101 years with her daughter, Queen Elizabeth in attendance. The Queens body was left lying in state in Windsor for six days until the 5th April 2002 and then moved to Westminster Hall for the public to pay condolence if they wished. The crowds wishing to pay their respects to the Queen mother were so great that the Hall had to be kept open overnight with just short breaks allowed for the cleaning of the public areas. In fact the hall did not close until 6am on the day of the funeral such was the demand which was more than the authorities had expected as it was a fairly dull cold April which was not conducive to standing in queues. A period of national mourning was marked until the day of her funeral. The queen was buried with her husband King George V1 and the ashes of her daughter Margaret who had died some six weeks earlier were placed in the coffin so that she could be at peace with her parents. The funeral procession was followed in camera and was televised, beaming into our homes in colour.
Funeral of Diana Spencer
The death of Princess Diana caused a major problem with Royal etiquette. There had not been a death of a Princess of Wales in living memory, let alone a Princess who was no longer married to her Prince. The Princess left two sons, William and Harry who were at Balnoral with their Grandmother. The outpouring of emotion over Diana’s death left the authorities and the Palace wrong footed. The Queen went on television to explain why she had delayed talking to the nation, explaining that her first duty had been to her mother less grand children- those who know how devoted the Queen is to her duty and her country must have recognised, perhaps for the first time a certain amount of royal indecision. Once the death was announced the tributes started to roll in. The Internet was blooming and on line news travelled quickly with ordinary people able to give their opinions instantly. The flowers outside her home in London were so numerous that they were composting under the weight of the blooms. The funeral was scheduled for a Saturday, perhaps in order to avoid the dilemma of a surprise Bank holiday. A four mile funeral route was lined with crowds- it is estimated that nearly one million people lined the streets that day, maybe more. The television beamed coverage of the ceremony into people’s homes. I remember the anticipation that people felt over what her brother, Lord Spencer, might say of his sister. After the funeral the body was taken by car to her brothers estate in Northampton where she was buried away from the eyes of the world.
Today, 8th April 2013 it has just been announced that Margaret Thatcher former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has died after a stroke aged 87 years. She was the first woman Prime Minister and held power from 1979 to 1990, believed by many to be a great woman and by opponents to be considerable adversary. It is announced that she will be having the same type of funeral as Princess Diana and the Queen Mother with full military honours at ST. Paul's Cathedral.. On receipt of the sad news the Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his European trip to return to Downing Street where the Union Jack the flag of our nation, is now at half mast.
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