How Popular Will the Queen’s Funeral Be?

Tomorrow, September 19, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II will finally be laid to rest at Westminster Abbey. Given the mixed feelings about her reign,

Vanessa Obioha looks at how the late monarch’s funeral will be different from her

 predecessors and the level of popularity it will garner

the 10-day mourning of Queen Elizabeth II will culminate tomorrow with a state funeral. It will be the first state funeral to be held in the UK since Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965. He was the former Prime Minister.

The activities of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral will be largely drawn from similar rites of passage accorded to Queen Victoria who passed on in 1901. According to the funeral director Jeremy Field, there are “aspects of personalisation like any family; we can see Queen Victoria’s funeral, like her uncles before her, was at Windsor, not Westminster Abbey.

“I think you can see the input of the Queen [Elizabeth] trying to return the funeral to the public eye – although the most private bit right at the end will be out of the public eye at St George’s Chapel,” he told The Independent UK.

Some of the similarities from Queen Victoria’s funeral that would be replicated in Queen Elizabeth II include her coffin being carried on a gun carriage drawn by the Royal Navy from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. This tradition, reports revealed, was adopted following an accident that happened on the day of Queen Victoria’s final journey. It was believed that the horses pulling the gun carriage got spooked, possibly by the crowds, and broke their traces.

“The sailors from the Royal Navy that were part of the parade stepped forward, picked up the traces and pulled the gun carriage the rest of the way and that is now baked in as a formal aspect of what makes a state funeral – thanks to those horses,” Field explained.

Queen Victoria’s funeral in 1901 sort of saw a departure from the tradition of the way royals have been buried in the UK. Funeral ceremonies of monarchs before her were private and within Windsor Castle. Given her long reign of 63 years on the throne, the ceremonies became more public as it was used to encourage greater popular attachment towards the royal family.

A national mourning day was declared on her death as well as the Church of England for the first time issued special commemorative services for use in all its local places of worship, and the leaders of most other religious communities in the United Kingdom encouraged the organisation of local memorial services.

Following her death, funeral ceremonies of royals became a public affair. From  Edward VII whose funeral ceremony attracted nearly 300,000 members of the public, George V’s funeral was attended by 750,000 people to King George VI, whose memorial services and funeral procession in London became the first royal events to be broadcast by television as well as radio.

While Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral will keep to traditions, there are a few alterations such as the return of state funerals to Westminister Abbey and the attendance of the new King and Queen Consort at national memorial services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Other significant changes recorded so far include moving the national service of remembrance at St Paul’s Cathedral from after the monarch’s funeral to the day after the Queen’s death, the new king’s broadcast address, the first broadcast of an accession council and the unusually early televised message of the king’s receipt of the condolences and congratulations of Parliament.

Also, a one-minute silence on Sunday evening before the funeral will be held, as well as a two-minute silence on the funeral day itself.

The day is expected to start with the gathering of heads of state and foreign royals at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a home for retired soldiers in West London. From there, they will travel together to Westminster Abbey. The doors of Westminster Hall, where the queen is lying in state, will close to the public at 6:30 a.m., in preparation for the queen’s coffin to be moved to Westminster Abbey for her funeral and will only open at 8 a.m. for attendees who have been invited to the funeral.

A less than 10 minutes procession will accompany the coffin from Westminster Hall to the abbey with the route lined by members of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. The procession will be led by about 200 musicians including the pipes and drums from the Scottish and Irish Regiments. The carriage will be followed by King Charles III and members of the royal family.

The funeral service will be conducted by the Dean of Westminster, with readings by Prime Minister Liz Truss and the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, will give the sermon. The service is to end at 12 p.m. after a two-minute silence. A procession will then follow the coffin to Wellington Arch, near Hyde Park, before being driven to Windsor.

Some of the world leaders who have indicated an interest in attending the funeral include US President Joe Biden, Australia’s leader, Anthony Albanese, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau,  Emperor Naruhito and his wife, Empress Masako, of Japan,  and Kenya’s new president,  William Ruto.

Members of the British royal family will attend as well as members of other royal families from across Europe including King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium, King Felipe VI of Spain, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, and the king’s mother, Princess Beatrix.

Buckingham Palace in a statement disclosed that 200 people who were recognized in the queen’s honours list this year would also join the congregation, including those who made extraordinary contributions to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Royals’ funerals are often a spectacle and generate public interest. However, given the mixed feelings that have greeted the late monarch’s reign, there are concerns about the level of public interest her funeral will generate.

Already, there have been long queues of people attending her lying-in-state for five days in Westminster Hall as well as at the lying-at-rest in St Giles’ Cathedral. Huge numbers are expected at the funeral to pay their last respect to the Queen.

But a growing concern is accessibility to the monarchy. Field puts it this way in his interview with The Independent UK.

“But we are also seeing the new king do some things about accessibility to the monarchy, so whilst they have to follow certain protocols set out by the state funeral … will we see something personally from the family?

“[Princess] Diana’s funeral was a ceremonial one, not a state one but we weren’t necessarily expecting Elton John to appear.

“So whilst the hymns and readings are set out, who will participate is [not] set out, it will be interesting to see whether or not there will be just a few points that really reflect the relationship they have with the public but also the love they have for someone who right at the heart of it all is a grandmother, a great-grandmother, a mother and that really human aspect to the funeral which they have in common with every family that’s living through a bereavement at the moment.”

Princess Diana’s funeral to date is still reported to be the most-watched. About

2.5 billion people from across the world tuned in to watch her funeral following her untimely death in a car crash in Paris, and at least a million lined the streets to watch the procession.

Will the Queen beat this record or even that of her predecessor?

The Queen’s funeral will be held at Westminster Abbey at 11 am on Monday following a procession starting at Westminster Hall.

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