Mraised drums, a hearse, helmets with buns, and a new acquaintance with the earl-marshal; these are characteristics shared by the great state funerals of the last century and quarter of British history. But past press coverage of “national loss” as The observer the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 is mentioned, shows another common factor.

A state funeral, a rare event, must be explained to every generation. His pomp and secret knowledge are always mysterious. So the news reads like a bleak catechism; a list of conventions designed to give identity to a nation.

In 1910, after the death of Victoria’s son, Edward VII, The observer The writer noted this when he praised Westminster Hall and St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, quoting the Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle, who he believed “never said a truer word than ‘Every nation’s Bible is its own history'” and in these the two buildings … are the two most glorious pages of this Bible – not printed on perishable paper, but carved in precious stone.”

Monday’s funeral will follow the pattern set at the end of Victoria’s reign. Elizabeth II, like her ancestors, will go to Windsor Chapel, described after her grandfather’s death in 1936 by our special correspondent as “a perfect example of Perpendicular architecture”.

A state funeral is only reserved for monarchs, but in exceptional cases a “highly distinguished person” can be buried in this way. The last Briton to receive this honor was Winston Churchill in 1965, in recognition of his leadership in World War II. The plan, code-named Operation Hope Not, reflected the Queen’s desire for the nation to “have an opportunity to express its grief”.

His funeral differed from that of George VI in that the coffin traveled from Westminster Hall to St Paul’s Cathedral and then along the river to Waterloo, where the final railway journey to Oxfordshire took place.

Observer front page about Churchill’s funeral. Photo: “Observer”.

The The observer it is reported that after Big Ben rang out in honor of the former prime minister at 9.45am when the procession began, she was silent. At the funerals of Edward VII, George V and George VI, Big Ben was rung from 10am with a stroke for each year of the monarch’s life.

Despite the cold weather, 321,360 people lined up to view Churchill’s coffin and 164 casualties were treated among those queuing as “a cold gray sky provided a deadly backdrop to the morning ritual” before as “the ramshackle carriage in which the coffin of Queen Victoria was carried carried it, pulled by naval ratings.”

State funerals require that the carriage carrying the coffin be pulled by Royal Navy sailors using ropes rather than horses. And they are also overseen by the Earl Marshal (Edward Fitzalan-Howard, 18th Duke of Norfolk), a great civil servant, while simple “ceremonial funerals” are arranged by the Lord Chamberlain, an officer of the royal household. In 1965 Art The observer explained the role of the 17th Duke of Norfolk, then Bernard Marmaduke Fitzallan-Howard, as the ‘chief planner’ of Churchill’s ceremonies: ‘This small, shy man with small, farting eyes was the earl marshal and supreme authority on royal and state ceremonies. since he became a duke at the age of nine. He was only 27 when he organized the funeral of George V and the coronation of George VI.’

Key national figures such as Diana, Princess of WalesThe Queen Mother, Margaret Thatcher and a year ago Duke of Edinburgh all had ceremonial funerals, which also usually consisted of a lie-in, a carriage procession, and a military presence.

For Queen Victoria’s funeral, her body was moved from her home on the Isle of Wight. The The observer recorded the death as “a terrible calamity which last week we hoped might have been avoided” and wrote a poem by Reginald Hughes:

“The queen is dead! Our queen, the queen of queens;/And England sits, as in a dream, and sobs,/And the rich and the poor, and the high and the low become/Feathers by patent grief of nobility”.

In the spring of 1910, at the funeral of Edward VII, the new King George V followed “the dead king” as his father’s chief mourner. The royal body was in the throne room of Buckingham Palace at the request of Queen Alexandra, “who in her great grief wanted it to remain as long as possible in the room where the death took place.” was The observer predicted that he would be even more “human majesty” and “direct foreign representatives of kings” than at his mother Victoria’s funeral.

George V ordered the earl marshal to “express the hope that memorial services will be held at the hour of the funeral in all the great centers throughout the country,” partly because, although Monday is a holiday, this is not a fixed precedent. George VI’s funeral was also a normal weekday. State funerals, as this newspaper noted, were not in short supply at this time: “In an age when crowns are shedding themselves like autumn leaves, England feels the pangs of her whole being at the death of her sovereign.”

Although there was no official day of mourning in 1952; in The observer reported that “there will be a general suspension of work and business in London and in many cities and towns throughout the country.” “In the West End all the big shops will be closed, and many smaller establishments in all parts of the capital will follow suit. A two-minute silence will be observed across the UK and Northern Ireland from 1.30am. Silence will also be maintained throughout the empire.’

A complex line of soldiers surrounds the steps to St. Paul's Cathedral, and mourners walk, visible from afar
Churchill’s funeral on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Photo: PA archive

Service at Windsor will be simple, we reported, regardless of the “scene of medieval paneling and pomp”; “The only hymn will be King George’s favorite, Abide with Me.” Music is now an important element of royal funerals, with the selection for Monday’s ceremony to be announced on Sunday.

On the occasion of Churchill’s death, the BBC Third Program played “a specially written and broadcast March in honor of the great man by Sir Arthur Bliss, Master of Music to the Queen”.

In February 1952 The observer writer Patrick O’Donovan described the funeral of the late Queen’s father in St. George’s Chapel: “Heralds walked the aisle, old gentlemen in shining coats who are nothing more than shields to display the Royal Arms, men who bear names of impossible romance.” The crown on the coffin “glittered icy,” he added, but the grenadiers “stumbled over the steps.”

Also writes for The observer there was the former Prime Minister, Lord Attlee, who reportedly arrived at the funeral “briefly on a stick”. In his famous work The King I Knew, he noted that George VI was “lucky not to have been born to take the throne”. A newspaper leader said, “It’s as if the collective soul is touched at a depth that politics, economics, and diplomacy can never reach.”

Clothing is always important: there were rules about wearing crepe during Victoria’s mourning. Before her son’s funeral in 1910, a Dickins & Jones advertisement advertised two mourning outfits “for immediate wear”; a delicate wrapper, Pauline and a more refined Hanover. In 1936, Queen Mary, widow of George V, and Queen Maud of Norway, his sister, were heavily dressed in state landau, while public mourners wore black armbands.

The front page of the Observer with the large headline
Death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. Photo: Kathy deWitt/Alamy

The queue to see George V included “city workers in bowlers and navy coats, women, rich and poor, football fans dressed in their team colours”. In 1965, fur was all the rage for those who paid homage to Churchill. “The Queen Mother appeared first in a plain cloth coat and black fur stole.” The Duchess of Kent, “like most of the women in the cathedral,” wore a fur cap, while “Princess Alexandra wore a rich black fur coat.” Elizabeth II, on the other hand, “wore a simple cloth coat with a half belt and a simple black beret.”

The news pages often focused on the queues, and public mourners at George V’s funeral reportedly thronged Westminster Hall on his second day of repose. “The crowds of mourners were larger and the number of those passing the flower-bedecked coffin exceeded 128,000 by 10 o’clock last night, bringing the two-day total to 238,000. At that time, there were still 20,000 people standing in line.”

It was a foggy January, but “the pilgrimage to Westminster Hall continued yesterday, and by midnight, when the doors were closed, 150,777 people had passed the hearse.” The morning queue, which “extended more than a quarter of a mile”, was “joined by several maids who decided to visit Westminster Hall before returning home”.

At Windsor in 1952, “between eight and ten thousand people waited in disappointment for the wreaths sent for the King’s funeral.” A frustrated police constable commented: “It’s just massive nonsense. If we had let everyone in the line in, they would have left within hours after dark.’

There were no colored straps. Historically, places along the procession route sold out and in 1910 the price looked high: “It was quite expected that the prices would be higher than at the funeral of the late Queen Victoria, to the extent of the cortege. will be shorter’, but the ground floor window cost £50. In 1936, spot prices ranged from “two to ten guineas”, with five guineas described as “a fair price for a good view”.

Over the decades, state burial regulations have proven flexible. How The observer noted before the funeral of Queen Victoria: “No amount of searching through the old records can reveal quite a satisfactory set of precedents for the great ceremonies to be held at the end of the week during the performance of the last sad rites and rites deemed fit for the burial of the greatest monarch of modern times, or perhaps of all time.” “.

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