Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II died on Thursday 8th September 2022 and now the world waits to experience an occasion, very few have seen before – after all, she is the second longest reigning monarch of all time and only seven percent of the world’s population was alive when she became queen in 1952.
A British royal funeral, is like no other. It requires an enormous amount of planning and of course, protocol. Planning for the Queen’s has been happening surreptitiously for years, under the codename London Bridge. On her death, it was updated to London Bridge is down. Members of the Royal Family are famously codenamed by bridges.
So what happens? Since the funeral of Charles II, the days following the monarch’s death have changed little; and for the sombre, yet spectacular, state occasion itself, there has always been the presence of a coffin and a crown.
For centuries on the procession to the funeral service, a wax effigy of the monarch would ride alongside or on the coffin, indeed at Elizabeth I’s funeral the effigy was so life like the crowds gasped in horror. At her father, Henry VIII’s funeral, his representation wore a replica crown set with real jewels, whilst his real crown was carried alongside. Since Charles II death in 1685, thankfully there has been no wax model of the monarch – the crown has sat on the coffin as it is transported.
Before the procession however, is the “Lying in State” a tradition in the United Kingdom that is ages old. Now particular to the Royal Family, it’s and held in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament (built in 1097).
Although this location was first used in 1898 with the lying in state of former prime minister, William Gladstone, since 1910 with the death of Edward VII it is in this medieval hall, that the monarchs and two consorts (Queen Mary and the Queen Mother, have spent the three days preceding their funeral.
A notable exception was Queen Victoria, who particularly requested that she did not lie in state, and when she died on the Isle of Wight in 1901 her body was transported on her royal yacht across the Solent from Cowes, flanked by eleven miles of battleships.
But what about the jewels? After all, Her Majesty holds not only the official Crown Jewels for the state, but has an enormous (possibly the largest in the world) of personal jewels, which are of course equally as monumental and majestic as the crown jewels themselves.
In my respectful opinion, it is very unlikely that Her Majesty, an incredibly humble woman at heart, would be dressed in anything but her simple gold wedding band in her coffin, and possibly a pair of pearl earrings and perhaps a pearl necklace, maybe her beautiful engagement ring – created from diamonds that had belonged to Prince Philip’s dear mother, Princess Alice.
Her Majesty’s life has always been about the legacy of the royal family, and consequently has forgone various occasions of her family’s lives in lieu of the country and commonwealth; her jewels form very much part of that legacy.
I believe that she would leave anything of value, and of course sentiment, to her children, most of all her daughter, Princess Anne.
This however, is in huge contrast to her great great grandmother Queen Victoria, who was laid to rest wearing “stacks of bracelets, layers of necklaces and at least one ring on each finger”, she had decided upon the contents of her coffin in 1875.
The longest reigning monarch before our own, was famously in mourning for her beloved husband since 1861 and wore black, however she was married in her white wedding dress and veil. Nevertheless, it is believed that she also requested a ring from John Brown be buried with her.
The procession of her coffin, draped with the Royal Standard over white satin, in another break from convention, from Victoria Station to Paddington Station moved slowly between crowds of people and full military parade. On top of the cloths on the coffin lay her Small Diamond Crown, that had been created in 1870, nine years after Prince Albert’s death for state occasions, because she refused to wear the colourful Imperial State Crown.
Anna Keay states in her book The Crown Jewels: “Despite its diminutive size, it was set with over 1000 diamonds mostly taken from other pieces of royal jewellery. And was made in the form of a traditional English crown.” Also atop the coffin was the Orb and Sceptre – two of the most important ‘jewels’ of the monarch’s coronation.
Just as her father was, 70 years ago, her coffin will then proceed through London on a gun carriage, with the Imperial State Crown sitting on a cushion on the Royal Standard, to Buckingham Palace – where she will be placed in the throne room for her family and household staff to pay their respects privately while four Grenadier Guards stand at the four corners of her coffin.
The bells of the country’s churches will ring, with St Pauls and Westminster Abbey most likely toll for each year of her life – 96, should we need reminding. She will then be transferred, in a grand military procession, to Westminster Hall; the golden sceptre and orb joining her crown above her coffin.
The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross is set with the Great Star of Africa which weighs 530.4 carats and has 74 facets, whilst the Second Star of Africa at 317.4 carats has 66 facets is set at the front of the Imperial State Crown, one of 2868 diamonds in this majestic jewel made for the Queen’s father’s coronation in 1937. They are the two largest of nine main diamonds cut from the Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond ever discovered – given to the Queen’s great-grandfather in 1907, two years after it was discovered in the Premier Mine in Cullinan, Pretoria.
After the proverbial four days of lying in state, with hundreds of thousands expected to pass by her coffin, in the very early morning of the ninth and final day, the jewels will be removed from their place on her coffin to be cleaned before being replaced for her final procession to Westminster Abbey and her service at 11am that day.
Every head of state from around the world will attend her funeral, including members of the 26 monarchies of the world, many of the European Royal Families are indeed part of her extended family.
No monarchs will wear a crown, and their mourning jewellery will be simple but significant white jewels: diamonds and pearls. This is to honour the greatness of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the greatest monarch the world has ever seen.