In death, like life, all eyes were on him. Inside the same abbey that had been crowned nearly seven decades ago, stood a small coffin, this time not a shy young woman ready to dazzle. Still, in 2022 as in 1953, it was impossible to look away. In a sea of dark suits, mostly yellow faces and very brown hair, it was the coffin that provided the color and main spectacle: the red and yellow of the royal standard, the orb and scepter of the polished gold and, resting on the purple cushions, sparkling. Antique sapphires of diamonds and crowns.
For all the pomp and beauty that preceded that funeral service, and that would follow, both in London and later in Windsor – brocade uniforms and muffled drums, feathered hats and musical lamentations – it was this wrapped box that attracted attention. did. Its emergence from Westminster Hall shortly after 10.30 am, shoulder to shoulder by men who had sworn to protect the Queen in life, such as the sight of a coffin placed on a gun carriage, not by horses, but by naval ratings. was touched by a pillar. Some dark corners of the collective memory. There was something ancient, even primal, in it: young men holding the body of their fallen queen.
The rites of the day remind us of things we already knew, but which we forget about or prefer not to talk about – things both about them and this country. Contemporary Britain considers itself to be largely secular or, if it is not, clearly polytheistic. And yet the service at Westminster Abbey was purely Christian. Psalms, recitations, praise – all emphasized the Heavenly Emperor’s enduring faith in Jesus Christ. No inclusive mediocrity, no ecumenical offerings from non-Christian cult leaders: it was a Christian funeral for a committed Christian. “Go ahead, O Christian soul,” he told her. Charles once wanted to be known as the protector of the faith – in general – but his mother’s funeral confirmed that no transfer was to take place at that point. the defender faith she was, and the defender of Believe he will.
There was also a reminder of how much had changed since the coronation and how much had remained the same. The 1953 congregation could hardly have imagined that the abbey would one day hear devotion given by two women of color, to say nothing of a female bishop. And yet those who stomped some 70 years ago would have found something very reassuringly familiar: a procession that was highly male, with only the queen’s male relatives, except her daughter, allowed to walk past the coffin. The women followed the car.
We already knew that Britain, or more accurately the Palace, was without a rival when it comes to the business of competition and ceremony. The choreography was perfect, every move of every red-fingered guard synchronized – even those carrying their painful loads up the steep steps of St George’s Chapel, Windsor – so that the world The pictures of the TV are gorgeous throughout, no matter the angle. When a drone looked down, it saw shoes run in neat uniform or flowers strewn along the sides of the Long Walk of Windsor in geometrically flawless lines. In the abbey and chapel alike, choirs produced the sound of heaven. Even the weather complied, the capital under a bright blue sky, as if nature itself had stunned the occasion.
When a rare moment of imperfection came—a frog around a cleric’s throat, another church man drops a piece of paper—it also brought a useful reminder. That, despite the presence of kings and queens, presidents and powerful, and despite the splendor, it was still a human event, a family funeral, which included everything. The glimpse of the disgraced Duke of York barring his siblings, the downgraded Prince Harry, or Earl Spencer, the late Diana’s brother, Princess of Wales, from wearing the permitted dress uniform, inspired the recollection that, to his majesty, The Queen used to lead a family that had its fair share of domestic troubles – perhaps more than her fair share. The knots visible on Charles’ forehead, hints of redness around the eyes, were a reminder that the new king was also a son mourning the loss of his mother.
And yet, even though the day was glorious, it may not be what many will remember as his farewell to the late emperor. For hundreds of thousands, the real goodbye began with a lie in state at Westminster Hall last Wednesday. For five long days, round the clock, we watched slow-motion, people’s funerals as Britons queued up for the right to say a brief, personal goodbye.
Standing in the hall, watching the past fill up, it was unexpectedly mesmerizing, an endless series of short plays played over four or five seconds. In a resounding silence, the carpet against the sound of footsteps on the floor, and with all phones and cameras prohibited, an old soldier might pause and salute. A young man will cross himself. A couple will dip their heads. A mother and daughter can harmonize in unison. Then they’ll keep going, taking one last look before heading out into most daylight. Some of them had queued up for 12 or 13 hours, just for those few seconds facing the remains of the queen. Nobody said it wasn’t worth it.
Did it come about, or when military standards declined as processional cenotaphs passed, or when the lining of the A30 threw flowers at the royal hares, or when TV viewers removed the orb, scepter and crown before the coffin? Had given. Lowered into the Chapel Vault at Windsor – whenever it came, the moment brought with it the same, if rarely voiced, question: What were we really burying?
One answer was suggested by the presence of so many world leaders at Westminster Abbey, many of them agreeing to visit it by slum and coach. Some would claim that he did so in honor of the position of head of state of the British: rather, he had come to London for a very specific admiration for Elizabeth II. She was an invaluable diplomatic asset to Britain. Even an American president could be tempted by an offer of tea with the queen.
Somehow he dispelled the illusion, as a figure of great power, the one wearing what we were reminded is still the “crown of the imperial kingdom” – even when there was no empire. A laudable successor to Victoria, even the first Queen Elizabeth, she pulled off that trick. It would be bold to predict that King Charles would do the same.
She was also a political asset close to home. Consider the symbolic power of Sinn Féin shaking hands with Martin McGuinness or “thinking very carefully” on the implications of his advice to Scottish voters ahead of the 2014 independence referendum. Was the influence she had on that office or who she was, the gravitas she had achieved in a regime that lasted so long that her first prime minister was Winston Churchill?