What to expect at the Queen’s funeral

Hello, royal watchers. This is a special edition the newsletter ahead of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. Reading this online? Sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox.

Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on Monday will follow an elaborate and precisely detailed plan — one the monarch will have signed off on herself.

More than 2,000 people are expected inside Westminster Abbey in central London for the hour-long service, which will begin precisely — as royal events do — at 11 a.m. local time (6 a.m. ET) and be broadcast to an audience around the world.

At its heart is the traditional Church of England funeral service, along with elements of military pomp and circumstance that find their roots in how Queen Victoria wished to have her funeral unfold more than a century ago.

  • You can watch live coverage of the Queen’s funeral starting at 5 a.m. ET on Monday on CBC TV, CBC News Network, CBC Gem, CBCNews.ca and the CBC News app. At noon ET, the broadcast will turn to Ottawa for a national commemorative ceremony. CBC News Network will rebroadcast the funeral at 7 p.m. ET.

    CBC Radio One’s live funeral coverage will start at 5:30 a.m. ET, which will also be available on the CBC Listen app.

Still, there is the potential for surprise, whether in the music, the readings or something else the Queen — who died on Sept. 8, at the age of 96 — might have thought of as she planned for the inevitable day.

“She would have listened to advice, she’ll have taken input from her children, but essentially hers will have been the final voice,” Judith Rowbotham, a social and cultural scholar and visiting research professor at the University of Plymouth in southwestern England, said in an interview.

Elizabeth’s funeral is the first for a monarch in Westminster Abbey since 1760, a fact Rowbotham attributes to the sheer scale of the event, and how it just wouldn’t have been possible in the more frequent — and recent — locale for royal funerals, St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, west of London.

Queen Elizabeth shakes hands with the Dean of Windsor, Eric Knightley Chetwode Hamilton, after the funeral service for her father, King George VI, at St. George’s Chapel on Feb. 15, 1952. (The Associated Press)

“Simply to get in the representatives of the Armed Forces, the reserves, all the organizations with which the Queen has been associated … then this huge phalanx of visiting Commonwealth leaders, members of princely families from across Europe who are related, things like that — you couldn’t accommodate them in Windsor and then in St. George’s Chapel.”

Much speculation has circulated around just who will be inside the abbey. Canada will have a delegation (more on that below), and numerous world leaders are confirmed to be attending.

Some will reportedly travel together to the service from a location a few kilometres away to ease the potential for congestion around the historic church, but at least one leader will reportedly make his own way there: U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, are expected to arrive in the Beast, his heavily armoured limousine.

The main pomp and ceremony of Monday’s events begins at 10:44 a.m. local time (5:44 a.m. ET), when a procession to carry the coffin from Westminster Hall to the abbey will begin. Senior members of the Royal Family are expected to walk behind as the casket is transported on a gun carriage pulled by navy sailors. 

The fact that there will be such military pomp goes back to the time of Victoria, who died in 1901 and who, Rowbotham says, wanted to avoid the way in which previous royal funerals had unfolded.

Members of the Royal Family, front row, from left, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Prince William, Prince Charles and Prince Harry, sit in front of the Queen Mother’s coffin during her funeral service in Westminster Abbey on April 9, 2002. (Ben Curtis/The Associated Press)

When Princess Charlotte, the only child of King George the Fourth, was buried in a nighttime state funeral in 1817, “the undertakers were so drunk they dropped the coffin,” Rowbotham said. 

“William the Fourth’s funeral by all accounts was absolutely shambolic and Victoria was determined that it wasn’t going to be like that for her.”

She also liked the concept of a military state funeral, which had occurred earlier in her reign, for the Duke of Wellington. 

“The idea of a military state funeral for a monarch — it starts with Victoria and that means you’ve seen it refined by Edward the Seventh [in 1910], George the Fifth [in 1936] , George the Sixth [in 1952],” said Rowbotham.

WATCH | Prince and Princess of Wales meet Commonwealth soldiers who will take part in Queen’s funeral:

William and Kate meet Commonwealth troops

The Prince and Princess of Wales are greeted by New Zealand troops performing the Maori haka as they visit Commonwealth soldiers near Pirbright, England, who will take part in the Queen’s funeral.

The service itself is built from a basic template.

“At its core, it will be a Church of England funeral service, and so those elements will be there,” said Craig Prescott, a constitutional expert at Bangor University in Wales.

“Prayers will be said. We will sing the national anthem.”

Where there’s flexibility, he said, is in the music and the readings.

“I think there you will see choices that the Queen will have made and will have thought about deeply that reflect her life, and I think that could be very, very moving.”

Moments of music have stood out at previous funerals, including Elton John singing a revised version of his song Candle in the Wind at the 1997 funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales, which also took place at Westminster Abbey.

Elton John plays a specially rewritten version of his song Candle in the Wind during the funeral service for Diana, Princess of Wales, at Westminster Abbey on Sept. 6, 1997. Queen Elizabeth’s funeral will be held at the abbey on Monday. (Paul Hackett/The Associated Press)

Buckingham Palace has said the service for the Queen will be conducted by the Dean of Westminster, and readings will be given by British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland. Prayers will also be said by other church leaders.

The funeral is the first of a monarch to be fully televised. For the Queen’s father in 1952, TV cameras followed his casket to the doors of St. George’s Chapel, but didn’t go inside.

Rowbotham said Elizabeth will have been “so conscious” that hers is the first funeral of a monarch to be televised, “because she gave the go-ahead for her mother’s state funeral to be televised. She endorsed the televising of Diana’s funeral, so she knew that this would be recorded for posterity … on screen.”

After the funeral, there will be another procession to take the Queen’s coffin to Windsor, where there will be a committal service, and, finally, a private service for Royal Family members when she will be buried in the King George VI Chapel of Windsor Castle, alongside her husband, Prince Philip, her parents and the ashes of her sister, Princess Margaret. 

Canada remembers — abroad and at home

Queen Elizabeth, left, welcomes Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and her husband Whit Fraser for tea at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, on March 15. Simon will be part of the Canadian delegation to Elizabeth’s funeral on Monday. (Steve Parsons/Pool/The Associated Press)

Canada’s delegation to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral includes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, several of their predecessors and Indigenous leaders.

Members of more than a dozen Canadian Armed Forces regiments will also be there, along with four members of the RCMP’s Musical Ride, who will appear in the funeral procession.

“The fact that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are at the front of the parade, that would have been her say,” royal biographer Robert Hardman told CBC in London. “She loved the precision element of it. She loved the role of the Mounties.”

In Ottawa on Monday, a commemorative ceremony will be held at Christ Church Cathedral, beginning at 1 p.m.

The final resting spot

Royal Family members and guests sit physically distanced as the flag-draped coffin of Prince Philip sits on a bier during his funeral in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on April 17, 2021. (Yui Mok/The Associated Press)

Queen Elizabeth’s final resting place is in a quiet spot inside the chapel where she so often went to worship while living at Windsor Castle.

In many ways, it is in marked contrast to the final resting places of other monarchs — notably the massive and elaborate Royal Mausoleum at nearby Frogmore, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are buried.

At a private family service Monday evening, Elizabeth will be buried along with Prince Philip, who died last year, in the tiny chapel where her parents are interred.

After King George VI died in 1952, his coffin was put in the Royal Vault at St. George’s Chapel, along with the remains of other monarchs. But he ultimately wanted his own chapel where he would rest in peace with his wife. It was finally built and he was buried there in 1969. It is the only structural addition to St. George’s Chapel in more than 600 years.

The King George VI Memorial Chapel is a peaceful and relatively modest place — you actually look down into it from an aisle in St. George’s Chapel to see the names of Elizabeth’s parents etched on a black marble slab in the stone floor. The ashes of Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret, who died in 2002, are also there.

That it would be Elizabeth’s choice carries personal poignancy.

Princess Elizabeth, second from left, poses with her father, King George VI, her mother Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Magaret, left, in February 1947 in Cape Town during her first official state visit to South Africa. Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, will be interred in a chapel at Windsor Castle with her parents and the ashes of her sister. (Sport and General Press Agency Limited/AFP/Getty Images)

“I think it just reflects the closeness that the Queen had to both her parents,” said Prescott, who noted how George VI spoke about “we four,” referring to himself, his wife, Elizabeth, and their daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret.

“I don’t think there would be anywhere else the Queen would want to be.” 

Rowbotham said Elizabeth knew “how to assume the robes of state.”

“But left to herself, as you actually saw in the very last official photograph taken of her at Balmoral welcoming Liz Truss …. she’s happiest in pretty low-key attire and that was Prince Philip’s taste also.”

Queen Elizabeth, left, welcomes Liz Truss during an audience where she invited the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party to become U.K. prime minister and form a new government, at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on Sept. 6. It was the last time photos of the Queen performing an official duty were made public before her death two days later. (Jane Barlow/Reuters)

Philip also understood “the importance of the public gaze,” Rowbotham said. 

“The George the Sixth Memorial Chapel … gives you a sight of her and Philip’s personal taste and that is why she prefers that kind of modest final resting place.”

St. George’s Chapel was the Queen’s favourite place of worship on a daily basis, Rowbotham said. 

“That … speaks for itself. You don’t need more.”

Royally quotable

Fel fy mam annwyl o’m blaen, rwy’n gwybod ein bod ni oll yn caru’r wlad arbennig hon,” which translates from Welsh to: “Like my beloved mother before me, I know we all share a love for this special land.”

— King Charles, speaking in Welsh during his first visit to Wales as monarch. David Deans, BBC Wales’s political reporter, said the speech was an historic step for a British monarch. “While his mother, Elizabeth, spoke small phrases in the Welsh language, the King’s speech on Friday was bilingual, switched from English to Welsh throughout,” Deans wrote on the BBC website.

King Charles, centre left, and Camilla, the Queen Consort, far left, meet members of the public during a visit to Cardiff Castle in Wales on Friday. (Chris Jackson/The Associated Press)

Royal reads

  1. The earliest moments of King Charles’s reign raise the possibility that he will guide a monarchy that is, at least in some small measure, trying to be more open and accessible than it has before. [CBC]

  2. In a London borough facing poverty and inequality, locals remember the Queen as one of their own. [CBC]

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