EIt wasn't exactly British understatement, but it wasn't exaggeration either, when Admiral Tony Radakin, Britain's most senior naval officer, spoke to a reporter about "a very global moment". He wasn't just referring to the more than 500 foreign guests who attended the funeral service for Queen Elizabeth II this Monday, but also to the billions of viewers who watched this state funeral around the world on television.
The magnificent staging, which was supposed to overshadow even the last honors for Winston Churchill and had been prepared in secret for decades, began early Monday morning with the first practice marches on the Horse Guard Parade. In different formations and accompanied by bands of musicians, the soldiers marched through the streets of royal London and the government district to line up for the great procession. Meanwhile, the benches in Westminster Abbey were filled with heads of state, including American President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
No monarch has been seen off at Westminister Abbey since 1760. The Queen is said to have wanted the location for the central funeral service because it accommodates a large audience, but also because it connects a personal history with the Gothic church. Here she witnessed the coronation of her father, George VI, as an eleven-year-old girl. Sixteen years later, in 1953, she was crowned in church herself - the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, recalled in his homily that she had prayed quietly in a corner of the Abbey before the ceremony. Westminister Abbey was also a place of family events. Elisabeth's marriage to Philip and the marriages of two of her children received church blessings here. Next year the coronation ceremony for her son Charles will take place in these walls.
Improvisation became tradition
Before Mass, the Queen's coffin was solemnly loaded from the catafalque in Westminster Hall, where she had been laid out for four days and nights, onto a gun carriage and dragged by marines to the opposite abbey to the sound of bagpipes. The coffin covered with the Royal Standard, on which the crown, scepter and orb lay next to a bouquet of flowers, was accompanied by the Queen's family. The ceremony dates back to Elizabeth's great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who requested a military funeral in Windsor. During the long wait for the coffin from London, in the bitter cold of February 2, 1901, draft horses had bolted and brackets torn from the gun carriage. On the advice of Prince Louis of Battenberg, later the British Admiral of the Fleet, Victoria's son Edward VII decided to set the gun carriage in motion with the help of marines. As so often in British history, improvisation became tradition.
It was Britain's first state funeral since two-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led the country through World War II, was buried in 1965. Since then, members of the royal family or prominent politicians have only been buried "ceremoniously". Louis Mountbatten, who was assassinated in an IRA attack in 1979, received this honour, as did Lady Diana, the "Queen Mum", Margaret Thatcher and, most recently, Prince Philip, the Queen's husband. Court reporters dated the last comparable state funeral to be 1952, when George VI. was buried.