How ritual and mishaps have shaped royal funerals for centuries

King Edward’s dog enraging the Kaiser, sailors dragging Queen Victoria’s coffin with ropes and the Imperial State Crown’s ‘bad omen’: How ritual and mishaps have shaped royal funerals for centuries

  • A royal funeral is enmeshed with centuries of traditions and the late Queen helped to plan details of her own 
  • Through the centuries, customs and rituals have been upheld, while royal mishaps have also occurred
  • From a King’s dog enraging the Kaiser to the reason why sailors carry the coffin and The Lord Chamberlain breaks his staff: MailOnline looks at the traditions unusual incidents which have shaped the end of royal eras
  • The Queen’s funeral: All the latest Royal Family news and coverage

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral will be an unforgettable moment in history as millions of mourners gather to say a solemn final farewell to Britain’s longest reigning monarch. 

A royal funeral is enmeshed with centuries of traditions and the late Queen helped to plan almost every detail of her own before her tragic death on September 8. 

Through the centuries, customs and rituals have been upheld and honoured, and occasionally modernised, at the funerals of past British kings and queens.

The Palace has today shared details of the order of schedule ahead of her funeral on Monday – including how The Last Post by Lee Kernaghan will play at the end of the public service, followed by a private ceremony with her immediate family. 

From how a King’s dog enraged the Kaiser to why sailors pull the sovereign’s coffin through the streets using ropes, MailOnline looks at some of the traditions, mishaps and unusual incidents which have shaped the end of historic royal eras…

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral will be an unforgettable moment in history as millions of mourners gather to say a solemn final farewell to Briton’s longest reigning monarch 

The Palace has today shared details of the order of schedule ahead of her funeral on Monday. Pictured: A graphic detailing the key events which will take place on Monday

King Charles II, the Queen Consort and the Princess Royal behind the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II as it is brought into Westminster Hall on September 14

Dogs taking centre stage – angering Kaiser Wilhelm

The late Queen had a long and well documented love of her Corgis and owned more than 30 during her reign.

It’s unclear whether any of her pets will play a role in her own funeral, but monarchs in the past have included their dogs in celebrations of their lives. 

King Edward VII carefully planned his own funeral before he died in 1910 and his military procession featured his loyal wire-haired fox terrier Caesar, who followed him everywhere.

Caesar, nicknamed Stinky by courtiers, was inconsolable when the King died and roamed the corridors looking for his master.

On the day of the funeral, he achieved widespread fame for trotting behind the King’s coffin alongside a Highland soldier and behind the King’s symbolically riderless horse, his favourite charger.

Caesar was given such a prominent position that he walked ahead of the new King, George V, and foreign heads of state, an act which enraged Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

The little dog’s relationship with the King is acknowledged on Edward VII’s tomb in St George’s Chapel Windsor, where Caesar is immortalised in stone, curled up at his master’s feet.

Caesar was given such a prominent position during the funeral that he walked ahead of the new King, George V, and foreign heads of state, an act which enraged Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. He is pictured behind the coffin and the King’s symbolically rider-less horse


Throughout her reign, the Queen was photographed with her beloved Corgis and Dorgis on numerous occasions and it is believed she has owned as much as 30 of them throughout her life (pictured with her pets at the Windsor Horse Trials)

Pictured: Princess Mary (daughter of King George V and Queen Mary) in the gardens at Frogmore with ‘Caesar’, King Edward VII’s beloved dog

Breaking of the White Staff

The Lord Chamberlain, the most senior official of the Royal Household, will be involved in the Queen’s funeral to perform a centuries-old ceremonial task.

Former MI5 spy chief Baron Andrew Parker currently holds the title of Lord Chamberlain and carries a white staff as one of the symbols of his role.

On Monday, he will ceremonially break the staff over the Queen’s grave to signify the end of his service to her as sovereign.

The last time this tradition was executed was in 1952, when the then-Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Clarendon, did so over George VI’s grave.

Former MI5 spy chief Baron Andrew Parker currently holds the title of Lord Chamberlain (pictured with the late Queen in 2019) and will break his symbolic staff at the funeral to signify the end of his service to her

Vigil of the Princes

King Charles and the Queen’s three other children will hold a 15-minute vigil at her coffin on Friday night before her funeral on Monday, which will end with a two-minute national silence.

The siblings already held a short vigil around Her Majesty’s coffin in St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, making Princess Anne the first royal woman to do so.

Historically, monarchs’ sons have carried out the first Vigil of the Princes tribute.

In 1936, King George V’s sons – Edward VIII, the Duke of York (later George VI), Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and George, Duke of Kent – performed the task.

They stood guard over the coffin late in the evening on the final night of his lying in state.

The Queen Mother’s four grandsons – the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex and Viscount Linley, now the Earl of Snowdon – stood guard over her coffin during her lying in state in 2002 as the public paid their respects in Westminster Hall.

Prince Edward and then-Prince Charles (right) took part in a Vigil of the Princes for the Queen Mother during her lying in state in 2002

The ‘bad omen’ of the fallen Imperial State Crown

During the procession to George V’s lying in state in 1936, the topmost cross of the Imperial State Crown, which was resting on the coffin, jolted off and fell to the ground.

The new King, his son Edward VIII, took it as a bad omen. 

Within 12 months of the funeral service, he had abdicated the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson – paving the way for Queen Elizabeth to eventually become Queen after her father took over.

During the procession to George V’s lying in state in 1936, the topmost cross of the Imperial State Crown (pictured) fell to the ground. The new King, his son Edward VIII, took it as a bad omen. Within 12 months of the funeral service, he had abdicated the throne

Invitations extended to women – after Queen Victoria started attending funerals

Before Queen Victoria’s reign, etiquette dictated that aristocratic women should not attend funerals at all.

But since Victoria herself started attending funerals it was, for the first time, considered proper for women to mourn at her state burial in 1901.

For the funeral of every British monarch since, women have been equally involved in mourning and have attended. 

Kate and Meghan arrive at Westminster Hall, where the Queen’s coffin will lie in state before her funeral at Westminster Abbey. Historically, etiquette dictated that aristocratic women should not attend funerals at all, but this rule was overturned after Queen Victoria acceded the throne

Sailors pulling the gun carriage with ropes… after it broke

Non-commissioned sailors, naval ratings, traditionally pull the gun carriage bearing a sovereign’s coffin through the streets using ropes.

The custom was adopted in 1901 at Queen Victoria’s funeral when the splinter bar of the gun carriage broke as her coffin, weighing nearly half a tonne, was lifted into place and one of the horses was hit by a ricocheting strap, causing it to panic and plunge forward.

The naval guard of honour stepped in and dragged the gun carriage to the castle, with the image considered so striking it has been used at every British monarch’s funeral since.

Non-commissioned sailors, naval ratings, traditionally pull the gun carriage bearing a sovereign’s coffin through the streets using ropes. Pictured pulling the carriage during the final journey of King George VI in 1952

The practice was adopted in 1901 after Queen Victoria’s funeral, when the naval guard of honour stepped in to drag her carriage after a distressed horse was hiw with the leather strap holding her coffin in place

Night funerals – until Queen Victoria held hers in the day

Queen Victoria’s funeral created a template her successors have followed very closely. 

Before her, a monarch’s funeral was held at night. In planning her own, she arranged for a service to take place during the day – a custom which has been followed ever since.

The Queen’s funeral on Monday will take place between 11am and midday. It is being televised and is expected to be beamed to millions around the world – and could well be one of the most watched live events in human history.

Westminster Abbey

Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral will be led by the Dean of Westminster and the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey.

The choice of location is significant and has hosted several other royal funerals in the past including Princess Diana’s in 1997 and the Queen Mother’s in 2002. The funeral of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Philip’s uncle, was also held there in 1979.

Royal experts believe that the choice of the Abbey could be both because it is so big – it has a capacity of 2,000 though can hold as many as 8,000 – and more live TV broadcasts have already been held there.

It is also believed that it could be a better place for large crowds to gather to pay their respects, since it is in Central London.

And the Abbey was the setting for many of the most important events of the Queen’s life – from her Coronation to her wedding to Prince Philip. The Princess Royal and the Duke of York, and the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret, were also married there.

Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey 

Breaking the mould again: White for Queen Victoria’s funeral

The Windsors wear black in mourning at royal funerals.

Their ancestor, Queen Victoria, did so for four decades after her husband, Prince Albert, died.

But, for her own funeral, Victoria left instructions that her military ceremony should be white instead of black.

Her coffin was covered with a white and golden pall on its journey from the Isle of Wight, and, in London, black fabric hangings were banished from the streets in favour of purple cashmere with white satin bows.


Royals wear black in mourning at royal funerals, as demonstrated by Sophie the Countess of Wessex (left) and Princess Kate (right) on Thursday

Merry congregations… and leaving early! 

The funeral of unpopular and gluttonous George IV in 1830 was an infamously happy affair.

Windsor Castle, where the service took place, was described as filled with ‘more the characters of a masquerade, than spectators hastening to a funeral’.

The crowds waiting for the procession in the Lower Ward of the castle grew impatient and were ‘joyous and merry’ rather than ‘mournful and sad’.

The funeral was itself chaotic.

The new King, William IV, delighted to have the top job, chatted loudly throughout the service, as did most of the congregation.

He was heard discussing ‘the most frivolous things’ about his dead predecessor and left before the service was over.

Hour-by-hour guide to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Monday, September 19 

6am-8.30am: Last vigil at Queen’s coffin in Westminster Hall 

At dawn on the last day of national mourning, the King’s bodyguards will begin their final vigil at the Queen’s oak coffin in the Houses of Parliament. It will then close at 8.30am in preparation for the procession.

9am: Big Ben will strike

Big Ben will strike clearly, before the bell’s hammer is covered with a thick leather pad to muffle its strikes for the rest of the day, out of respect and deference to the late monarch.

10.30am: Queen’s coffin is carried from House of Parliament to Westminster Abbey

The Queen’s coffin will be moved onto the state gun carriage which will be outside the north door of Westminster Hall.

From there, it will be pulled by naval ratings using ropes instead of horses from the Hall to Westminster Abbey.

Enormous crowds of mourners are expected to line the streets in Westminster as King Charles and senior members of the Royal Family follow the coffin as they did at the funeral for Princess Diana and for Prince Philip. The military will also join the procession. 

The coffin arrives at 10.52am before being carried into the Abbey. 

11am: The Queen’s coffin is carried to the High Altar

Around 2,000 guests including members of the Royal Family, Prime Minister Liz Truss, former British premiers, foreign dignitaries including US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and possibly Japanese Emperor Naruhito, and other VIPs, will fill the Abbey and watch as the Queen’s coffin is moved down the nave to the High Altar, before the nation falls silent.

11am-12pm: The state funeral at the Abbey

The state funeral will be led by the Dean of Westminster and the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

It is being televised and is expected to be beamed to millions around the world – and could well be one of the most watched live events in human history. 

Royal experts believe that the choice of the Abbey could be both because it is so big – it has a capacity of 2,000 though can hold as many as 8,000 – and more live TV broadcasts have already been held there.

It is also believed that it could be a better place for large crowds to gather to pay their respects, since it is in Central London.

And the Abbey was the setting for many of the most important events of the Queen’s life – from her Coronation to her wedding to Prince Philip. The Princess Royal and the Duke of York, and the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret, were also married there.

Other royal funerals have been held at the Abbey, including Princess Diana’s in 1997 and the Queen Mother’s in 2002. The funeral of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Philip’s uncle, was also held there in 1979.

At the end of the service, the Last Post and Reveille will be played. There will also be a national two-minute silence.

12pm-1pm: Queen’s coffin is carried to Wellington Arch via The Mall

The Queen’s coffin will then be placed back on the state gun carriage, before the royal funeral procession will solemnly move through Parliament Square, Whitehall, Constitution Hill and The Mall, past Buckingham Palace, to arrive at Wellington Arch at 1pm.

1pm-4pm: The coffin is transported to Windsor

Then the coffin will be transported to Windsor, where the Queen spent much of the last years of her life, to her final resting place at St George’s Chapel via the Long Walk, arriving at 3.15pm.

4pm: Queen will be buried at St George’s Chapel by her husband Prince Philip

The committal service conducted by the Dean of Windsor will then begin, and will also be televised around the world.

Before the last hymn, the Imperial State Crown, sceptre and orb will be removed from the Queen’s coffin by the crown jeweller. 

Then at the end of the service, a lament will be played by a lone piper as the coffin is lowered into the Royal Vault, where she will be buried alongside her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, her beloved parents, and her sister Margaret.

7pm: King Charles will attend private family burial service at chapel

King Charles and his closest family will return to the chapel for a private family burial service, where – as the late Queen did for her father – the monarch will scatter earth upon the coffin. 

 

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