By Kola King
Queen Elizabeth II who reigned for 70 years as a British monarch was laid to rest on Monday, September 19 at St George’s Chapel, Windsor along with her husband Prince Phillip who died in 2021 at the age of 99. She was buried in the royal private vault in the same place where her father the late King George VI and Queen Mother were buried. Her burial meant the end of an era. It marked the symbolic end of the last vestiges of the British Empire. Her life was dedicated with steadfastness, devotion and singularity of purpose for the greater good of British society. As she stated in a speech marking her 21st birthday Elizabeth said, “I declare before you that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service, and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” Indeed, not only did she enjoy a very long and remarkable life, but she dedicated her entire life to unstinting service to British society. She promised to serve with love, trust and respect. She was the epitome of British diplomacy, finesse and tact.
As expected, everything went with clockwork as the bearer party moved the Queen’s coffin from Westminster Hall to the gun carriage. The King, the late Queen’s children and grandchildren all walked behind in a procession to Westminster Abbey. At 11 am the funeral began at Westminster Abbey, and then at 12.15 pm the procession moved from the abbey and continued through central London. At 1 pm, the coffin was moved from the gun carriage to the state hearse and taken to Windsor Castle for a 4 pm committal service at St George’s Chapel. The service at Westminster Abbey was one of the great diplomatic occasions of the century. It was a gathering of who’s who in the world.
The Queen’s coffin, topped with the Royal Standard, the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign’s orb and sceptre, was at the centre of the procession carried on the State Gun Carriage of the Royal Navy. The carriage was last seen in 1979 for the funeral of Prince Philip’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, and was used for the Queen’s father, George VI, in 1952.
She was accompanied by the bearer party of the Grenadier Guards, the King’s Bodyguards of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, the Yeomen of the Guard and the Royal Company of Archers. A procession involving the military, the Royal Family and those who have dedicated their lives to service of the Queen, gave the late monarch a final farewell full of pomp and pageantry ahead of her burial in Windsor
During the funeral ceremony, World leaders, quite used to being the centre of the universe, as it were, wherever they go, played second fiddle at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. On this occasion, the Queen’s funeral service clearly dwarfed all these big wigs among whom were powerful men who have the nuclear button that could annihilate the world. Despite this, they seemed so small in comparison to the late monarch who wielded a soft and subtle power and who loomed large even in death.
In his sermon, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told the 2,000-strong congregation that: ‘People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases, those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power, and privileges are long forgotten.’ Simply put, Welby spoke truth to power. The sermon barely lasted ten minutes and the entire service lasted one hour. In its entirety, the funeral was solemn and sombre.
According to Prince William, Prince of Wales, the State funeral was watched by 5.1 billion people across the globe, representing 63.5% of the world’s population, the largest single event watched or streamed in history. Also, it’s important to note that Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 was the first true international television event.
The funeral was also attended by more than 500 world leaders and foreign dignitaries from across the globe which included presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens. The funeral ceremony which took place at the Westminster Abbey was attended by 2000 guests including six former prime ministers of the United Kingdom. Plus, Prime Minister Liz Truss as well as the Labour leader Keir Starmer, and the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon. However, the presidents of Russia, Belorussia and Syria were excluded from what amounted to a global funeral.
Besides, sitting arrangements were made in advance, with the front spots occupied by the immediate royal family, followed by current and former British Prime Ministers as well as leaders of the British Commonwealth. Foreign dignitaries were placed further back. Thus, this invalidates former President Donald Trump’s assertion that President Joseph Biden was placed in the 14th row due to the shrinking image of the United States under Biden’s leadership. Trump boasted that if he were the president, he would have occupied the front row. According to Trump, in business, real estate, politics; location is everything. This time, Trump got it wrong because all sitting arrangements had earlier been planned and perfected for the Queen’s state funeral.
The funeral arrangements which had been ongoing for the past twenty years were finally executed with flawless precision. According to reports, the Queen had been part and parcel of the burial plans up to the minutest details of the planning. She had also chosen the hymns and passages taken from the Bible. Even the invitees, both great and small, bore the imprimatur of the Queen. In the event of her death, both the royals and the British government had decided on the codename: London Bridge has fallen, to signify the death of the monarch.
First and foremost, the Britons as usual displayed great diplomacy and protocol in the way and manner in which they handled the over 200 hundred heads of state, kings and queens, treating them with even-handedness. Even though they all came in their private jets, as a result of the logistic arrangements they were all bused to the Westminster Cathedral, with the exception of United States President Joe Biden who had the privilege of riding in his limousine to the Westminster Abbey, of course, for obvious reasons.
According to the Foreign Office sources roughly 500 guests from nearly 200 countries and territories – represented by nearly 100 presidents and heads of government, and more than 20 royals – were in attendance in one of the world’s largest gatherings of world leaders and foreign dignitaries.
The State funeral was not just about royalty and the movers and shakers in the world, but around 200 key workers and volunteers recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours earlier this year were also invited, obviously on the promptings of the Queen.
Besides, the members of the Commonwealth who were close to the heart of the queen were given pride of place. It is to the credit of the queen that the Commonwealth has grown into a robust organization and has further attracted new members who were never colonized by Britain. The British Commonwealth with a combined population of 2.2 billion has since grown to 56 with new members including Togo, Cameroon, Gabon, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo, all former French and Spanish colonies.
Second, security was flawless, right from the famous British Bobby to the navy, air force and other security agents who exhibited great professionalism and exemplary conduct. They were ubiquitous without being brash and offensive and were extremely courteous to the estimated one million crowds that had lined the streets to bid the queen goodbye. The security agents were unobtrusive and did not brandish their weapons menacingly to intimidate the crowd. There was no crude display of military might as it usually happens in this clime. Of course, advanced security technology would be part of such a grand gathering of world leaders to take care of threats and potential enemies. Also, military personnel from the UK and the Commonwealth marched through London while others lined the route, providing guards of honour or undertaking other ceremonial duties.
Third, British culture and tradition were on display with the casket being drawn by a hand-held gun carriage from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey. Royal guards on horseback were in tow followed by the navy and other palace guards.
Also, deserving mention is the British crowd who came to pay their last respects to the departed monarch. Despite the mammoth crowd, there was unanimity of purpose as the crowd exhibited a high degree of order, discipline and comportment. There was no need for the security to whip them into line as they were all well organised, courteous and genteel. The fact that the crowd waited upwards of twelve hours and as far as 4 kilometres as they lined up to pay homage and respect to the queen while lying in state further demonstrates the respect and love the people had for their queen. Over 325, 000 citizens paid homage to the monarch in comparison to an estimated 200, 000 people who paid homage to the Queen Mother in 2002.
This brings the issue of citizens and civic responsibilities to the fore. Would it be apposite to say good governance, development and democracy is a two-way street between the government and citizens? The exemplary behaviour of the British crowd during the Queen’s state funeral speaks volumes about the role of citizens in society. There’s something to learn from the exemplary conduct of the British crowd who lined the streets to pay their last respects to the Queen.
Of course, the British were able to showcase strategic planning, organization, orderliness and creative imagination which were brought to bear in the State funeral for the queen. The sheer scale of the challenge was not only gargantuan, judging by world leaders and dignitaries that attended the funeral, yet all this was not only surmounted but the entire ceremony was carried out with matchless efficiency and clinical precision.
At length, in a symbolic gesture, the Lord Chamberlain, Andrew Parker, former Head of M15, brought the reign of Queen Elizabeth II to an end when at the closing of the funeral ceremony, he lifted the stick that represents her power and broke it into two. Also, he removed the orb and crown from the top of the casket, which finally signifies the end of the Queen’s reign. The wand or stick is broken and buried with the sovereign. At that moment, Parker symbolised the end of his duties to the Queen and, by breaking the wand, the end of a run of eight lord chamberlains who had held it and served her since 1952.
Through changing times and circumstances, Queen Elizabeth II successfully navigated her reign and the monarchy by adapting to change and flowing with the tide of events and modernity. By this, she displayed uncommon wisdom, foresight and sagacity. She had appointed 15 Prime Ministers during her reign, starting with Sir Winston Churchill and Liz Truss who she appointed two days before her death.
By and large, the Queen inherited an empire way back in 1953 but at the end of her life the empire had whittled down and crumbled, and Britain’s influence and power had shrunk considerably. However, the Queen retained her influence on the global stage due to her personal charm, humility and quiet diplomacy. As time went on, she made the monarchy accessible and engaged in personal diplomacy through one-on-one connection with the people of the Commonwealth countries. Little wonder the world trooped out to honour Queen Elizabeth II who was described as the Monarch of the World.