Besides the social, political, and religious significance, the funeral events of Queen Elizabeth II provide important lessons for those in the funeral profession. In the previous article for The Director, we discussed the importance of a funeral. In this article, we will talk about the importance of personalization for all funerals.
We have a special relationship to England. Marty spent a semester of law school at Queen’s College, Oxford. We returned to England whenever possible, often bringing our children. For the past dozen years, Marty has led study tours to England, transforming another generation of students
We consider London, England our second home. Each of us has a special spot. Kara enjoys Knightsbridge, especially Harrod’s. Bailey loves the Theater district. Justin prefers the Tower of London. Marty enjoys Bloomsbury, a neighborhood between the British Library and the British Museum, where he has taken his UCO students for a decade, and he knows every little shop and restaurant as much as any local.
The importance of personalization in funerals.
The idea is not new and is not unique to the wealthy or to royals. All funerals should be personalized for the traditions of the deceased and the family. The Queen’s funeral and the dedication to tradition point to the importance of honoring those lost by personalization. The little details matter. Let’s examine the many decisions made for the Queen’s funeral.
The Queen lay in state in Westminster Hall. The location is significant. Westminster Abbey was founded in the year 960 and has been a place of Christian worship and coronation of the English royals for over a thousand years. While in state, the coffin was guarded by members of the Sovereign’s Bodyguard, a group which dates to 1509 by Henry VIII. By standing guard at the coffin, they complete their final act of service and protection
The coffin was also adorned with several items related to her role as Queen. The Imperial State Crown was placed on the coffin before the procession. The monarch exchanges this crown for St Edward’s Crown at the end of the coronation ceremony. Before the English Civil War (1642-1651) the ancient coronation crown was always kept at Westminster Abbey and the monarch needed another crown to wear when leaving the Abbey. The Imperial State Crown is still used on formal occasions, such as the annual State Opening of Parliament.
The crown is mounted with 2868 diamonds several historic stones. These include the Cullinan II, or the ‘Second Star of Africa’, which weighs 317.4 carats. It was presented to Edward VII in 1907 as a symbolic gesture to heal the rift between Britain and South Africa after the Boer War. The Black Prince’s Ruby, 170 carats, was traditionally thought to have been the ruby given to Edward, Prince of Wales (1330-76), known as the Black Prince, after the Battle of Najera in 1367. The Stuart Sapphire is approximately 104 carats. It is thought to have been smuggled by James II when he fled England in 1688. He passed it to his son Prince James Francis Edward, ‘the Old Pretender’.
The flowers for the Queen’s service could come from anywhere, but the location is personalized for the deceased. The casket was covered by a wreath of flowers and foliage from Balmoral and Windsor castles. This choice was also based on tradition. Balmoral is one of the primary residences of the royal family and has been since 1856. Queen Elizabeth II was in residence at Balmoral at the time of her death. Windsor castle is on the outskirts of London and serves as the royal residence and has been since the 11th century. It is one of the largest occupied castles in the world.
On top the casket was the Sovereign’s Orb. The Orb is a representation of the sovereign’s power. It symbolizes the Christian world with its cross mounted on a globe, and the bands of jewels divided the globe into three sections because in medieval times, the world was thought to be comprised of only three continents. During the coronation service, the Orb is placed in the right hand of the monarch.
In addition to the Orb, the casket was decorated with the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross. The sceptre is a gold rod which holds a huge drop-shaped diamond, Cullinan I, or the Star of Africa, weighing 530.2 carats. The sceptre represents the sovereign’s temporal power and is associated with good governance. The sceptre was originally made for Charles II (1660-1685), but has undergone several alterations, particularly in 1820 for the coronation of George IV, when a rose, thistle and shamrock were added to represent the ties between England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland. In 1910, the sceptre had to be reinforced to support the weight of the Cullinan I diamond.
The Wanamaker Cross of Westminster was placed at the head of the casket. The Wanamaker Cross is used most often in processions at church festivals and special services. It was given by Rodman Wanamaker an American, and first used on Christmas Eve in 1922. It is made from ivory and silver gilt and adorned with a series of panels of beaten gold and shows the Crucifixion, Nativity, Resurrection and Ascension on the arms of the cross. The cross was re-gilded and new ivory inlaid in 1964, with seventy-two diamonds added.
Even the transportation is important.
When the Queen’s coffin was moved from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey, it was loaded on the State Gun Carriage of the Royal Navy. The carriage was drawn by Royal Navy sailors, known as Naval Ratings, maintaining a tradition which began at the state funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901.
Another wreath with foliage cut from the gardens of Buckingham Palace, Highgrove House, and Clarence House was placed on the coffin. These places have personal significance to the Queen. Buckingham Palace in central London is the official royal residence. Highgrove House is the family residence of King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort. Built in the late 18th century, Charles III remodeled the Georgian house in 1987. The gardens at Highgrove have been open to the public since 1996 and receive more than 30,000 visitors a year. The house and gardens are run according to the King’s environmental principles. The King frequently hosts charitable events at the house.
Clarence House became the London home of Princess Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh, following their marriage in 1947, until her accession as Queen in 1952. Princess Anne was born at Clarence House in 1950. With Princess Elizabeth’s accession as Queen, the royal couple moved to Buckingham Palace. Clarence House was prepared for The Queen Mother in 1953. The Queen Mother enjoyed hosting luncheons and evening receptions at Clarence House. All foreign Heads of State have tea there in the afternoon of the first day of a State Visit.
While these royal artifacts are impressive, personalization does not have to be diamonds and pearls. Sometimes the most emotionally charged personalization is a simple note. Did you notice the note on the wreath to the Queen from her devoted son? The handwritten note from King Charles III read, “In loving and devoted memory. Charles R.” Despite all the political and religious implications, the Queen was also a mother.
The entire royal funeral was personalized to honor the Queen. Did you notice the Queen had eight pallbearers, not the typical six? Elizabeth II’s coffin was made over 30 years before the funeral. It is made of English oak and lined with lead to protect from moisture damage. Due to the weight, eight pallbearers were required rather than the usual six.
What lessons can we draw from this historical funeral?
While the death of Queen Elizabeth II was significant to the nation, the loss is especially impactful to family. Tradition and personalization are important aspects of honoring those we have lost. Even small decisions can have great significance for the deceased’s family. Adapt each funeral to honor the loss of the deceased. Personalization is not just important, it is essential. Every family has traditions which should be honored. Every funeral, from the neighbor next door to those with the highest amount of historical relevance should include personalization for the deceased and the family.