What Is a Royal Funeral? Differences to Other Funerals?


Regardless of claims to divine right to rule, royals are still mortal, and like all mortals, they will eventually die. But their station gives them the privilege of more elaborate funerals. What is a royal funeral? 

A “royal funeral” is a funeral for a deceased royal family member. Royal funerals typically have more pageantry and guests than a typical or state funeral. The extra pageantry expresses the nation’s grief and allows the people visiting the head of state to pay their respects. 

This article will explore the royal funeral protocols for the United Kingdom and several other monarchies. 

What Is a Royal Funeral?

A royal funeral is a funeral for a monarch or members of their family. Royal funerals are usually massive public events where thousands of people pay their respects to deceased monarchs and other royals such as princes and princesses. 

As of early 2022, there are 26 monarchies left on Earth. Most of these are constitutional monarchies, where the royal family has been reduced to powerless mascots, and an elected parliament holds political power. There are still six absolute monarchies left where the monarch is both the Head of State and Head of Government

For lack of a better word, the features and festivities of a royal funeral depend on the nation in question. Generally, they feature services that fit the customs of the local dominant religion. In addition, you can expect to see delegations from constituent regions paying their respects and displays of military force. 

Royal Air Force Regiment Military Funeral in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire UK

Historically, royal funerals were much more elaborate than the present day. Modern sensibilities do not allow for ostentatious displays of wealth, potlatch, sacrificing servants to accompany the deceased into the afterlife, or the heir to the throne murdering his male siblings as some very ancient royal funerals once did. 

However, the royal funeral of today is still quite a spectacular affair. 

What To Expect From A Royal Funeral?

At a royal funeral, you should expect an ostentatious display of power and wealth. Most royal funerals attract large crowds of people who wish to pay their respects, so the event usually extends across cities, where people may gather in the streets or take a break from the workday to mourn. 

The most recent royal funeral was Prince Philip Mountbatten of the United Kingdom. Due to his wishes and the ongoing pandemic, the Prince’s funeral was scaled back considerably from the original plans. It was planned under the title “Operation Forth Bridge.” 

On April 9th, 2021, His Royal Highness Prince Philip passed away at the age of 99. Nine days later, the world witnessed a paired-back version of a royal funeral. 

He was a very esteemed individual, and he held many titles, which were: 

  • Duke of Edinburgh
  • Earl of Merioneth
  • Baron Greenwich
  • Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter
  • Extra Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle
  • Member of the Order of Merit
  • Grand Master and First and Principal Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
  • Knight of the Order of Australia
  • Additional Member of the Order of New Zealand, Extra Companion of the Queen’s Service Order
  • Royal Chief of the Order of Logohu
  • Extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada
  • Extraordinary Commander of the Order of Military Merit
  • God-Emperor of Dune and the Empire of Man
  • Lord of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council
  • Privy Councillor of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada
  • Personal Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty
  • Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom

The plans for Prince Philip’s funeral had been in place for decades under the title of “Operation Forth Bridge.” The United Kingdom has a long history of planning the funerals of influential citizens.

Prince Philip’s funeral occurred on April 17th, 2021. Because he was not a sitting monarch, he received a royal ceremonial funeral but not a state funeral. The Prince requested “minimal fuss” and a simple military funeral at St. George’s Chapel. 

Before the funeral service, several British military bands performed for the family and spectators. The playlist included: 

  • “Jerusalem” 
  • “I Vow to Thee, My Country” 
  • “Supreme Sacrifice” 
  • “Nimrod”

The Prince himself had handpicked the music before his death. 

Before the funeral, his body was carried to the State Entrance of Windsor Castle by the Grenadier Guards and loaded into a customized Land Rover Defender hearse (the Prince was a huge fan of Land Rovers. 

Military units from the UK and several Commonwealth nations escorted the hearse to Philip’s final resting spot. His children, grandchildren, and household staff followed the coffin on foot. The Queen followed behind them in a Bentley state limousine. 

The procession carried the deceased Prince from the state entrance of Windsor Castle to St. George’s Chapel, where the funeral took place. As per his wishes, no religious services or eulogies were given. 

About 730 military personnel, including four military bands, took part in the funeral. There were just 22 attendees. The Queen sat alone. 

The actual funeral consisted of the performance of more music chosen by the Prince, a tribute delivered by the Dan of Windsor, and a blessing by the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Following the final musical performance, the Prince’s body was lowered into a burial vault. When the Queen dies (if she dies), the Prince will be re-interred beside her in the King George VI Memorial Chapel in St. George’s Chapel. 

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the guestlist for the funeral was considerably reduced. However, people working during the funeral were exempt from this regulation. 

What Will Happen When Queen Elizabeth II Dies?

When Queen Elizabeth II Windsor dies, she will have a large funeral. Official state plans for Queen Elizabeth II Windsor’s funeral have been in place since the 1960s. The official state plan is “Operation London Bridge.” Other Commonwealth realms have other official plans to mark her death. 

When Queen Elizabeth’s death is confirmed, the royal staff will communicate the event to the Prime Minister with the phrase “London Bridge has Fallen.” That will set in motion the state plans for her funeral and the succession, “Operation London Bridge.” Given the Queen’s advanced age, parts of this operation are regularly rehearsed. 

Day Zero

The royal staff will relay the news to other government officials via secure phone lines as soon as the Queen passes. Websites belonging to the British government and royal family will be turned black. The Queen’s staff will also relay the news to the BBC and several other television and radio news agencies. 

Radio and television news outlets will start the announcement by playing “inoffensive” music. The BBC will play a prerecorded sequence of portraits while the presenters on duty quickly change into dark clothing. When ready, the newsreaders will deliver a well-rehearsed message to tell the public that the Queen has passed.

The official public announcement of the Queen’s death will be a footman pinning a death notice to the gates of Buckingham Palace. All British government and royal family websites will display the same message. 

The Parliaments of the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will be recalled if not currently in session. When assembled, the Prime Minister will address parliament. The new monarch will then meet with the Prime Minister and address the nation at 6 PM GMT. 

After the news gets out, the military staff will change a few things. 

Flags on government property will first be lowered to half-mast. Then, the ceremonial maces and chains of office will be placed in black purses. 

Finally, A firearm salute and remembrance service will be performed at St. Paul’s Cathedral and attended by the Prime Minister and other senior ministers. 

Day One

The day after the Queen’s death, the Ascension Council will meet at St. James’ Palace to proclaim the new monarch. The new monarch will address the nation at 3:30 PM GMT. 

Parliament will meet the following evening to swear loyalty to the new monarch. Most parliamentary duties will then be suspended for ten days. 

Day Two

On the second day after the Queen’s death, officials will announce the new monarch to the public. From there, government officials will spread the news securely to other commonwealth nations. Proclamations of the new monarch will be read by the Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish governments.

Days Three to Seven

On the third day after the Queen’s death, the new monarch will receive official condolences at Westminster Abbey and then depart on a tour of the United Kingdom. 

The first stop will be the Scottish Parliament and a service at St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh. The next stop will be Northern Ireland and Wales on the seventh day. 

Plans for the Queen’s Body

While her successor receives official condolences and oaths of loyalty from the constituent nations, the Queen’s body will take its own trip. 

Operation London Bridge allows for the Queen to die anywhere in the world. If she dies abroad, her body will be carried back to the UK by the Royal Airforce’s No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron. If she dies anywhere on the island of Great Britain, she will be carried back to London by rail. 

The royal body will be greeted by the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers and lay in state in the throne room at Buckingham Palace. Five days after the Queen’s death, the body will be moved to Westminster Abbey to lay in state for three days. 

The state funeral will be held ten days after the Queen’s death. Her children, grandchildren, and dignitaries from around the world will surely attend.

She will be interred in the King George VI Memorial Chapel following the funeral service beside her parents and husband. 

Do Any Other Countries Have Plans for Their Monarch’s Funeral?

Other countries have plans for their monarch’s funeral. Every remaining monarchy likely has official state plans for their monarch’s passing and succession, and each nation’s procedures vary depending on that region’s traditions, religions, and funerary customs.

For this article, I will tell you about the official funerary procedure for monarchs of Denmark and Thailand.

Denmark

Considering that all we ever hear about Denmark in America is that they’re a “Socialist” nation that occasionally kills zoo animals in front of school children, it may surprise you to learn that Denmark is a constitutional monarchy. 

The current Danish monarch, Queen Margrethe II, ordered the construction of her eventual burial sarcophagus and chapel in 2003. They were completed in 2018.

Danish state funerals are much more modest than those in the United Kingdom. When Queen Margrethe’s husband, Prince Henrik, died in 2018, his body lay in state for several days before being cremated. He received a simple Lutheran funeral. 

When the Queen dies, her body will lay in state for several days before being interred in her chapel. She will receive a Lutheran funeral service, and the government will declare the funeral day to be a national day of mourning. 

Thailand

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy under the Chakri dynasty. The current king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, ascended to the throne on May 4-6, 2019, nearly three years after his father’s death. Maha Vajiralongkorn is currently the wealthiest monarch in the world. 

Thailand is a Buddhist nation, and Thai royal funeral practices follow Buddhist traditions on a larger scale. 

Thai royal funerals start with the ceremonial bathing of the deceased monarch’s body. The cleansed body is then wrapped in a shroud. 

Thai royals and other important people have the privilege of having their bodies stored in a sizable honorary urn called a “kot.” The body is not yet cremated at this point. Many Thai royals have used a western-style coffin in the last century. 

Once the body is enshrined in a kot or a western-style coffin, the body will lay in state for at least the next 100 days. Officials will perform Buddhist funerary rites on the 7th, 15th, 50th, and 100th days. During this mourning period, the public is welcome to pay their respects to the deceased royal. 

After the allotted mourning period has elapsed, the deceased royal is carried to the cremation site on a royal funeral chariot. The royal body is cremated on a funeral pyre made of sandalwood. Buddhist rites are performed, and a 21 gun salute occurs before and during the cremation. 

Thai royal cremations traditionally featured musical or theatrical performances. The practice has only occurred sporadically. After the cremation, the royal remains are traditionally interred at the royal cemetery at Wat Ratchabophit. 

Over the last century, as Thailand strove to gain acceptance from Western colonizer nations, Thai royal funerals have adopted several Western practices. These include a western embalming process, broadcasting the cremation ceremony on television, and using an electric furnace for at least one royal cremation. 

Conclusion

Royals– they’re just like us. Except they’re permanently rich and get much more elaborate funerals. These funerals are usually crucial to the people of a nation, and most citizens who live under monarchies take at least one day to mourn the head of state after they have passed away. 

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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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