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‘The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended’: Resplendent state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II

19 September 2022

Glyn Paflin reports from Westminster Abbey


The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in the Royal Standard with the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign’s orb and sceptre, is carried out of the Abbey after the funeral service, followed by King Charles III, the Queen Consort, and other members of the Royal Family

The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, draped in the Royal Standard with the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign’s orb and sceptre, is carried out of th...

“SERVICE in life, hope in death.” This, his own summary, was the essence of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon at a resplendent state funeral for HM Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey on Monday morning.

The pattern for many leaders was to be exalted in life and forgotten after death, Archbishop Welby told the congregation and the far-flung audience for the service. “The pattern for all who serve God — famous or obscure, respected or ignored — is that death is the door to glory.”

The late Queen, in her broadcast during the first Covid lockdown, had ended with an allusion to a Vera Lynn song, saying: “We will meet again,” the Archbishop recalled.

“Christian hope means certain expectation of something not yet seen. Christ rose from the dead and offers life to all, abundant life now and life with God in eternity. . . We will all face the merciful judgement of God; we can all share the Queen’s hope which in life and death inspired her servant leadership.”

His was a simple evangelistic message during a service that was clothed gorgeously in royal, heraldic, and military traditions, and had been far from simple to organise.

The gathering in the Abbey was an extraordinary congregation, comprising the Establishment of the UK, Commonwealth prime ministers, heads of state, and high commissioners, and many other monarchs and presidents from around the world.

Among the features that reflected changes during the Queen’s reign was the procession of religious representatives.

It included 11 representatives of other faiths in the UK, as well as 19 representatives of various Churches in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England, as well as the six senior ecclesiastics of the Royal Household.

The plan differed from the funeral of the late Queen’s father, King George VI, in 1952, in certain other respects.

On that occasion, the entire funeral service was held in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. A short evening service had followed in the Abbey, at which a large congregation had included members of organisations with which the King had been associated. Croft’s Burial Sentences — a famously ethereal setting of the opening words of the Prayer Book burial service, which had been sung earlier in the day at Windsor — were repeated.

For his daughter’s funeral, 70 years on, and more than 50 years since the last state funeral in this country (Sir Winston Churchill’s, held in St Paul’s), the main service itself was the Abbey’s responsibility, to be followed in the afternoon by the committal at St George’s.

Once the last of the multitude who queued through the night to attend the lying-in-state had paid their respects in the early morning, the Queen’s coffin was transferred shortly before 11 a.m. from the catafalque in Westminster Hall to the state gun carriage of the Royal Navy. This was drawn by 90 Naval Ratings, followed by 40 more behind (able to act as a brake), in a short procession to the Abbey.

The procession was preceded by the Lady Usher of the Black Rod, the Speaker, the Lord Speaker, the Earl Marshal (the Duke of Norfolk), and the Lord Great Chamberlain. The King and other senior members of the Royal Family walked behind the gun carriage.

The congregation had been assembling in the Abbey since not long after eight amid the tightest of security arrangements.

This meant yet another queue in a week of queuing, but a relatively short one from Vauxhall Bridge to Victoria Gardens. In it, I chatted to the Chief Commissioner of St John Ambulance, before we were joined by the Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey in his plumed hat and gold braid.

At the Abbey, the senior service officers arrived at 9.30 a.m. They were followed by representatives of overseas governments and heads of state and their spouses. Among those whom we were to see arriving on a monitor provided for the press in the north transept were the Bidens from the United States and the Macrons from France.

Among the monarchs to be seen taking their seats were the King of Tonga, and the King and Queen, together with the former King, of Spain.

The Dean and Chapter of Westminster and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York moved to the west door, wearing the new black copes that had been specially made. (At Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002, the Dean, the late Wesley Carr, wore the Charles II black cope.) The Archbishops wore white linen mitres.

A touching moment was the arrival in their mourning of the late Queen’s Ladies in Waiting. The Gentlemen at Arms and the Yeomen of the Guard took up their places.

Then followed a procession of the holders (three each) of the Victoria Cross, the George Cross, and the orders of chivalry, including those of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. This procession included such a wide variety of figures as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Order of New Zealand), Neil MacGregor (OM), Baroness Manningham-Buller (Garter), and Willie Apiata VC (New Zealand).

With the arrival of many members of the Royal Family, including the Duke of Kent, Prince Michael of Kent, and Princess Alexandra, a hush fell over the congregation, and the pipers’ skirl and the muffled beating of the drums could be heard approaching. On the screen above us, the solitary figure of the Dean, the Very Revd Dr David Hoyle, could be seen from behind in the centre of the great west door, waiting to receive the coffin.

Then, as the Burial Sentences were sung, with Purcell’s “Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts”, the choir, under James O’Donnell, proceeded through the Abbey, followed by the Heralds and Kings of Arms in their colourful tabards, wearing their broad black mourning sashes over one shoulder.

Following them were officers of the Royal Household, and then the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, walking behind their primatial crosses, and the Cross of Westminster and the Abbey clergy.

The coffin, borne by members of the Queen’s Company of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, was surmounted by the Imperial State Crown, and the Orb and Sceptre. Nestled within the funeral wreath was a handwritten card from her son King Charles III, which read: “In loving and devoted memory, Charles R.” 

The King and Queen Consort followed immediately behind with the Princess Royal and her husband, the Earl and Countess of Wessex and Forfar, the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the Earl of Snowdon, Peter Phillips, Prince Michael of Kent, and the Duke of Kent.

At last, we were to see the coffin, which had been visible to us on a screen, on the catafalque. Beyond, we would have a clear view of the ecumenical gathering of clergy in the sacrarium, though not of the high altar with its black frontal and black dorsal with its heraldry.

The Dean’s bidding spoke of gratitude, admiration, thanksgiving, and affection; and a brief silence was kept for thanksgiving and prayer. Then he read the Prayer Book collect “O merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection of the life”, and the congregation stood to sing the hymn “The day thou gavest” (St Clement): “So be it, Lord thy throne shall never, Like earth’s proud empires, pass away.”

After so much pomp, it was, in contrast, a moment reminiscent of many humbler funerals or parish evensongs. But James O’Donnell’s arrangement, as in the other hymns, gave it a grandeur perhaps fitting for a monarch who had indeed seen an empire pass away and had nurtured the Commonwealth to replace it.

The first lesson, again part (1 Corinthians 15.20-26, 53-end) of the BCP provision for the burial of the dead, was read with great emphasis by the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Scotland. “Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

It was followed by a specially composed setting of Psalm 42.1-7, “Like as the hart”, by the composer Judith Weir. The Prime Minister read the second lesson, “Let not your heart be troubled. . .” (John 14.1-9a).

Then followed another hymn, “The Lord’s my shepherd” (to Crimond). The choir sang the third verse unaccompanied.

The Archbishop’s sermon was followed by Parry’s famous setting of words by the Metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan, “My soul, there is a country”.

The prayers followed, in the form of solemn collects, begun by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Revd Dr Iain Greenshields, and continued by Shermara Fletcher of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches; the Bishop of London and Dean of the Chapels Royal, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally; and the Moderator of the Free Churches Group, Canon Helen Cameron; the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols; the Archbishop of York; and finally the Precentor, who concluded with a prayer adapted from a sermon of Donne: “Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening. . .”

The choir then sang Vaughan Williams’s coronation anthem from 1953, “O taste and see”, before the congregation joined in the Lord’s Prayer.

Another hymn — “Love divine, all loves excelling” (Blaenwern) — and the Heralds and Kings of Arms formed up in the centre of the Abbey for the commendation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life” and read the prayer “Go forth, O Christian soul”, the deathbed words that have become a much-loved part of Anglican funeral services over the past two decades.

All remained standing for Sir James Macmillan’s new anthem setting words from Romans 8 which were admitted into Anglican funeral services in 1928: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Neither death, nor life . . .”.

The State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry had assembled on the steps of the Lady Chapel, where, led by Trumpet Major Julian Sandford, they sounded the Last Post, and, after a two-minute silence, the Reveille.

The National Anthem was sung, in Gordon Jacob’s majestic arrangement; and then, in a sudden return to the mood of mourning, the Queen’s Piper, Pipe Major Paul Burns, played the lament “Sleep, dearie, sleep”, from high up in a gallery.

It was the last item in the service; for, as the sub-organist played Bach, the pall-bearers took up their position again, and the procession reformed, to begin the coffin’s solemn journey, through crowd-lined roads, to the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park, and from there by hearse to Windsor.

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