Royal funerals are a state affair — but what does it actually mean to handle one?
The last royal funeral in the UK was for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. He passed away on April 22nd 2021 at age 92 and asked to have a ceremonial rather than stately ceremony because he felt like an ordinary member of society who had served his country well with loyalty until retirement from public life several years ago- not someone special or entitled enough according how most people think about these things anyway!
Royal undertakers are always prepared
The current funeral directors and undertakers to the royal family, Leverton & Sons, overlooked the funerals of Princess Diana, the Queen Mother, and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Chairman Clive Leverton said that “back in 1991, I had a phone call from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office.” He wasn’t approached with a written contract. “It was just a handshake really,” the Guardian previously reported.
Apart from helping to arrange the funeral service, royal undertakers also have responsibilities to plan for a sudden death and keep a special coffin at the ready in case a member of the royal family dies, as reported by Sam Knight in the Guardian.
During the inquest into the death of Diana, Leverton told Jonathan Hough, the counsel to the inquest: “We have some plans for some members of the royal family, and there is an overall operational plan involving repatriation if there is a death abroad — or, say, in Scotland, where road transport would not be practical.”
The pandemic also compelled the royal family to adapt their funeral protocol to England’s third national lockdown. The guest list for Philip’s funeral was cut from 800 to 30 people, with no lying-in-state ceremony for the public.
Royal undertakers have to abide by strict procedures following the death of a sovereign, but changes like these have prompted questions about the flexibility of the traditions that have been inherent to royal funerals.
“We’re 300 years old, but compared to the business of being the royal family in the state of the UK, it’s really nothing,” Field said. “They’re kind of more constrained around what they can and can’t do with a state funeral.”
Philip’s death also sparked questions around funeral procedures for the Queen.
Codenamed “Operation London Bridge,” current royal undertakers Leverton & Sons have prepared for any emergency scenarios following the Queen’s death, including keeping a “first call coffin” at the ready.
If she dies abroad, a plane called “the Royal Flight” will take off from Northolt, with the coffin from Leverton & Sons, Knight wrote.
Her state funeral would most likely be held at Westminster Abbey, and would include a procession in London and Windsor and a nationwide two minutes’ silence at midday, as reported in Elle.
Although many royal funeral traditions have stood the test of time, embracing modernity has become a bigger part of the equation in the last century. Royal funeral directors are now tasked with the challenge of abiding by the monarchy’s protocol, while adapting to any unprecedented changes that are thrown at them.