Of Stately Funerals
Funerals, they say, are for the living and no more so than when the deceased wielded power and influence on the world stage, leaving the trappings inevitably behind.
Showing up for the service (or not) provides an opportunity to send a message regarding the general nature of the relationships between leaders, countries and empires.
With royalty aplenty, Europe has always been the center of state funerals; one of the greatest of these was the death of Britain’s Edward VII in 1910 when some 70 foreign leaders trailed behind the King’s coffin.
In a general statement about the way things go, immediately behind the walking royalty was the King’s dog riding in a carriage and behind the pup, his widow.
Until after WWI, no one paid attention to whether or not the U.S. showed up as we weren’t much worth paying attention to, in their minds, anyway.
And with travel to Europe limited to ocean liner, a last minute “popping in” for the service was impractical.
Winston Churchill was criticized for failing to attend Franklin Roosevelt’s funeral in 1945. Some speculate that their war-time friendship had cooled and in any event, Roosevelt’s service was simple and quick; definitely not a state affair.
When Churchill died in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson repaid the rebuff by not attending his service. Johnson was sick and refused to allow Vice President Humphrey to attend on his behalf; the British did not take it kindly. Johnson sent Chief Justice Earl Warren in his stead.
Over the years, planning for Churchill’s elaborate services had to be revised several times because, as Lord Mountbatten said, “the pallbearers kept dying.”
The manner of death and the timing no doubt plays a role in attendance, JFK’s assassination and his relative youth resulted in a huge outpouring, dignitaries from 90 countries participated.
Queen Elizabeth was not among them as she was pregnant and also reportedly did not attend the funerals of “commoners.” Prince Philip attended on her behalf and British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Home, as well.
The last great British Queen, Victoria, died in 1901 after nearly 64 years as the British monarch. Prince Albert, her husband, had died in 1861 and many will know of the Queen’s devoted relationship with John Brown, her equerry, after Albert’s death. The Queen was buried with a lock of Brown’s hair concealed in her hand.
Victoria wished to be buried as a “soldier’s daughter” complete with coffin borne on a gun carriage. The carriage harness system broke when the coffin was placed on the wagon. As a result, it was hauled using ropes by Royal Navy personnel, a tradition which still stands.
President Biden will attend Elizabeth’s farewell, theoretically ensuring warm feelings from the monarch crowd and their hangers on.