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Three Queens and a Funeral: King George VI is Buried

The funeral of King George VI ushered in the era of Queen Elizabeth II. 

Heaven knows what it feels to lose a son, a husband, and a father. After all, He lost His son in the humblest, most painful way. In the dead of that frosty day, Feb. 15, sixty years ago, the sun hid and showed no signs of glistening the day. Mourning, perhaps, but not as hurting, as it did pierce the heart of old Queen Mary, who at 85, herself was nearing the end of her life. To have lost a husband is like losing half of your being, but to see three of your children passed away within your lifetime is too much for a weary heart to bear. For King George VI's wife, Queen Elizabeth, now Queen Mother, losing her dear Bertie meant spending the next 50 years alone, without a husband to share the joys of seeing more grandchildren in the family, or perhaps be ecstatic in seeing them get married and bear her great-grandchildren. For the new queen, Queen Elizabeth II, her father's death meant facing the reality that she is now the Queen to millions of people spread all over the world. On his funeral, Great Britain's three queens gathered to bid adieu to the king who mattered most to their lives.

The iconic photo that captured three generations of queens grieving
on King George VI's funeral.

On Feb. 9, King George's body was transferred to Westminster Hall for the lying-in-state. More than 30,000 people flocked to take a last glimpse of their beloved king. Not even the bitter cold or the cloudy weather stood between the crowd and the solemnity of the event.

Queen Elizabeth, by now Queen Mother, made a call to Clarence House. She had finally bowed to the new sovereign, her daughter. Devastated and in unimaginable sorrow, she however managed to hide her feelings in front of the public. She even managed to send a message to millions of people around the world who shared the sorrow with her: “Your concern for me has upheld me in my sorrow and how proud you have made me by your wonderful tributes to my dear husband, a great and noble King.”

She ended her message with a message requesting the public to continue their love and support to the new queen, just the way they did to her and her husband: “I commend to your our dear daughter: give her your loyalty and devotion; in the great and lonely station to which she has been called. She will need your protection and love. God bless you all; and may He in His wisdom guide us safely to our true destiny of peace and good will. Elizabeth R.”

The message was sent to the press for publication. However, it was noticed that there was an omission. The new queen's husband and her children were not mentioned. Palace officials immediately phoned editors to make the corrections. The part where the queen mother made a reference to the queen should thus be read: “I commend to your our dear daughter: give her your loyalty and devotion; Though blessed in her husband and children, she will need your protection and your love in the great and lonely station to which she has been called.”
The funeral procession for King George VI. The coffin is borne up the steps into
St. George's in Windsor. At the foot of the steps is the coach carrying
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret
and the Princess Royal.
 For the queen's part, she was relieved to see that the 51-year old queen mother refused to dwell in sorrow. In fact, a day after the king's death, she was composed enough to play with her grandchildren. She told an aide, “I have got to start sometime and it is better now than later.”

The funeral, held Feb. 15, was filled with sorrow and anguish. Before the dawn broke, all the roads have already led to London as thousands of the king's subjects gathered together to bid farewell for the wartime monarch. At 8 am, the capital's streets were closed. The king's funeral procession also brought innovation, as it was the first time that a sovereign's funeral was aired on television. At 9 am, the queen, together with the funeral entourage, arrived at Westminster Hall. More than 300,000 people had paid homage to the king while it was laid in state for three years.

Notable during these dark days in the royal family was young Prince Charles who, missing his dear grandpas, asked the queen mother if he would ever come back to play with him. The grandmother hugged her grandson. The three-year-old prince, who at the time emerged as the heir apparent, noticed his nurses in tears said softly: “Don't cry, Granny.”

King George VI's funeral coverage.

King George VI's 16-year reign is over. His daughter is now the reigning queen while the queen mother stepped down to her new post as the second lady in the land. Nevertheless, she still retained her status as queen and she still enjoyed her style as Her Majesty.

Kings, queens, princes, heads of state, and dignitaries from all over the world were all gathered in London to attend the spectacular funeral of the king. Indeed, there are only two instances where the most powerful people in the world have come to converge in the capital, most likely every time when a new sovereign is crowned, when his reign is welcomed in warm reception by his subjects and all the peoples in the world, and when his reign and life folds, when he is brought to his final resting place. It is a sign of the respect that he had earned and the affection of the subjects that he had served so loyally and the people he met while on duty.

The king's coffin was carried along the streets of London, escorted by four princes, his eldest brother, the duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII who abdicated and surrendered the reins of the kingdom to his younger, reluctant brother. This was the first time that the former king had returned to Britain after many years of living in Paris. With him are his younger brother, the duke of Gloucester, nephew duke of Kent, and the queen's husband, the duke of Edinburgh.

One important member of the royal family who did not show up at the funeral was Queen Mary. The cortege passed at Marlborough House though, and as it progressed, the queen mother, the princess royal, and Princess Margaret leaned through the window of the Irish State Coach to take a glimpse of the grieving mother.

 The funeral procession ended at Paddington, where the king's remains were taken to Windsor by train at 12:20 pm.

The king was finally laid to rest at St. George's Chapel in Windsor. A brief service was held, and two minutes of silence was observed to pay final homage to the king, whose presence during the war, however burdensome it was for his part, boosted the country's morale. The coffin was draped in red, blue and gold of the Royal Standard. It was laid with the Imperial State Crown, the Gold Orb, the Sceptre, the Insignia of the Order of the Garter and a wreath of white orchids, white lilies, and white carnation, the queen mother's final gift to her husband as she bid farewell. The card read: “For darling Bertie, from his always loving Elizabeth.”

Almost after the funeral, Queen Elizabeth II and her family moved to Buckingham Palace. The queen mother transferred to Clarence House. She was joined in by Princess Margaret. The royal family settled at the Belgian Suite located at the palace's ground floor. Today, that part is reserved as accommodation for visiting heads of state.

The first important pronouncement that the queen made at the onset of her reign was to declare and clarify her husband's position in the realm. On Sept. 30, it was announced: “The Queen has been graciously pleased by Warrant bearing date the 18th instant to declare and ordain that His Royal Highness Philip Duke of Edinburgh... shall henceforth upon all occassions... except where otherwise provided by Act of Parliament have, hold and enjoy, Place, Pre-eminence and Precedence next to Her Majesty.”

In effect, the prince would be the second to swear allegiance to Her Majesty on her coronation, after the archbishop of Canterbury.    

Photo Sources and References:

British Broadcasting Center. 1952: King George is Laid to Rest., retrieved Feb. 10, 2012.

De Souza, R. J. (2012, Feb. 9). Three queens, full of sorrow. National Post, , retrieved, Feb 10, 2012.

Mount, H. (2012, Feb. 6). Diamond Jubilee – The King is Dead – long live the Queen. The Telegraph., retrieved Feb. 10, 2012

Museum of London. Funeral Procession of King George VI. , retrived Feb. 10, 2012.


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