I spent Monday morning watching Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. There is something about the majesty of watching 152 members of the Royal Navy pull a gun carriage carrying the Queen’s coffin through the streets of London that is spectacular. The British know how to do funerals.
As an American, I felt little sense of loss, but the solemnity of the event engaged me. I knew that I was watching something special. I also know that it is unlikely that I will see another funeral like it in my lifetime.
Queen Elizabeth’s reign was remarkable, and, by most accounts, she was a good person. I do not object to Great Britain honoring her with a ten-day farewell but was reminded of why America is fortunate not to be a monarchy. We do not celebrate deceased leaders the way the British do. A funeral service remotely like that of Queen Elizabeth’s here would prompt widespread protests.
Dare I say that the Queen’s funeral was not only a celebration of the past, but also a fantasy about the past? If we did not know that Great Britain is today a struggling European country amid a tough economic crisis, one might assume Britain is the most powerful, important country in the world. Watching the ceremony, one might also not realize that the Queen did not rule Great Britain. That would be Parliament and its Prime Minister. The monarch is purely ceremonial. That is why it really does not matter who is King or Queen.
Who are all those soldiers, dressed in dozens of different uniforms? The procession on Monday even included Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They and the dozens of other colorfully costumed groups are interesting to watch, but what do they do when not participating in a once in 70-year funeral? How many ceremonial groups and bands does a small island nation need?
I have read a bit about the cost of the funeral. It is substantial at around $10 million, but the funeral is only part of the total costs associated with the Queen’s passing and the ascension of Charles to the throne. Later this year, Britain will hold an elaborate coronation ceremony. And British money and stamps will be changed to feature an image of King Charles III instead of the late Queen. One estimate I read, suggested the total costs of the transition from Queen Elizabeth to the new King will cost over $6 billion. That seems high to me, but the British do not seem to skimp on funerals and honoring the monarchy.
I hope it is not disrespectful to comment that the money might have been better spent elsewhere. There are a lot of people in England who could have used the funds.
In addition to thinking the ceremony was overdone, I also reflected on two funeral services, one that I saw personally and one that I did not. The first was the funeral of John F. Kennedy. It was also grand. I suspect it was as close as an American presidential funeral got to what we saw Monday (and the nine previous days) since Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. That reflects well on America. Grand state funerals for assassinated presidents’ funerals are appropriate. When JFK and Lincoln were murdered there was genuine grief throughout the land. The funerals helped reconcile Americans to the sudden loss of their leader.
I also thought about the funeral of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Per his own instructions, there was no public funeral for Armstrong. He was buried at sea. There was no television coverage. A simple ceremony, not materially different from what might be given to a sailor who died at sea, was held.
I wonder who humankind will remember more in 500 years? The Queen or the first man to walk on the moon? I suspect it will be the latter.
Reports suggest that Queen Elizabeth planned “every detail” of her funeral. I might find that hard to believe, but she had 70 years to do so. Dare I say the time might have been better spent?
I salute Queen Elizabeth, but I don’t salute her funeral.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.