Column: Amid the pageantry and corgis, what made the queen’s funeral extraordinary was silence

King Charles III follows behind the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II as it is carried out of Westminster Abbey.
King Charles III follows behind the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II as it is carried out of Westminster Abbey. The hours-long ceremony reminded viewers of the power of silence.
(WPA Pool / Getty Images)

On Monday morning London time, an unprecedented hours-long ceremony began as the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II was borne in splendid procession from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey, where the royal family, hundreds of Britain’s leaders and heads of state from around the world attended the funeral service for England’s longest-reigning monarch. As the nation and the world paid their respects, the coffin was then taken with somber yet celebratory pageantry past Buckingham Palace to the Wellington Arch, where it was transferred to a hearse and driven to Windsor Castle. Like millions of others, Times columnist Mary McNamara and reporter Meredith Blake had many thoughts and feelings as they watched.

Mary McNamara: Since the queen’s death 10 days ago, many Americans have wondered why we should spend hours of national television mourning a foreign monarch, particularly one whose country has been so long rooted in colonialism and whose family had been riddled by scandal. But — like the monarchy or not — Elizabeth II has been the queen as long as most of us have been alive, providing a living bridge from the last century to this. A young woman forced into lifelong service by the abdication of one king and the early death of another is the stuff of epic poetry, fairy tales and, of course “The Crown,” to which millions have been glued for six years.

The opportunity to see the nation that gave us Shakespeare and “Big Brother” pull out all its considerable bells and whistles to mourn her passing was something that could not be missed — and did not disappoint.


From the moment the Massed Pipes and Drums band, in the dress kilts of the Scottish and Irish regiments, began the procession with that plaintive music many associate with the Balmoral-loving queen, to the shot of her pony Emma and corgis Muick and Sandy waiting for her at Windsor, it was a sight — and sound — that could not happen anywhere else but Great Britain.

Honestly, those corgis killed me; you know they miss her most.

Reporting from Los Angeles, New York, London and Mumbai, The Times provided complete coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral, as it happened.

Sept. 19, 2022

The Royal Company of the Archers with their tam-o’-shanter hats, the Yeomen of the Guard in their beefeater red and gold, the Gentlemen at Arms under helmets bedecked in swan feathers and, of course, phalanx after phalanx of the now-Kings Guard in their signature pillars of black bear skin — the headgear alone was worth staying up ‘til 1 a.m. to watch the prep and procession. Also, I secretly long to be a royal archer.

Meredith Blake: I was struck countless times by the meticulous planning that went into every aspect of the ceremony: the Grenadier pallbearers who raised the queen’s coffin with the fluid precision of a hydraulic lift to the gleaming royal hearse; the Jaguar covered in utterly smudge-free glass and designed by the queen herself; the choir boys at Westminster Abbey with perfectly cherubic curls. A word that kept coming up on TV was “seamless,” and the funeral — or at least the version of it that made it to TV — did feel almost preternaturally free of visible human error. (The horse droppings that littered the otherwise pristine streets of London was a useful reminder that nature plays by its own rules). No one put a foot wrong (literally). Not even Prince Andrew.

But to me the greatest feat of the day wasn’t all the movement, it was the tremendous stillness. As a parent who can barely get my kids to sit still long enough to eat a bag of Pirate’s Booty, I marveled at Prince George and Princess Charlotte’s composure during a long, long day without so much as a minute of “Peppa Pig” or a single Pokemon card to distract them.

The kids — and, of course, the queen’s corgis — were the breakout stars of the day, if one can make such a claim about a funeral whose guests also included Sandra Oh. But their demeanor was part of an overriding sense of quiet — of steady and deliberate pacing — that marked the entire funeral. Flights in and out of Heathrow were suspended for part of the day to ensure the ceremony wasn’t marred by the deafening roar of jet engines. No one looked at their phones or seemed to be making small talk during the long ride to Windsor. (I kept checking to see whether the hearse driver would move his lips or even scratch his ear, and he didn’t.) The procession marched down the (very) Long Walk at Windsor Castle at a precise but unhurried pace: left … right … left … right … In arguably the greatest miracle of the day, even the pundits on American TV networks kept their mouths shut throughout the hour-long service at Westminster Abbey, which concluded with two minutes of silence across the United Kingdom.

It was a fitting tribute to a monarch who was a constant yet quiet presence in the lives of so many and understood that silence can be a powerful spectacle.


MM: I agree, and the BBC’s decision to air the entire procession without commentary made it a remarkable thing to watch. There mourners had gathered, some for hours, to sit in silence without a smartphone in sight; the queen’s last act on Earth may well be proving that there are still some things that can be experienced without obsessively checking Twitter or Instagram.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden also waited patiently for some minutes in the Abbey’s doorway. For security reasons they had come in a separate vehicle, known as the Beast, that got stuck in traffic, sitting for minutes, according to one deliciously precise account, in front of a Pret a Manger on Oxford Street. When they arrived late, the procession had already begun, so they had to cool their heels in the doorway before being seated. Timed to the minute, this funeral waited for no man, or president.

Queen Elizabeth II was remembered and honored by hundreds of thousands of people in London on Monday. Here are five highlights from the state funeral.

Sept. 19, 2022

When members of the royal family who followed the casket — Princess Anne looking particularly regal in her Royal Navy dress uniform and Prince Harry’s ginger head shining like a beacon — were joined at the church by their spouses and children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte must have given even the most ardent anti-royalist pause.

The children brought a particularly emotional edge to the grief — at one point Princess Charlotte burst into tears — but as you say, they also served as reminder of how long, solemn and extraordinary this event was. On American networks, anchors remained mercifully silent during the funeral, but the moment the organ music swelled into recessional, they began offering details — that the card on top of the casket was a note from King Charles III — and, in a few cases, commenting on just how long this was all going to take.

Besides the obvious response — the queen gave her country and the world 70 years; her country and the world can certainly surrender seven hours — the power of this ritual was its length. Yes, news was happening elsewhere, including an earthquake in Mexico and a devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, but this moment in history was, in fact, history in a moment. For all her country’s failings, for all her family’s scandals, Queen Elizabeth was, as the Bard wrote, an ever fixed mark, who looked upon tempests and was never shaken. She was also a woman who survived more than 90 years in the spotlight, who still loved dogs, horses, her grandchildren and a good James Bond joke.

if her passing is not worth marking with time, silent attention and all the gold braid that could be found in the United Kingdom and nations of the Commonwealth, what is? Though I do hope the people who planned and executed it, particularly those pallbearers, are out having more than a few pints somewhere right now.


MB: I do wish more of the royal experts and biographers on American television had followed the queen’s lead and embraced the power of silence, or at least stuck to explaining arcane details of the ceremony for those of us who were too glued to our TVs to Google “what is wand-breaking?” A drop or two of healthy skepticism about the role of the monarchy in a country facing intense economic hardship might have gone a long way too.

Let’s put an end to the debate over what can be said about the Queen.

Sept. 14, 2022

Instead, we were reminded umpteen times about the weight of the day — or, in at least one case, the literal weight of the queen’s crown — and forced to listen to speculation about the thoughts going through the mind of a 9-year-old boy at his great-grandmother’s funeral.

I suppose they had to find something to talk about for several hours as the hearse wound its way through London and across the M4 to Windsor, past a sea of humanity that included old men, squirming toddlers and at least one woman with an ankh facial tattoo.

But in most cases, not surprisingly, the most illuminating commentary came from people who knew the queen personally — or at least, worked closely with her. On NBC, her former press secretary Simon Lewis shared a story about introducing his newborn baby to the queen, who noted wryly, “He’s rather hefty” — proving just how much you can say with a few words.