By Graham Kings
The Queen is dead. Long live the King.
These ancient, traditional words turn amidst the churning. Simultaneously, they brusquely announce a heart-rending fact and joyfully pronounce a rightful succession.
I was moved to tears as I said them to a friend on Thursday September 8, 2022. No arguments about who succeeds and when the transition takes place: it is the heir to the throne and it is instantaneous. Not at the Accession Council, nor the Coronation, but at death.
Death and resurrection are embedded in Christian thought and life and this is mirrored in these strange words. The sad death of Queen Elizabeth II was performative in action. Charles III thus, and then, became King.
The period of mourning from that Thursday to the State Funeral, on Monday September 19, interwove grief and bereavement with remembrance and new life.
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote:
Her clarity of thinking, capacity for careful listening, inquiring mind, humour, remarkable memory and extraordinary kindness invariably left me conscious of the blessing that she has been to us all.
His predecessor, Rowan Williams, reflected in the journal First Things on the significance of the Queen being anointed during her Coronation:
Anointing — in baptism or ordination — signifies that someone is being given a new place in the community of God’s people. It is not a job description, nor is it a blank check for power and privilege. It creates a relationship, with God and with the community of faith, and promises grace to make that relationship live and thrive.
Her humor came out memorably in her extraordinary participation in the James Bond and the Paddington Bear comedy sketches for the opening of the London Olympics in 2012 and the Platinum Jubilee, of 2022. Frank Cottrell-Boyce was involved in script-writing both films and he has described how there was no intention for her to appear in the first one:
The producer Tracey Seaward went to what she thought would be a routine meeting at the palace to ask what the Queen would be wearing so that our actress could dress like her. It was the Queen’s dresser, Angela Kelly, who said: “Oh, she wants to be in it.” The way director Danny Boyle timed that turn of the head – that great reveal, “my God, it’s really her” — means that 10 years on, it’s one of her defining moments.
A similar moment occurred in the film of Paddington Bear having tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. In response to Paddington producing a marmalade sandwich, she produced one to match it, from her handbag. Cottrell-Boyce mentions that Jesus’s parable in Matthew chapter 25 (verses 31-46) lay behind his script:
But Paddington is an evacuee, a refugee, one-time prisoner, pretty much every category of need that is mentioned in Matthew 25. Here, he is being welcomed with tea and good manners. This is a strong statement of a set of values that are not uncontested in the corridors of power. To have them exemplified so joyfully at such a moment meant something.
“Dying is probably not as bad as you are expecting” was the significant, startling phrase at the beginning of perceptive short BBC program, two years ago, on normal human dying. It was presented by Dr Kathryn Mannix, a retired palliative care doctor. She described sensitively, factually and lovingly the series of moments as death approaches.
Her Twitter thread on the death of the Queen was widely retweeted, and began with the words:
What can we learn from the death of the #Queen? The world watched her live through the process of #OrdinaryDying, and yet dying went unspoken, unnamed. Let’s notice what nobody mentioned: we all saw the Queen going through the stages of ordinary dying.
New Anthem for a Vigil
In trying to pray, on hearing of the approaching death of the Queen, I returned to the Book of Common Prayer and its “Prayer for the Queen’s Majesty” at Morning and Evening Prayer. In my ancient copy it names Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702-1714. It finishes:
endue her plenteously with heavenly gifts;
grant her in health and wealth long to live;
strengthen her that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies;
and finally, after this life, she may attain everlasting joy and felicity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
A few years ago, I noticed the similarity of this prayer to Miles Coverdale’s translation of Psalm 21 (used in the BCP), which is a prayer about King David and includes the phrases “everlasting felicity” and “the joy of thy countenance.” Professor Micheline White, a Canadian scholar, discovered in 2015 that Queen Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife, was the author of this prayer, which was later included in the BCP.
Drawing on Psalm 21, and echoing the end of The Prayer for the Queen’s Majesty, I wrote the following on September 12:
You set a crown of pure gold on her head.
She asked for life of you and you gave her long life.
You shall give her everlasting felicity
and make her glad with the joy of your countenance.
On September 13 and 14, the Cambridge composer with whom I had worked on the anthems “Women in the Bible,” Tristan Latchford, set the words to music. On Sunday September 18 at 5:00pm the anthem “Elizabeth the Gracious” was sung at the Vigil Service of St. Bartholomew-the-Great in the City of London. Tristan was present and the Rector, Marcus Walker, asked me to give the blessing.
State Funeral and Committal
The Queen lay in State in Westminster Hall for fours days, and about 250,000 people paid their respects, queuing sometimes for five miles. The 24/7 live feed was poignant and meditative, showing a mixture of elaborate uniforms and people from all walks of life. The queue became a pilgrimage.
The State Funeral at Westminster Abbey and Committal at St. George’s Chapel Windsor on Monday September 19 were profound. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in his sermon included the sentence:
Those who love and serve will be loved and remembered longer than those who cling to power and privilege are long forgotten.
Two new anthems, by Judith Weir and James MacMillan, and traditional hymns, were sung. Ecumenical leaders of a range of churches, led the intercessions, and representatives of many faiths were in the congregation.
The two minutes silence near the end of the service, between the trumpeters playing of the Last Post and the Reveille, seemed to me to resonate with Holy Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Day. The National Anthem, God Save the King, was moving in the midst of Charles III’s mourning.
The coffin was carried on a gun carriage, pulled by young sailors from the Royal Navy, from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch, near Hyde Park Corner and there was transferred to a hearse for the journey to Windsor. Some of the flowers, strewn by people en route, were still on the roof of the hearse when it arrived at Windsor Castle.
In St. George’s Chapel, the coffin went in but did not come out. At the end of a short service, the crown, scepter and orb were moved from the coffin to the altar. Then, to replace them, King Charles III placed a small flag, denoting the Queen’s presence, on his mother’s coffin and the Lord Chamberlain dramatically broke his wand of office and set it on the flag.
Her oak casket was electronically lowered through the floor of the chapel to the Royal Vault beneath. A lone bagpiper played in a side aisle and the sound gradually faded, as he left the chapel.
Elizabeth the Gracious was buried. Long live King Charles III.