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Planning for “London Bridge”

Victoria’s coronation: actually “nothing to write home about”

The first plans for what would happen when the Queen died “date back to the 1960s”, says Sam Knight in The Guardian. Ever since, the various parties involved – “around a dozen government departments, the police, army, broadcasters and the Royal Parks” – have been meeting two or three times a year to refine the protocols, codenamed “London Bridge”. They involve “arcane and highly specific knowledge”. A slow march from the doors of St James’s to the entrance of Westminster Hall takes 28 minutes. The coffin “must have a false lid, to hold the crown jewels, with a rim at least three inches high”. Succession is, and has always been, “part of the job”. Queen Victoria had decided on the contents of her coffin 26 years before her death. “The Queen mother’s funeral was rehearsed for 22 years.”

Royal spectacle wasn’t always this well-run. “At the funeral of Princess Charlotte, in 1817, the undertakers were drunk.” Ten years later, the funeral for the Duke of York was so cold that “George Canning, the foreign secretary, contracted rheumatic fever and the bishop of London died”. Victoria’s coronation in 1838 was “nothing to write home about”: the clergy muddled their words, the singing was dreadful, and the jewellers made the ring for the wrong finger. “Some nations have a gift for ceremonial,” the Marquess of Salisbury wrote in 1860. “In England the case is exactly the reverse.” Nowadays, no one does it better.

Read the full piece here.