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A very British Hajj The mourning was not only for the Queen

Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty


September 20, 2022   6 mins

A verdigris statue of Queen Victoria, palming an orb, stands watch at the top of Hill Street, Windsor. On the morning of the funeral her hollow metal eyes blankly stare down the road. The sky is a rolling surf grey.

For a millennium there were Royal Sieges, Royal Weddings, and Royal Jubilees at Windsor. But nothing, in living memory, like this Royal Funeral; the Queen — a most revered and respected and beloved Queen — was to be buried within the King George VI memorial chapel. A million-strong crowd was expected. An invading wave of grief vaster than any the authorities had planned for, and more than Windsor could really take. A unique British Hajj.

It was standard for locals to see the Queen in Windsor. This is a Royal borough — the Firm owns 4,500 acres —  and the family took its name from the town. In return, the town received the Real Presence of Her Majesty, riding in horses in the park, or wheeling over asphalt in a Land Rover to her chapel. Windsor was charged with glamour by association.

After Elizabeth died, the town whirled into action: the paranoid iron railings, camera cranes and subcontracted stewards, whose hasty assembly marks every major public spectacle in the Kingdom, appeared. This was the heartland of the grieving process.

When the Queen was crowned, in 1953, a third of her subjects believed she was placed on the throne by God. There was no foreign travel, no wine, no Lady Chatterley’s Lover. No real teeth in the mouths of half the adult population. Stalin ruled Russia and virtually the whole of Africa belonged to Europe. The British had just informed the UN that they did not see how it was possible to abolish flogging in their mandated territories, thank you very much.

Yesterday, there were thousands of people everywhere. Then thousands more. Walking from Slough and Staines through the misty morning, along closed roads, past tent cities set up for stewards in the greens around the town. More streamed in for the funeral.

The crowds are candidly patriotic. Monarchy is something they feel in their bodies. It is a powerful internal force, not a theory, not an idea. It’s an obvious decision: take the pram, and the dogs, to Windsor. They say the Queen was theirs. They say the same things, over and over: we expected her to go on forever; we knew her all our lives; we wanted to pay our respects. Trails of flowers are left, under trees, under the hard glare of the castle walls.

I’m reminded of Walter Bagehot, Monarchy’s most supercilious theorist. For the Kingdom, he said, the monarch was simply “a visible symbol of unity to those so imperfectly educated as to need a symbol”. The portraits of Queen Elizabeth, hung in every shop window across the town — including the Thai Massage parlour — are pure symbolism. She looks as exact and fictitious as the lines on a map. People are not always sure what to do when a symbol dies. I’m told they almost ran out of champagne in The Ivy Windsor on September 8. Hallowed British etiquette: if in doubt, drink.

Otherwise, a child walks up to one Elizabeth in an estate agent’s window, stops, pulls a handful of conkers from her pocket, and lays them there in a small line below the image. An offering. Walking around Windsor, Bagehot would have thought himself vindicated.

Yet he was too cynical. Being a fantasy does not make this unreal.When you speak to enough mourners, you realise Elizabeth was more than symbol. She was not abstract to Lee, a huge bull-thick slab of a man who is in charge of the catering in the Great Park. He cooked for the Queen twice when he was a chef in the Army. “She sat in the mess with 400 blokes, like anybody would.” The recollection cuts him somehow. “She remembered my name, three years after the first time we met.”

Or David, a garrulous ex-guardsman, who is on his third wreath-laying trip to Windsor this week. Tourists are making him pose outside the castle gates with a corgi. He served in the household division. The Queen was as regular as post in his life for 18 months. What was she like? The memory enters his face and complicates his bonhomie. “She was
 strict.” He always feared she would have him locked in a cell if he slouched on the parade ground.

Elizabeth was the people’s to make of her what they will. I begin to lose count of the number of mourners who compare her with their mothers, or grandmothers. “It’s like losing her all over again”, says one woman.

The mourning is not exclusively for the Queen then. It’s for them, and their families. They relate the Queen’s pain to their own; somehow this is the same pain their grandmothers felt. They saw them ground down by life and imagine that was the Queen’s fate too. All these grandmothers, never-ending in our heads, amen.

A thick human hedgerow grows in two parallel lines up and down the Long Walk. We watch the funeral on jumbo screens. The silence here can straighten shoulders. When we sing God Save the King, the words feel curious in our mouths. Someone stumbles off to cry behind a portaloo.

Grace tugs the edge of her Union Jack shawl. She came to Britain from Ghana in 1985. “I am the Commonwealth”, she says. A producer from ITV keeps calling her, begging her to come to London to be interviewed. But Grace wants to be in Windsor. She turns her phone off.

“We have a saying in my country: when the frog dies you will know the length of the frog.” I ask her what sort of frog Elizabeth was. “A very good frog”, says Grace. “The best frog.”

She tells me to wait under a tree, and returns with a cardboard cut-out, clearly well-used, of the Queen. “The moon and the stars will follow her,” Grace intones, posing for photos with machine-gun-bearing police officers.

After midday, we stand at the top of the Long Walk, waiting for the procession. There is static in the air. People say things out of nowhere. “Arlo, please stop, or I shall strap you in the pram.” Somebody says she will freeze her Bramley apples. “Once she’s in there, that’s it, it’s over — it’s over there, you can see the chapel.” Another, thinking ahead, wonders how long it will take to get back to Paddington.

A row of notables, in a dream of hierarchy, stands on the opposite side of the walk. They are wearing furs, white gloves, and spotless ruffs. On our side, there are no pearls, only Sandra handing rice crackers to perfect strangers. The first thing she did when the Queen died was post a poem on Facebook. They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old
 “Me and Paul watched it all on the telly, everything”, she says. “There was so much we never knew.” She talks about the Queen like a song she can’t remember the words to. The telly told her to come to Windsor, so now she is forcing a rice cracker into my hands.

All of us shaped by television and language and the jokes we share, have never had so much in common: we are waiting on this smooth baize runway, in the sun, to watch her go home. And we are sharing the same frustrations in this crowd, which is ten heads deep. The same elbows in our faces, the same children crying and rustling; the irritations and bathos and peevishness, all the subterranean currents that flow beneath the splendour. Time feels like it’s buffering. Sandra sighs. There will be no more rice cakes.

It begins with a soldierly bellow. Then, hush. Then the squashed pom-pom thud of cannon half a mile away. They scatter rooks from the elm-trees, who corkscrew overhead. People tell each other to look.

Look: the procession glints in the far distance. It moves into clarity. Cavalry in outline, a haze of red wool, eerie piping. Everybody is filming the slow, square marchers. Everybody wraps chains around these minutes, to keep them alive, to keep her with them.

They are filming the old style, the British high idiom, bury the Queen. Pageantry separate in kind and scale to any they have seen before, or will ever see again. A precious echo of the country this used to be. All this power kept in reserve for today. There are flashing swords, gorgeous armour, and blazing uniforms, but gentleness is the overwhelming impression. Militarism to send off a Grandmother, not to project power. Grief, not anger. We are its witnesses.

When the crown is level with my face there is so much brass in the air you can taste the metal. People close their eyes to stretch the crowded seconds out. The music rings flawlessly in a dozen directions. Skin and bone absorb the moment. A key is turned. History has been released from reality.

The car wheezes forward for the last time, followed by four billion eyes, through the gates of Windsor Castle. The Queen is swept along and swept up into the cheerful English heaven she believed in. She takes her final seat in the stands, with Charles I and George III, Henry VIII and Victoria, and all the others, even poor King John.

As dusk fell, we sloped back down the Long Walk, and the thumping drums faded away. Screens showed the Queen alive, accepting some carnations from school children. Elizabeth had no grand idea. No message of hope and change. No calls to arms. Her life was blockaded by duty. She seemed to ask nothing of us but to do ours too.


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Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

Her life was blockaded by duty. She seemed to ask nothing of us but to do ours too.
Ah yes, duty, that four letter word, turn away in embarrassment when you utter it. In this brave, new,modern world we have no need of old-fashioned ideas like duty, pietas, dharma, these are for the poor benighted heathens who have yet to awaken to this glorious new era. If such a thing does exist at all today it is a duty to oneself and oneself alone, why should we blockade ourselves with a duty to serve others?

Last edited 1 year ago by Linda Hutchinson
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Splendid, thank you.

John Hicks
John Hicks
1 year ago

Reason enough why the political class can only scratch their heads in wonderment at these strange going-ons. Thank you Linda.

Philip James Barber
Philip James Barber
1 year ago

Duty and service are very much alive in those of us who have had the privilege to serve in the armed forces and many of us are Christians not heathens either. We continue to try and live by those principles in subsequent civilian employment, which is why we rail at some many of our colleagues and trades people who so often espouse a creed of “good enough to get by”. We have her Majesty to thank for that. Did I see a few Heads of States shifting uncomfrotably in their seats in the Abbey, when they realised during the Archbishop’s address just how far short they fell of her Majesty’s standards of behaviour and how unlikely it was that they would be remebered thus?

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago

Listened to the ghastly Trudeau talking about the late Queen. How marvellous their “little chats” were. How well she listened. Well, yup, a clear contrast to a PM who long ago stopped listening to his citizens.

Unutterable creep.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Poynton

If I ever attend a fancy dress party again, I’m going to black up and go as Trudeau.
Sorry, I mean Black up.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

One od the few groups of people who still have any conception of duty and honour (by honour I don’t mean killing your sister).

I thought his sermon was rather pointed, too; they should have squirmed.

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
1 year ago

I hopr they did it made me laugh to contemplate it.

David Bell
David Bell
1 year ago

Yet Welby is hardly qualified to give moralising sermons to others.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  David Bell

I have missed something; why is he not qualified?

David Bell
David Bell
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Reasons too numerous to list. Just google ‘Justin Welby controversies’ to find out.

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
1 year ago

I do hope so, I was looking but they were not in shot.

Michael Furse
Michael Furse
1 year ago

Because on that is everything good founded. Putting the other before oneself is the core of civilisation. That you (no doubt ironically) feel obliged to state the mantra of others requires a response, hopefully the one that you believe.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

I bet more than 30% would agree today the Elizabeth was chosen by God. We are not so different from our grandparents. Those people that Orwell famously described as preferring to be caught stealing from the poor box than standing to attention for the national anthem were around in the 1930s as now.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Can you explain why God only chooses a monarch from the same family?

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

God chose the best brother from the family, didn’t he?

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

I wouldn’t dare to presume to explain His actions.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Sacred Mystery..

Jeremy Poynton
Jeremy Poynton
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

History shows otherwise, no?

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Our Monarchs haven’t all come from a single dynasty.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

A bit late to your rain shower, sorry. It’s because being a child of a father and mother is a definite fact, whereas the perceived goodness of individual politicians is by no means such an undiluted fact. Hereditary choice stops endless years, nay decades, of wrangling. Why that mother and father and child (well, why any mother, father or child. It doesnt matter)?
One of the good things about life which makes it easier is that certain things are beyond our choice (looks, intelligence, bodily health, likeability). Therefore the only thing to do with them is accept them as unchangeable ‘givens’ of living and continue on.
So disposing of that as the least interesting of questions, we move to consider what protections we have, constitutionally, against the said child of such mothers and fathers, and the answer is: “Quite a few, actually”.

Last edited 1 year ago by Arnold Grutt
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

Best line in the essay. “a visible symbol of unity to those so imperfectly educated as to need a symbol”.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

Why Hajj? What on earth is wrong with you people?

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Katy Hibbert
Katy Hibbert
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Precisely. A Hajj is an event where people get trampled to death running round a stone and worshipping a murdering paedo. How unlike the home life of our own dear Queen.

Ukunda Vill
Ukunda Vill
1 year ago
Reply to  Katy Hibbert

You’ve spent a little time on earth and haven’t learnt anything. Sorry for your loss.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

One feels there is a fundmental bitterness on the part of the author ….

David Bell
David Bell
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Indeed, a totally inappropriate analogy.

David Simpson
David Simpson
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

All he intended, was that it was a pilgrimage, but that word is much abused. A sacred rite, a duty, something done once in a lifetime

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  David Simpson

I know what he meant. The use of the word was so unnecessary, but he and the editors chose to use it. There’s no explanation for using a word that’s at odds with the subject of the story and the people reading it. They are either being very pretentious (some sort of intellectual superiority, or daring, with language), or just plain stupid. In the end they’re just stupid.

B G
B G
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

I’m not so sure. Haj didn’t give me a moment’s cognitive dissonance. A good anologue of bovine, non-critical, non-thinking mass hysteria and the same baying and spitting outrage if anyone dares to criticise it.

I know what I’m writing is unfashionable, especially amongst those that feel old, angry, past it, ignored and irrelevant – but being rational and reasoning seems to be a bit passĂ© at the moment.

Cling on to your old symbols if you must – but the rest of the world cracks on with modernity while too many of us back in Blighty wallow in misplaced exceptionalism.

Patrick Heren
Patrick Heren
1 year ago

A charming evocation of an extraordinary time. But words matter and this wasn’t a Hajj. Britain is still a Christian country, as the Queen’s obsequies demonstrated. Christians go on Pilgrimage, even today and in larger numbers than the media understand: to the Holy Land, Rome, Compostela, Walsingham, Lourdes, Guadelupe, and many other devotional destinations.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Patrick Heren

Use of such words is intended to deliberately inflame, and are best ignored.
I’m convinced that Will Lloyd makes up many of his so-called examples of what actually happens on the ground, to fit his narrative. This article isn’t the first example of this. My view is that his contributions are deliberate click-bait by Unherd. Poor quality, sanctimonious and in former times might just scrape a third at an unranked university, if the marker was drunk.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I think you are right. His “Thud of pom-poms – they go pom-pom-pom not thud. Like the American reporter (NY Times?) on “Jan 06” was going on about the thud of concussion grenades.

Katy Hibbert
Katy Hibbert
1 year ago

This was a good article, but marred by the title and the sentence “A unique British Hajj.”
English has a perfectly good word – “pilgrimage”, which is nothing like a Hajj, and it is completely wrong to associate the Queen’s funeral in any way with a vile and inhuman ideology – I won’t dignify it with the word “religion” – whose so-called prophet was a mass murderer and a violator of little girls.
Islam is a disgusting ideology, which has brought misery to every country it has infested. And it treats women far worse than animals. No Muslim country would allow a woman to be head of state – in many such countries she has no freedom at all.

Kevin R
Kevin R
1 year ago
Reply to  Katy Hibbert

Hang on a minute; is this the Daily Mail comments section?

B G
B G
1 year ago
Reply to  Katy Hibbert

For a moment there, I thought you were talking about the British Empire. Sorry – my bad. It’s just comedy, masquerading as bigoted nonsense. Great joke – razor sharp irony. Well done.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

“ 
 the monarch was simply “a visible symbol of unity to those so imperfectly educated as to need a symbol”. 
Maybe that’s true. When Elizabeth was crowned, one third of the people believed she was chosen by God. Is that figure correct? It seems to me to be on the low side, I imagine it was a lot more.
”The imperfectly educated” needed something simple to understand. But I don’t think the idea of a Queen being chosen by God is necessarily simple, or that believing in it is simple. The idea of the Queen as a visible symbol of unity is very sophisticated. These are the people, her people, and she their Queen. They both understood that relationship, which is why they poured into the streets. So yes, a symbol. But not so simple. It’s a symptom of the age to turn this relationship into something merely symbolic, or meaningless; the modern mind, always doubting what it sees.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Maureen Newman
Maureen Newman
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

“The imperfectly educated”? “God has chosen the ‘foolish’ to confound the wise”. 1 Corinthians 1v27

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

I’m one of the “imperfectly educated”, as I have always seen her as a symbol of this nation. I could never see any politician as such, even if I voted for him or her, as perhaps half the population did not.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago

I agree; someone who has been elected by part of the nation cannot represent the whole nation as can an unelected head of state.

Tony Sandy
Tony Sandy
1 year ago

Together we stand
Divided we fall.
On our own we’re nothing
Together we’re all.

A society is coordinated action, not a free for all, seeking individual recognition or the spoils of war. We build together but pull down the world through selfish ego. The Queen knew that and the Queen lived that reality but her detractors and those who attack the empire she was head of forget that. True people died because of this but also there are people who are alive today, who would not be because of the empire, including those that attack the monarchy now. Like a grim version of Monty Python and ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ We can only say forgive them lord for they know not what they do.

Last edited 1 year ago by Tony Sandy
James Lemons
James Lemons
1 year ago

I’ve heard it repeated we’ll never see her like again, and it’s true. True only because our secular values have atomised religion to something quaint and curious, where once it was grand and majestic.
Conventional liberalism will have the monarchy stripped to the same skeleton. It will only stop once the final Beefeater outfit is folded and left for the moths, and the last King James passage devalued to a modern, inclusive impression of our great language.
She was perhaps the last living person whose hand still held grip on the age gone before us. Now that grip has been relinquished, a new age leers back at us, one of gleaming glass and plastic, with all things ancient buried like treasure that will never be found.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  James Lemons

Wonderfully stated. It seems like the passing of an age is now complete, sadly enough.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

In a world where businesses come and go, High Streets are pedestrianised, public fashions flicker past, and bandwagons are rolled out, the Queen endured. I suspect it was not tradition that people turned out for but the appreciation of continuity.

David Bell
David Bell
1 year ago

If it was a “Hajj”, then presumably Windsor is Mecca. Has Britain become that islamized?

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
1 year ago

Beautifully written piece. Bravo.

Mash Mallow
Mash Mallow
1 year ago

Sublime piece. Thank you Will.
Rip Your Majesty; my Commander in Chief.

John Bray
John Bray
1 year ago

The Queen’s funeral has been an overt display of soft power. You have the trinity of the church, monarch and military the defenders of the Christian faith, consequently it would seem it is there is stille a zeal to convert the world to Christianity destroying indigenous cultures in its wake. This zeal that drove Empire and way back to the Crusades and beyond. Like Constantine the church is being used as control to place one ahead of the pack. It may be a little more subtle now but it is still happening and alive and kicking

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  John Bray

“ 
 it would seem it is there is stille a zeal to convert the world to Christianity”
im not sure converting is the what’s happening here. Why is it pride in one’s own culture is viewed as the destruction of another? No doubt this happened. But what do you have to prove a funeral today is proof this is still happening? Seeming, in your eyes, is proof of nothing.

James Lemons
James Lemons
1 year ago
Reply to  John Bray

Is there a zeal, or are you projecting your own burden of guilt for the actions of your ancestors’ upon a modern day Christian funeral?
Yesterday was all the more solemn as it could be one of the final throes of Christianity’s demise in Britain.
I’m sure The Queen possessed more faith in her little finger nail than any of her family or the population at large.
The British Empire, while not perfect, was far less cruel and far more beneficial than other European empires.

Frederick Dixon
Frederick Dixon
1 year ago
Reply to  James Lemons

Rather more beneficial I suggest than the Ottoman Empire as it subjected and enslaved half of Europe.

Oliver Nicholson
Oliver Nicholson
1 year ago
Reply to  John Bray

I fail to see how last Monday’s observances were anything other than an enactment of the culture of the United Kingdom, indigenous for over a thousand years.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

He apparently believes that only certain empires should be allowed to thrive and conquer, and is unaware that the history of mankind is nothing more than empire building and war.