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The Queen shows the democracy of death Her funeral will be unsentimental and ordinary

The Coffin Carrying Queen Elizabeth II Is Transferred From Buckingham Palace To The Palace Of Westminster

The Coffin Carrying Queen Elizabeth II Is Transferred From Buckingham Palace To The Palace Of Westminster


September 19, 2022   5 mins

Edward VII was the first monarch to lie in state in Westminster Hall. Half a million people queued up to see the King over those three days in May 1910, many of them in the rain. Our late Queen will have double that; some bowing, some kneeling, some crossing themselves with a prayer. Edward VII’s funeral was also the first time that Big Ben sounded for this occasion, a gong for each year of the monarch’s life. He was fond of his claret and smoked 20 a day, so the bell didn’t toll as many times as it did for Elizabeth.

But, for all these innovations, the most culturally influential thing that happened over that long weekend was probably a sermon preached over at St Paul’s Cathedral by Canon Henry Scott Holland.

You will know the words. I know them by heart, having used them countless times at the crematorium. They still constitute one of the most requested texts at funerals. Yet few people are aware that they are taken from a sermon. Rarely can a text have been so butchered in interpretation. Taken out of context and written in swirly script on saccharine condolence cards, one sentence per line, as if it were a poem, this text came to be presented as meaning almost the opposite of what was intended:

“Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I, and you are you, 
 whatever we were to each other, that we are still.”

Within a decade, millions of men would die in the trenches of northern France. Later, six million would be murdered in the Holocaust, and be slaughtered with the development of new weapons of war including the nuclear bomb. How could they keep on reading out “death is nothing at all”? What a ridiculous thing to say.

Yet the second half of the 20th century — perhaps because of the horror of the first half — ended up being the “death is nothing at all” era. Many people stopped wearing black at funerals. Guests were invited to wear something colourful to celebrate a life. “I don’t want people to be sad” is the thing I hear most often from the dying.

Most people of the post-war generation never saw a dead body, still less touched one. Whereas Victorians gathered around the bedside of their dying relatives, after the war, people started more and more to die, not at home, but in hospitals surrounded by bleeping equipment and medical professionals. The curtains came to be drawn around death. We protected our children from it. We told our dying relatives that they were going to get better. Then at the funeral we all smiled, played upbeat songs and said death wasn’t real. Death was eliminated from the public square.

It is crazy that a sermon preached on the occasion of the King lying in state could have come to express and propagate this sentiment because it is certainly not what Scott Holland meant at all. Here, for instance, is a latter bit of the same sermon:

“White light breaks itself against the blackness of a closed coffin, flung up before the eyes of all, to embody the irreparable disaster of a death which has touched the very heart of our National life
 Is this all that is left? Is this the end of that royal splendour of life? Ah, then death is a dreadful thing. It is blind. It is dumb.”

It’s not all that hard to see how the mistake was made. Holland was a Hegelian, and in typically Hegelian fashion he was doing a bit of dialectical thinking from the pulpit. “I suppose all of us hover between two ways of regarding death” is the opening line of his sermon. He then goes on to express these two ways. First the “all is vanity” approach: “It makes everything we do here meaningless and empty.” This is the thesis. Next comes the antithesis, which is the “death is nothing at all” bit. Finally, comes the synthesis – and I will come to that. The Scott Holland “poem” is thus only one side of the equation. What is absent is the cold dark emptiness of loss.

The Queen’s funeral will have little of “death is nothing at all” sentimentality about it. It will be properly serious, sombre, and mournful. The King of Terrors, as Holland titled his sermon, will have his due. The liturgy for the Queen will be from the Book of Common prayer. Reassuringly old-fashioned with the words of scripture magnificently vested in 17th century prose: “Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.” These are sentiments for ashen faces and broken hearts.

Like all proper Christian funerals, it expresses unambiguously that death is real. We are mortal creatures and we die. “As in Adam all die.” No qualification. God alone is immortal. Yet “so too in Christ shall all be made alive”. This is 1 Corinthians 15, and where thesis and antithesis come together gesturing — perhaps no more — towards some magnificent culmination, some synthesis where both death and life are true. Death and resurrection. It will be the first lesson of today’s service.

The extraordinary thing about the Queen’s funeral is that, when you strip away the fact that the congregation is full of monarchs and presidents, that it is in Westminster Abbey, and the sermon is by the Archbishop of Canterbury, what is being said here, and the form of liturgy that is being used is remarkably ordinary; in fact, very similar to the prayers and form of service that I use week in week out at the local crem. At its core, there is a democracy in death.

Her funeral will not be too long — the Queen hated long services — and it will be to the point. It will be dignified and unfussy. Away with the showy individualism of “I did it my way”, once the most popular song at funerals. The reason so many of us love the late Queen is precisely because she didn’t do it “my way”. The weight of vocation fell upon her shoulders, unbidden, unchosen. No wonder she chose The Lord’s my Shepherd, the 23rd Psalm, as one of the hymns for her funeral. “My head thou dost with oil anoint,” the congregation will sing, reminding us all of the coronation anointing, and of the promise the Queen made to serve both Christ and nation. It is indeed a pretty high calling. As the Dean of Westminster will say in his bidding prayer:

“Here, where Queen Elizabeth was married and crowned, we gather from across the nation, from the Commonwealth, and from the nations of the world, to mourn our loss, to remember her long life of selfless service, and in sure confidence to commit her to the mercy of God
 With gratitude we remember her unswerving commitment to a high calling over so many years.”

The final hymn of today’s service speaks of us casting “our crowns before thee”. The Queen has finally fulfilled her promise and laid down her office. Monarchy comes to an end. Only the king of kings prevails forever.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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andy young
andy young
1 year ago

I love Giles’ pieces, even when I disagree with them. He is a fundamentally good man.
As an aside, seeing clips of her when she was young, it struck me how ordinary she was, not gifted in any way – I could imagine her as a well-to-do middle class housewife getting on with a normal family life. Yet she was capable of extraordinary things by virtue of an extraordinary sense of duty & service. In that way she was someone we could all relate to & an example to follow in our everyday lives. We could relate to her, despite the surrounding pomp & circumstance, & she perhaps made us realise that being average was not such a bad thing. I believe it was the basis of a large part of her popularity.

Last edited 1 year ago by andy young
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  andy young

I gather she is on record as saying that had she not been Queen she would have liked to have been a farmer’s wife in the Forest of Bowland.

Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
1 year ago

I’ve recently read that she told President Hollande that she would have liked to have been an actress. His response: ‘Surely, you are an actress to some extent?’ HM, with a sigh: ‘Yes, but its always the same role.’
She certainly did a great job as a Bond girl.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Henry Haslam

She did indeed.

DA Johnson
DA Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  andy young

This is such an insightful comment–describing the Queen as an ordinary person with an “extraordinary sense of duty and service”, and as such, was “an example to follow in our everyday lives”. She was truly an inspiration.

Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
1 year ago
Reply to  andy young

I think what comes across is that she did have amazing gifts: a prodigious memory (for statesmen and racehorses alike); a huge store of knowledge and the ability to select the right bit of information for the occasion; great wisdom, a gift for handling people and putting them at their ease; and the gift of being able to enjoy life and make people laugh.
You are right about the extraordinary sense of duty and service.

Last edited 1 year ago by Henry Haslam
Nanda Kishor das
Nanda Kishor das
1 year ago

Great article, as always. I wonder what the author means, though, when he says “monarchy comes to an end.” I have deep admiration for King Charles, and yet it would seem his traditionalist stance is too uncomfortable for the current direction of travel… Anyway, I do hope the very best for his monarchy, and pray it may be long.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

What he meant is that Monarchs, and Monarchies, come to an end, but God prevails.
“Only the king of kings prevails forever.”
For those of us on this earth it all comes down to the same thing in the end. We are all equal in death ( edit: and in life), and Elizabeth seems to have understood that.
”the form of liturgy that is being used is remarkably ordinary; in fact, very similar to the prayers and form of service that I use week in week out at the local crem. At its core, there is a democracy in death.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
1 year ago

The funeral service included John Ellerton’s hymn ‘The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended’. It includes the words ‘thy throne shall never, like earth’s proud empires, pass away’. Said to have been Queen Victoria’s favourite hymn – somewhat to the discomfort of her ministers.

Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
1 year ago

Monarchy comes to an end? Christ, not man, is king?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

As I watch the funeral, I note Of course, that big brother BBC just has to emphasise its ” diverse inclusive multi racial” woke National Socialist agenda, concentrating on non white people and politicians arriving at Westminster Abbey, and matching its commentary accordingly.

It is craw choking that The BBC invades even a Royal Funeral with this agenda and its ceaseless brainwash propaganda.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago

Turn to ITV, much better

Frances Davis
Frances Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

GB new,s is the best!

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
1 year ago
Reply to  Frances Davis

I tried watching their coverage on YouTube when they were carrying the Queen to the Abbey and they kept talking over it. Drove me up the wall nearly. Switched to Sky News in the end who were excellent throughout.

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

I tried them all and assure you the most enjoyable was GB News because the commentary by Al Stewart and David Starkey was more interesting than the humble dirge of other channels.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

I have no time for the BBC but have you considered such focus could add some balm to the brewing racial tensions, that there is a multiracial respect, indeed mourning for the Queen which transcends manufactured activist false division in our community? If so the BBC’s cynicism will backfire in similar fashion to the poorly timed republican protest. I feel reassured, half a million white faces in a queue would be cause for alarm. It’s a turning point, a new king, a new PM, the silent majority are awake for once. I’ve seen no black or asian faces with placards.

Brian Burnell
Brian Burnell
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

The crowds at Windsor were overwhelmingly white. Other than soldiers and police officers there were few black faces, and none that I could see from the subcontinent. Why should that be?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Burnell

Slough is quite a long way away. Or perhaps too busy rioting in Leicester, take your pick.

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Burnell

I’d hope so as 87% of the population are white.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

I was struck today by how diverse my crowd was. People from all over, shows how powerful the Crown is a unifying force.

Gillian Johnstone
Gillian Johnstone
1 year ago

I’m watching on Sky. Didn’t even occur to me to watch on the BBC, as I knew it would make me angry. A beautiful occasion and so lovely to see the two, young royal children taking part.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

Interesting. I watched from a hotel conference room in Bruges Belgium and recall noticing only one single person of color in the scene. I remarked to my wife that it will criticized at some point for that fact.
Anyway, if that funeral service was considered ordinary in any sense of the word, then I have been misinformed of the word all my life.

Sue Whorton
Sue Whorton
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Which one, Baroness Scotland, HM ‘s equerry, one of the pall beaters, various clergy, the choristers? The various members of the armed forces?

Mike MacCormack
Mike MacCormack
1 year ago

What childish, mean spirited, nonsense. National Socialist agenda! You should be ashamed of yourself.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

I imagine your Chief of Staff insisted on the Beeb?
Mine certainly did, and so acting on the kind advice of Phil Rees Esq, I fled to my ‘hut’ and watched it on GB News.

SƂawomir Nowosad
SƂawomir Nowosad
1 year ago

Many thanks, Giles.
The democracy of death – the monarchy of life! The crucifix is at the coffin.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

I’ve always thought that for most of us, in the west anyway, there is a democracy of life too. I can use the same roads that the richest use and they satisfy the same basic desires and bodily functions in the same way I do. That’s not always been the case.

SƂawomir Nowosad
SƂawomir Nowosad
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I can certainly agree with you, Ian, that there is a democracy of life as you depict it. My point was, and is, that death notwithstanding life reigns and is for all – as one might say the late Queen was for all in so many ways. Hence I pointed at the crucifix, the cross of Christ, which is the promise of life because the Lord is the life. Stat crux dum volvitur orbis.

John Ramsden
John Ramsden
1 year ago

It may seem a bit stark, and be more of a pagan outlook, but I think I prefer the advice of one of King Edwin of Northumbria’s councellors, persuading him to convert to Christianity in the year 627 AD

“It seems to me thus, oh king, that this present life of men on earth, in comparison to the time that is unknown to us, is as if you were sitting at your dinner tables with your noblemen, warmed in the hall, and it rained and it snowed and it hailed and one sparrow came from outside and quickly flew through the hall and it came in through one door and went out through the other. Lo! During the time that he was inside, he was not touched by the storm of the winter. But that is the blink of an eye and the least amount of time, but he immediately comes from winter into winter again. So then this life of men appears for a short amount of time; what came before or what follows after, we do not know.”

Jen Segal
Jen Segal
1 year ago

Thoughtful and wonderful essay. I particularly enjoyed the rumination on the dialectic from the prior king’s oratory. How human to use the piece of the argument that reinforces our essential vanity. Made me smile.

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago

”The Queen shows the democracy of death”

Oh. come on Giles, have you looked at the TV? The MSM? Stood the 13 hours in line?

That is – of all the world, that is only for our Beloved Queen Elizabeth.

If you mean, like Canute, she cannot live forever or stop the tides – OK, I get that – but her death is the very opposite of Democracy In Death. It is universal, I would give you that – but the 98 Sailors pulling the Gun Carriage, the millions standing on the route, the marching soldiers, bowed heads, weeping, reflecting on our life, the Royal Chappel where HRH Elizabeth and Phillip will be laid together….

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

I’m not completely sure about what you’re saying but I don’t think it’s what Giles was getting at.

stephen archer
stephen archer
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Of course it’s not but Aaron is completely right. Watching the ceremony from a thousand miles away his words echo my feelings. Giles is just another journalist.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  stephen archer

It escapes me what Aaron is right about and what he objects to.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,–This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”

Perhaps the Bard put it better?

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
1 year ago

Holland subsequently wrote in his book, So as by Fire, Meditations on the War, that Christianity had deepened the dreadfulness of death. Neither here nor in his previous works does Holland see death in terms of democracy.
If anything, democracy is not only a bore, if it’s true as a medicinal remedy for the cruelty of hierarchical societies, it’s untrue as food. Our hearts tell us so. The person who does not honour a queen, instead honours television celebrities, rock stars, or footballers.
In his book, Christ or Ecclesiastes, Holland juxtaposes two biblical passages, Eccles.ix.5,6 and Rev.i.17,18. If the dead know neither hatred nor love, and if their envy has perished, they know not democracy. Without Christ rising from the dead, as the Apostle Paul argued, people are still in their sins. Those things they retain, despite death. Christianity has deepened the dreadfulness of death.
How much of all the readings and sermons in the late Queen’s funeral will the watching public have understood? Of all the other things the late Queen inspired others to do and achieve, will they be inspired to adopt her faith? If they don’t understand it, the very steadfast thing that motivated her day by day, will they come to realise that there is a veil between them and the person they so admired? Did they really know her at all?
What a pity that the late Queen could not keep the country like herself over seventy years. Unchanging and Christian.
The late Queen lived her life in her stated belief that at the end she would have to stand before the judgement seat of Christ. Rather typically for Holland and his thinking, in Christ or Ecclesiastes, Holland considered that hereafter it would be our failures that might bless us the most. Holland quoted Browning’s poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra. “All I could never be; all men ignored in me; that I am worth to God, Whose wheel the pitcher shaped.” Who knows, Holland asked, what is going on in secret behind these failures. They humble us, break us down, distress us to the point of not wanting to make them again. But, Holland should have added, they must bring the soul to the point of crying, “What must I do to be saved?” 

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Nicholas Rowe

“How much of all the readings and sermons in the late Queen’s funeral will the watching public have understood?”
An interesting comment overall. But, where does you’re assumption come from? Though you are careful to pose it as a question, not a statement of fact. How many understood, do you think?
“If anything, democracy is not only a bore, if it’s true as a medicinal remedy for the cruelty of hierarchical societies, it’s untrue as food.”
That, if I’ve understood it, is a very interesting statement.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Why was King Richard III not given a State Funeral in 2015 can anyone answer?

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

Haha! Excellent!

Gary Cruse
Gary Cruse
1 year ago

An unsentimental funeral seems oxymoronic to me.
Why bother?

Martin Goodwin
Martin Goodwin
1 year ago

There was an option on I-player to watch without commentary. Bliss!

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Goodwin
Oliver Nicholson
Oliver Nicholson
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Goodwin

The Royal family YouTube channel showed the whole ceremony with no commentary at all.

Free Speech Act Now!
Free Speech Act Now!
1 year ago

In a dense web of meaning and belonging, Death is no tragedy.
https://ukresponse.substack.com/p/what-is-success-anyway

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 year ago

I am so glad to hear that ‘I did it my way’ is no longer as popular as it was!

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

I am wondering if the new series of The Crown coming up will investigate Prince Phillip’s links with Stephen Ward who was his osteopath and the Christine Keeler circle. No doubt we will never know. I have no doubt the Queen endured years of infidelity and bad treatment by her husband. If Diana had played the Royal game, she would have turned a blind eye to Charles infidelity, smiled and just waited until she was Queen.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

What about Lord Porchester?

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago

In the case of Prince Andrew, I think we can skip a DNA test. His visual resemblance to Lord Porchester is too damning. But for any alleged Royal drawing any kind of benefit from public funds, DNA testing is long overdue.

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

The sight of Truss making that speech makes me want to throw up but mercifully it wasn’t Boris.

Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
1 year ago

If it had been Johnson, he would have read it in the original Greek. It might as well have been, for all that many of the public would have understood it.

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

I couldn’t give a sh#5 about Charlie and the other ponces. I’m off.

Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
1 year ago

I sympathise. But you may have misunderstood our preacher. If the Queen laid aside her crown and office, death has democratised her, is his conclusion. Or as Oliver Cromwell put it, Christ, not man, is king.
It’s a strange thought, though. Love’s last gift – democracy.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

What’s God got to do with it? She was 96. Outstripped three score years and ten by a wide margin and led a long productive and generally beloved life. Head of the C of E it is appropriate that the Church deals with the funeral. I doubt many of those half million queuing to see the coffin or millions more watching TV give God a second thought beyond why not 100?.

Marshall Ballantine-Jones
Marshall Ballantine-Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

God has everything to do with it because all the Queen’s hopes were in him.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

I think the content might have escaped you.

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

More down votes from all the right wing duds on this site

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
1 year ago

Tip – if you downvote by mistake – just upvote to correct it – that’s how it works, dontcha know?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

I suspect she hails from the Emerald Isle, thus case explained?

Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
1 year ago

James has hit the nail square on. Don’t be surprised, though, if the King’s advisers have him blessed at his coronation by druids, Wiccans, and shamans.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

I hope not all right wingers are deluded god botherers.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

“I doubt many of those half million queuing to see the coffin or millions more watching TV give God a second thought beyond why not 100?.”
Quite an incredible statement. But really, just a doubt in your mind, which, really, is if no consequence. Why not quell your doubt through fact? But how?

Phil Norton
Phil Norton
1 year ago

What an incredible amount of inane waffle.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Norton

In what way does it seem to be waffle?

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Norton

As predictable, you get down votes from the right wing Monarchists on this site posing as controversial. I downvoted you by accident, sorry. Meant to be an upvote!

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
1 year ago

Monarchists maybe … but how do you know if they are right wing? … how do you know they are posing?

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

Oh look. This publication calling itself anti establishment is full of pro Monarchist establishment crawlers.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

Define Establishment ?

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

I am unsubscribing. This is an establishment publication just like all the rest.

Iris C
Iris C
1 year ago

But one gets a right of reply here which is not guaranteed on MSM, and there are always different viewpoints documented to give one pause for thought. How boring to be so set in your ways that you don’t want to be mentally stimulated…

Paul Foote
Paul Foote
1 year ago

I didn’t watch any of it or read about it because my only thought on it is, “good riddance!” There is nothing democratic about monarchy, it should all be done away with. If not voluntarily, then the French or Russian method will suffice.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Foote

‘We’ tried that once and it didn’t work, or have you forgotten?

Margaret TC
Margaret TC
1 year ago

Yes and his name was Charles….

John Solomon
John Solomon
1 year ago

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  John Solomon

Yes indeed “The Good Old Cause “ is not yet dead, in fact quite flourishing in the USA.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  John Solomon

So you are proposing a war where 10% of the male population is killed ?

Roger Sponge
Roger Sponge
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Foote

French are on their fifth Republic since 1792. The first one was born with many deaths and great cruelty. The present Republic only dates from 1958.
With all its faults, the UK, an evolving democracy, has had stable governance under the Crown for centuries. We make our oath of loyalty to a person. In the US, it’s to a piece of coloured cloth.