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Royal funerals in Westminster Abbey: history with a big hiatus

Queen Elizabeth II will be the first monarch to have her funeral held at Westminster Abbey since 1760. 

All sovereigns after that date have received their last salute at St George’s Chapel, in Windsor, due to logistic challenges: the Royal Vaults in the Abbey are entirely full, and therefore royal burials are now in the Royal Vault under the Windsor chapel. 

However, for a remarkable Queen, history is something that is written, not learned. And so Westminster Abbey in central London will host a monarch’s funeral once again. 

However, this doesn’t mean that Westminster has not hosted any royal funerals. There was a significant gap between 1790 and 1904 when the Duke of Cambridge had his funeral in the Abbey (he was a grandson of King George III). 

Before him, the last royal funeral to be held at Westminster was in 1790 for the Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn, a younger brother to King George III, while the last sovereign to be bid farewell in the Abbey was King George II in 1760.

In recent years, the three most famous funerals held at Westminster Abbey were that of Lord Mountbatten in 1979, Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 2002. 

Lord Mountbatten was a second cousin to King George VI and a maternal uncle for Prince Philip; the latter spent most of his youth under his guardianship, having lost contact with both of his parents and having also lost the older family members who were taking care of him. 

For this reason, he was always considered a valued family member. His assassination in 1979, following a bomb explosion on his boat by the IRA, deeply affected both Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. Many members of the Royal Family have Louis among their names as a homage to him, and a ceremonial funeral was granted for him, which took place in Westminster Abbey on the 5th of September – nine days after his passing. 

For Diana, the outcry from the public prompted the need to grant her a State Funeral; there was no precedent for a situation in which a member of the Royal Family had passed away after a divorce, and the protocol on this topic is still unclear. 

For the Queen Mother, the choice of Westminster Abbey was not dictated by protocol but rather by her personal connection to that particular place of worship. 

Most royal funerals have been held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, including that of the Queen’s father, King George VI, and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. 

Notably, Westminster Abbey has also hosted other state and ceremonial funerals that were not connected to the Royal Family but instead notable members of British society, like Admiral Robert Blake and Sir Isaac Newton. 

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