The Queen attends funerals very rarely.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
The Queen’s decision to attend Lady Thatcher’s funeral was a personal one only made the day after the former prime minister’s death. Her presence elevates its status to that of state funeral in all but name.
It was only on Tuesday, after the Cabinet Office committee co-ordinating Operation True Blue announced the St Paul’s Cathedral service would be held next Wednesday that the question of whether the monarch would attend was even put to her.
The Queen attends funerals very rarely. On this occasion, Buckingham Palace had no precedent because no other former prime minister had been granted a ceremonial funeral, let alone one on such grand scale.
Winston Churchill, the first prime minister of her reign, William Gladstone, and Lord Palmerston are among those to have been accorded a state funeral.
The Queen attended Churchill’s funeral in 1965, But there is no rule book governing this unique set of circumstances so her decision to attend, with the Duke of Edinburgh, can be interpreted as a highly personal and significant gesture, indicative of the respect she had for the eighth and longest-serving of her prime ministers.
The decision to grant Thatcher the honour of a ceremonial funeral, however, was political, and taken a long time ago.
Protocol dictates permission for a ceremonial funeral must be sought from the monarch. The request to the Queen to approve such a funeral came from the government and Thatcher’s family several years ago, believed to be around the time the Operation True Blue committee was set up under Tony Blair’s premiership in 2006.
Unless the Queen had insurmountable personal or constitutional reasons to refuse, it would be assumed she would accede to such a request made by her democratically elected government. Undoubtedly, she would have been aware the decision could cause controversy.
“In granting the ceremonial, she would have been aware of all the difficulties that may or may not come with it. She’s a wise woman and would have been well advised,” said royal commentator Joe Little of Majesty Magazine.
Thatcher is said to have vetoed the idea of a state funeral, which requires a vote in parliament to approve funds, fearing it would lead to a divisive debate in the Commons.
Apart from the parliamentary approval, there is little to visibly distinguish state from ceremonial.
State funerals are normally limited to sovereigns, but may, by order of the reigning monarch, be extended to exceptionally distinguished individuals. Ceremonial funerals are traditionally for those of the royal family who hold high military rank, the consort of the sovereign or the heir to the throne.
The funerals of Diana, Princess of Wales and the Queen Mother will provide a template for the pageantry and ceremony on Wednesday. Thatcher’s representatives turned to Sir Malcolm Ross, a former long-serving member of the Queen’s household who, as comptroller of the lord chamberlain’s Office, was responsible for the organisation of both royal funerals.
Eton and Sandhurst-educated, Ross assumed control of the planning after leaving his position as master of the Prince of Wales’s household in 2007. “There is no one better; no one more experienced,” said one source.
According to one person involved, the Cabinet Office’s funeral plans were in a “very frayed” state for many years, but had been updated, streamlined, computerised and made much more efficient in recent years.
The Queen has attended only a handful of funerals in her reign, including, those of Margaret “Bobo” MacDonald, her nanny then dresser during 67 years of royal service, and her close friend and racing manager, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon.
This is less to do with protocol – although protocol prevented Queen Victoria from attending the 1881 funeral of Benjamin Disraeli, and m onarchs did not attend funerals at all until William IV’s reign.
Sources say it is because the Queen has stayed away because she feels the focus would be on her, when it is meant to be on the grieving family. “She is naturally keen not to usurp,” said one.
Little said: “She is aware her presence causes a huge fuss, not of her doing, but of the people who are looking after her. Aberfan [scene of a 1966 mining disaster in which 144 people, died] was a case in point. She didn’t want to go there immediately for that same reason, and was subsequently criticised for not going soon enough”.
“On this occasion, though, if you are going to get foreign VIPs attending, it would look pretty strange of the British monarch wasn’t there. But I do think it is far more personal. I do think there was a mutual respect.”
By attending, the Queen will be laying to rest persistent rumours of a strained relationship between the two during Thatcher’s Downing Street tenure.
The Queen was a guest at Thatcher’s 70th and 80th birthday celebrations even though duty did not dictate she attend. On the Queen’s 80th birthday in 2006, Thatcher, in a rare televised tribute, said she had been privileged to take advice from the monarch during her 11 years working with her.
Aside from attending the funeral, the greatest indication of the Queen’s respect for her only female prime minister, was in bestowing on her the most prestigious British order of chivalry, making her lady of the garter in 1995.
Though usually given to former prime ministers – John Major was made a garter knight in 2005 – it is not always automatic.
There can be no more than 24 knights and lady’s companions at any one time. Thatcher’s death means there is now a vacancy, which could be occupied by Blair.
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