This week the Queen and Prince Philip attended the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. Her attendance was an important public statement of the respect that she had for Baroness Thatcher, particularly since this was the first funeral of a non-royal that she had attended since the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.
When the monarch attends a funeral, an ancient ceremonial procession involving a sword takes place. You would expect this sort of thing to go ahead without a problem, but there was a slight “near miss” this year. Perhaps everyone was a bit out of practice, since they last performed this ceremony nearly fifty years ago.
As the monarch approaches the cathedral, they are greeted by the Lord Mayor for the area, who bears the regal Mourning Sword. The Lord Mayor is then meant to lead the monarch into the cathedral, carrying the Mourning Sword in front of them. The sword is all black and held high to symbolise the monarch’s grief over the death of whoever’s funeral it is.
On Wednesday there was an unexpected turn of events when the Lord Mayor, after greeting the Queen, turned round in front of her with the Mourning Sword. Without thinking, he swung the Mourning Sword out behind him and nearly hit the Queen. She rather swiftly took a step back out the way, and you can see on the video how Prince Philip makes light of the event to try to put her at her ease again.
I know we’ve all experienced the unthinking actions of someone who, turning round in front of us, has swung something back round and has inadvertently hit us (never pleasant, but always worth a giggle afterwards), but it could not have been a great experience for the Queen, live on international television, at the funeral of a friend whose passing she seemed to be very moved by. I think it was very fitting for the Queen to attend Thatcher’s funeral because of their friendship, no doubt strengthened by their common experiences as two female rulers of Britain, and also because of the important role Thatcher played in defending the Falklands, a British territory that is dependent on the crown for its safety.