History

Funerals

Many elaborate royal funerals have taken place in Westminster Abbey prior to burial here. A wooden effigy of the monarch or consort, fully dressed in royal robes, was displayed on the hearse at the funeral, as a likeness of the deceased. The Abbey authorities were able to keep the hearse furniture so several of the medieval funeral effigies still survive here, although none have their original robes.

In the Abbey Museum the funeral effigies of Edward III, Anne of Bohemia (queen of Richard II), Katherine de Valois (queen of Henry V), Henry VII and his queen Elizabeth of York, Mary Tudor and Anne of Denmark (queen of James I) can be seen. The effigy of Elizabeth I was re-made in 1760 with a new wax head and costume but the original corset and drawers on the effigy made in 1603 survived and are now shown separately from the clothed effigy. Only the headless body of James I’s effigy survives so is not displayed. At the funeral of Charles II no effigy was displayed on the coffin, just a crown on a purple cushion, a precedent followed by succeeding monarchs. But a wax figure was specially made to stand over the vault where he was buried and this is also displayed in the Museum. The earlier effigies suffered water damage in the Blitz of 1941 but were restored after the war although for some only the heads could be salvaged.

George II was the last monarch buried in the Abbey, in 1760. The next funeral of a monarch or consort in the Abbey was not until 1925 when the coffin of Queen Alexandra, widow of King Edward VII, lay in state under the lantern tower. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, widow of King George VI, had close connections with the Abbey so requested that her funeral be held here. But these queens are not buried in the Abbey. Diana, Princess of Wales was buried, by her own wish, at her family home at Althorp.

Further reading for royal funerals:

“The death of kings. Royal deaths in medieval England” by Michael Evans, 2007
“The Theatre of death. The ritual management of royal funerals...1570-1625” by Jennifer Woodward, 1997.
“The royal way of death” by Olivia Bland, 1986
“The funeral effigies of Westminster Abbey” edited by Anthony Harvey and Richard Mortimer, revised edition 2003.