The Morbid History Of The Royals And The Sebastopol Bell

"For whom the bell tolls / It tolls for thee" is a line from a poem by John Donne, which inspired the title of a novel by Ernest Hemingway, but for the British royal family, it is quite literal. The Sebastopol Bell at Windsor Castle doesn't get much use, but a day after Queen Elizabeth II's death on September 8, 2022, it rang 96 times, once for every year of the queen's life (via The Telegraph). No one had heard its mournful tolling in 20 years.

Before it rang for Queen Elizabeth, it was last used for Queen Elizabeth II's mother, the Queen Mother, who died in 2002. Before that, it rang out 56 times following the death of Queen Elizabeth's father, George VI, according to The Times. The bell, weighing nearly a ton, was one of two taken from a church in Crimea in 1856 following an incredibly bloody siege that lasted a year during the Crimean War — a foretaste of the trench warfare that would kill so many soldiers in World War I (according to Historic England and

A Bloody Siege

The Sebastopol Bell is only rung when monarchs or other very senior royals die, according to The Telegraph. But the bell's morbid history goes back much farther to the bloody Crimean War of 1853-1856, pitting Russia against England, France, and the Ottoman Empire, per Imperia. The siege of Sebastopol (also written Sevastopol or Sevastopil, per Britannica) began in the fall of 1854 when Anglo-French forces attempted to take the city from the Russians who had annexed Crimea and dug in for a drawn-out fight. Nearly a year later, after a constant bombardment from both sides, the Russian forces finally withdrew, leaving a burned-out city for the Anglo-French troops.

The victors removed two bells from the clock tower of the Church of the Twelve Apostles, one of which Queen Victoria had installed at Windsor Castle, along with one of the largest Russian cannons taken from the siege, per The Times and Historic England. And now, when a British monarch dies, the bell goes back into service.