Why The British Monarchy Rarely Attends The Funerals Of Others

These days the British royal family are mostly ceremonial heads of state, per the Royal website. Because of this, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II spends much of her time attending special events of cultural and social importance, such as the Queen's Speech to the British Parliament (via Parliament). One event you'll rarely see Queen Elizabeth II attend, though — or any king or queen throughout history, for that matter — is a funeral, whether that funeral is for a member of the royal family, someone else who has died in British high society, or even just an average citizen, as Express notes.

In 2022, for example, Queen Elizabeth did not attend the funeral of her close friend Ivor Herbert. The reason why that's the case has nothing to do with the death of the individual in question, though. Instead, it has more to do with the important place and continued fascination that the monarchy still maintains in British culture.

William IV attended his brother's funeral

Though British monarchs are seldom seen at funerals, it's not a hard-and-fast rule that they don't attend. Rather, it's more like a royal custom which began long before Queen Elizabeth II took the throne in the early 1950s. In the 19th century, William IV was the first British monarch to buck the tradition when he showed up at the funeral service for his brother, King George IV, as Express also reports.

For her part, it's not unheard of for Elizabeth II to show up at a funeral. The queen attended the funeral of her husband, Prince Philip, in 2021. She attended the funerals of two British Prime Ministers: Winston Churchill, when he died in the 1965, and Margaret Thatcher, who died in 2013. The policy of not attending a funeral service has also on occasion drawn criticism from the public, such as in 1966 when she chose to stay away from Aberfan, Wales for more than a week in the wake of a massive mining disaster in which more than 140 people died, as History notes.

The Queen would draw too much attention

Though Queen Elizabeth rarely attends a funeral service for a non-family member, she does make a point of paying her respects to the person by sending a chosen representative in her stead, as Woman and Home reports. What's behind the royal tradition to stay away from such services is that a king or queen in attendance would create too much of a distraction from the true purpose of the ceremony: to honor the person who died, as Express goes on to note.

Moreover, though an official head of state, the queen is charged with remaining neutral in politics, and attending the funeral of one high-profile individual over another could be seen as an endorsement of their politics (via Express). What's also true, no matter what kind of event the queen chooses to attend, she's accompanied by an immense security detail from Scotland Yard, as The Guardian notes. And even in the age of mass media, any appearance by the Queen of England still draws immense public interest.