The Daily Telegraph

Ringing bells and flags at half-mast – grieving follows a traditiona­l path

A royal death sparks not only an outpouring of grief, but also a procession of weighty ceremonies

- By Daniel Capurro SENIOR REPORTER

AT NOON yesterday, the Sevastopol bell rang out 96 times to mark every year of Queen Elizabeth’s life. The last time the bell, captured in Crimea in 1856, was heard was at the funeral of her mother, the last Empress of India, in 2002.

The bell, weighing nearly a ton, was taken from the Church of the Twelve Apostles in the Crimean city and now hangs in the Round Tower at Windsor. It tolls only for the deaths of the most senior royals. In 1952, it rang out 56 times to mark the life of George VI, Queen Elizabeth’s father. Following the deaths of George V in 1936 and Edward VII in 1910, the same tradition was marked as well, heralding the arrival of the royal coffin at Windsor.

It was a highly symbolic moment in the weighty ceremonies that accompany the death of a British monarch. The King has announced that the Royal family and household has entered a period of court mourning that will last until seven days after the funeral. The family will wear dark colours and engagement­s will not take place unless the King himself authorises them. Official documents will be printed with a black edge.

Under national mourning, flags other than the Royal Standard will be flown at half-mast.

It is a tradition steeped in history, but also a very flexible one. At its height under Queen Victoria, it was arguably taken to excess.

On the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861, Victoria ordered that mourning would last “for the longest term in modern times”. Members of the family were not seen for a year.

The public followed suit, embracing black clothing and decoration­s and Victoria helped to create stringent social attitudes to mourning that would last well into the following century.

However, when Victoria herself refused to end her mourning, continuing to wear black and avoiding public life right up to her death four decades later, it led to a spike in republican sentiment.

After her own death, the period of mourning lasted a full year. It meant that when the then Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, the future George V and his wife, went on an imperial tour two months after her death in January 1901 they wore mourning clothes throughout.

Every contingenc­y was made so that the Duchess could wear black or dark grey, no matter the climate she found herself in. For tropical wear, she had a grey, unlined cashmere dress while the Duke had plenty of black frock coats packed for him.

As public sentiment towards grieving has softened, so too has the Royal family’s approach. The death of George V in 1936 was marked by six months of mourning, while that for the death of George VI was 16 weeks.

Royal mourning is not, however, restricted to the deaths of monarchs. It has been declared for various members of the Royal family, including the Queen Mother, but also for overseas royalty.

For example, in January 1953, the Queen announced seven days of Royal

‘Following the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, members of the Royal family were not seen for a year’

mourning following the death of the Danish queen mother, Queen Alexandrin­e, although this did not impact the public.

On such occasions, a lower level of mourning is usually declared, known as “family” rather than “court” mourning.

Whatever the level, it is up to the monarch of the day to decide what is and is not appropriat­e. When Princess Margaret died, Queen Elizabeth carried on with her duties. Buckingham Palace said it was what the Princess “would have wanted”.

Weeks later, when the Queen Mother died, however, Queen Elizabeth chose to reduce all but her charitable engagement­s.

Royal mourning places no official requiremen­t on the general public, but in the past, as now, many have willingly undertaken their own quiet efforts to show their grief.

In 1936, the public surprised observers by rushing out to buy appropriat­e clothing for the sombre occasion. Shops reported customers streaming in to buy black hats and ties that they then wore immediatel­y out the door and there was great discussion as to whether gunmetal-grey stockings were suitable for mourning.

 ?? ?? A 96-round salute is fired from the Tower of London yesterday by the Honourable Artillery Company of the British Army to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II
A 96-round salute is fired from the Tower of London yesterday by the Honourable Artillery Company of the British Army to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II
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