Which hymns have been chosen for the funerals of Kings and Queens of the United Kingdom?
A few months ago here on our church blog we gave some bishops’ choices of funeral hymns, some clergy gave us theirs, and we gave in detail one RC priest’s choice. Now we ask what hymns have been sung at funerals of royalty here in England?
The Archbishop of Canterbury successfully vetoed the request made by the Royal Family that the Russian Kontakion for the departed should be sung at Queen Victoria’s funeral in 1901. He was concerned that it would give approval to what he saw as the questionable practice of praying for the dead.
We can often forget that singing hymns at funerals is a relatively recent occurrence in the long history of the church – it began in the Church of England in the nineteenth century. The Royal Family are often conservative when it comes to change and so it is not surprising to discover that congregational hymns were not sung at a royal funeral until Edward VII’s funeral at Westminster Abbey in May 1910. Two hymns were sung. My God, my Father while I stray was sung following the Lord’s Prayer after the internment, and Now the labourer’s task is o’er was sung before the blessing. Such is the changing fashion in hymns that while both hymns were often used at funerals at that time they are very rarely used today.
At the funeral of George V in 1936 one hymn was used, Abide with me. Until then predominantly an evening hymn its use at the King’s funeral popularised it for funerals more generally. It remains a common choice. The hymn had special significance to George V as it was noted that by ‘the King’s special desire’ it was added to the funeral service of his mother, Queen Alexandra, in St George’s Chapel, Windsor in 1925. The hymn was also chosen by George V’s wife, Queen Mary for her own funeral at St George’s, Windsor on 31st March 1953.
At George VI‘s funeral in 1952 The Strife is O’er the battle done was sung, while in the service in Westminster Hall at the laying in state, Abide with me was used.
The funeral of the uncrowned King, Edward VIII, was held privately at St George’s Chapel, Windsor in 1972. At the funeral the hymn Lead us Heavenly Father lead us was sung.
For the funeral in 2002 of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, at Westminster Abbey, Immortal, Invisible, God only wise and Guide me O Thou Great Redeemer were the congregational hymns.