Queens coffin pulled with ropes and not horses due to near-disastrous incident

The Queen’s coffin was carried the short distance from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey for her funeral on a gun carriage towed by ropes and 98 sailors.

It is a tradition dating back more than 100 years.

Every sovereign’s funeral since 1901 has seen the monarch’s remains pulled through the streets by members of their Royal Navy.

But the pageantry of the monarch’s coffin being pulled by ropes rather than horses actually comes from an almost calamitous event during the funeral procession for Queen Victoria.

That day, the horses carrying the Queen became unruly and broke free from the carriage carrying the coffin, meaning an alternative pulling power was required.

It became a state funeral tradition after that, with Queen Elizabeth's the latest to enact it.

Why the Queen’s coffin was carried by ropes

The reason the Queen’s coffin was carried through Parliament Square on a 123-year-old gun carriage towed by 98 Royal Navy sailors is because of a near-mishap that occurred during Queen Victoria’s procession.

Victoria’s coffin was to be carried on the 2.5 tonne gun carriage through the streets of Windsor in 1901.

But in the bitter cold of that February day, the horses which were going to pull it panicked and reared, threatening to topple the coffin from the carriage.

Captain Prince Louis of Battenberg, the future First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, intervened and suggested to the new king, Edward VII, that the armed forces should step in.

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Once this was agreed, the horses were unharnessed and improvised ropes were attached to the gun carriage and a team of sailors were brought in to ensure the coffin was carried safely for the rest of the route.

Nine years later, the funeral of Edward VII saw the routine revisited, turning it into a state funeral tradition.

The past funerals of kings George V and VI and Sir Winston Churchill all saw the formation of sailors pulling the coffin through the streets to their funeral.

Even though the Queen Elizabeth II was famed for her love of horses, the tradition was kept for her funeral on Monday, September 19.

At 10.44am, the gun carriage was pulled by a 98-strong team of sailors known as the Sovereign’s Guard, while 40 sailors marched behind the carriage to act as a brake.

Members of the royal family, including King Charles III and his sons, Princes William and Harry, followed behind on foot.

What happened at funeral of Queen Victoria?

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, William Banting funeral directors held the warrant as the undertaker to the royal household.

However, they hired another London firm, JD Field & Son, to help with the arrangements for the funeral.

Jeremy Field, managing director of the 10th generation family business, told The Independent about the way the horses "got spooked" carrying the monarch's coffin that day.

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“The reason that tradition exists is as my forebears got close to St George’s Chapel with Queen Victoria’s coffin on the gun carriage, the horses that were pulling the gun carriage got spooked, possibly by the crowds, and broke their traces,” he said.

“The sailors from the Royal Navy that were part of the parade stepped forward, picked up the traces and pulled the gun carriage the rest of the way and that is now baked in as a formal aspect of what makes a state funeral — thanks to those horses.”

What was the carriage that the Queen’s coffin was carried on?

The gun carriage was built at the Royal Gun Factory at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich to carry the standard light field gun of the Army at the time, the breech-loaded 12-Pounder.

It was converted into a ceremonial gun carriage by fitting a catafalque – a raised platform with horizontal rollers for moving the coffin.

When not on ceremonial duty, it is stored at HMS Excellent on Whale Island in Portsmouth.

It has to be kept under environmentally-controlled conditions at a temperature of between 16C and 20C, and at humidity of between 40% and 70% to prevent it becoming dry and brittle and to stop fungal growth.


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