Monarchs have had different opinions on being embalmed after death

The Queen will lie in state for four days before her funeral — but even then, she will not be buried or cremated in the same way the majority of her subjects are.

The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II made the journey from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, where hundreds of thousands of people are then expected to pass by her remains from Wednesday until her funeral on Monday (September 19).

Dead bodies tend to be kept in fridges to delay decomposition before a funeral. So how can the Queen’s body be kept out in public for so long in warm September conditions?

Even after her funeral, the Queen will not be put in the ground for her burial, but interred with her family members in a special Windsor memorial chapel.

Are the bodies of British monarchs embalmed after death?

There have been mixed feelings among former queens about the process of embalming.

Embalming a dead body helps to preserve it and delay decomposition, normally by injecting a preservative fluid into an artery. It is sometimes carried out in situations where there may be an open casket funeral.

Former monarchs have been known to have had their bodies embalmed after death.

Following Queen Elizabeth’s passing in 1603, it was reported that the 69-year-old’s body was embalmed and then guarded in Whitehall Palace for three weeks before being laid to rest.

Her maid of honour, Lady Elizabeth Southwell, later wrote how six women watched over the coffin at night.

She described hearing a loud “crack” as the Queen’s “body and head” exploded due to a build of gases.

Possibly after reading such a grim tale almost 400 years later, Queen Victoria was adamant she did not want to be embalmed.

But there are benefits to undergoing the procedure.

Due to her refusal to be embalmed, Victoria’s undertakers in 1901 had to scatter charcoal on the floor of the coffin to combat the smell and absorb the moisture, according to the website History Extra.

Luckily, Victoria did not want a period of lying in state or that could have been uncomfortable for the public.

Has Queen Elizabeth II been embalmed?

It is not known whether Queen Elizabeth II opted that she should be embalmed after death.

That has not stopped it from being the cause of debate on the forums of sites such as Mumsnet and The Data Lounge.

The procedure may not be necessary given the royal tradition of being buried in lead-lined coffins.

The reason behind the tradition is it helps preserve the corpse for longer after its burial in a crypt.

Lead is said to make the casket airtight, helping to stop moisture from getting in and thereby slowing down the decomposition of the body.

The lead makes the coffin significantly heavier, with the Queen's coffin requiring eight pallbearers to move it, according to The Times.

Why aren’t royals buried in the ground?

Royals have been buried in vaults and crypts for hundreds of years.

The Queen will be buried in the King George VI Memorial Chapel at St George's Chapel in Windsor.

She will join members of her family, with her father, mother and sister interred there already.

Her sister, Princess Margaret, took the rare decision to be cremated rather than buried.

Prince Philip, the Queen’s late husband, was placed in the Royal Vault in Windsor at his committal service in April 2021.

The former Duke of Edinburgh’s coffin will be moved to be with his wife in the memorial chapel following her funeral.

Philip's coffins currently lies on a marble slab in the vault, surrounded by the coffins of Henry VIII and nine other English and British kings, dating back to the internment of Edward IV in 1483.

The monarchs and their families in the chapel are not in soil to decompose in the way most people who are buried in cemeteries do.

According to a report in The Guardian, it can take 10-15 years for a body to breakdown to a skeleton if buried in soil.

Instead, the remains of royals stay in the lead lined coffin, with their decomposition slowed by the heavy material in the coffin and the air-sealed vaults they are held in.


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