King George VI funeral: Why do they break a stick at a royal funeral?


KING GEORGE VI, Queen Elizabeth II’s father, died 70 years ago in 2022 on February 6, 1952, and his family gathered for a funeral nine days later. Why do royal funeral attendees break a stick?

The Queen saw off her late father on February 15, 1952, in a state ceremony while clad head to toe in black alongside her sister and mother. The occasion was the first-ever to receive television treatment, giving more Britons new insight into royal tradition. One they witnessed on the day was performed by the Lord Great Chamberlain, who broke his staff as his family laid the late King to rest.

Why do they break a stick at royal funerals?

The 1952 funeral concluded when the procession laid the King’s body at its final resting place of St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Attendees at the intimate gathering included Prime Minister Winston Churchill, his family, and James Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby.

Mr Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, as the Lord Great Chamberlain, was outfitted in ceremonial garb, which included a white “staff of office”.

King George VI funeral break stick royal traditions evg

King George VI funeral: Why do they break a stick at a royal funeral? (Image: GETTY)

King George VI funeral: King George's funeraI

King George VI funeral: King George’s funeral took place on February 15, 1952 (Image: GETTY)

He split the staff in two via a joint in the middle and laid one section on the King’s grave.

His action was part of a long-held tradition owing to the Lord’s responsibilities.

The Lord Great Chamberlain is a hereditary Officer of State given custody and control of the Robing Room and the Royal Gallery.

They report to the reigning British monarch and arranges Parliament during their official visits.

In essence, this makes them a part of the royal household, and they serve the Queen outfitted with their staff and a key kept in a hip pocket.

They also wear a scarlet uniform similar to the monarch’s palace guards.

Tradition dictates that they break the staff following the death of their monarch.

The current Lord Great Chamberlain is David George Philip Cholmondeley, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley.

He has held the role since March 13, 1990, and would break his staff over the Queen’s grave should she die.

The tradition dates back several centuries to the Middle Ages and was first established nearly 1,000 years ago.

The first holder was Robert Malet in the 12th century, and successive Earls of Oxford took it on until 1526.

Since 1780, they have passed “in gross” via hereditary holders, with several modifications.

Modern Lord Great Chamberlains took shape for the first time in 1912 when an agreement shared the role between three rotating families.

The Marquess of Cholmondeley is the latest in a long line of lords who have served since the 18th century.

His most distant ancestor, Peregrine Bertie, 3rd Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven, held the position in 1780.

Successive members of the Cholmondeley family have held it since then, sharing with ancestors of the Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby and Carrington lines.


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