Queen Victoria disliked William Gladstone, the prime minister who served her four times in four different terms.
“He addresses me as if I were a public meeting,” he complained.
The indignation was mutual. “The Queen alone is enough to kill any man,” Gladstone wrote to a friend.
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When he died in 1898 of cancer, which started behind his cheekbone and spread, the celebrations ordered by politicians in Westminster accidentally inspired a royal tradition – the public lying in state in Westminster Hall.
“The body was taken by special train to the nearby tube station before lying in state in Westminster Hall,” wrote Roy Jenkins in his biography of the politician, “with a magnificent past of the famous and the obscure.
The hall dates from 1097 and was the site of lavish feasts and banquets, as well as the trials of Sir Thomas More, Guy Fawkes and Charles I.
Among the 10 pallbearers at Gladstone’s funeral in Westminster Abbey were the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and his son, the Duke of York (later George V).
Queen Victoria, unhappy that her family was taking such roles, telegraphed her son to ask what precedent he had followed and whose advice he had taken.
The prince replied that he knew no precedent and had taken no advice.
Centuries of tradition
The tradition of deckchairing in the state dates back to the 17th century, when the Stuart monarchs did it for several days.
Queen Victoria was at Windsor after her death in 1901, but had asked not to be in public.
When Edward VII died nine years later, Westminster Hall was reopened to mourners to pay their respects.
Edward VII set the modern standard, and almost all sovereigns since then (with the exception of Edward VIII, who abdicated) have stood in the same colossal space.
Edward VII’s lying down was an exercise in equality, according to historian Jane Ridley: “The messenger boys were forbidden to hold seats for others, and no tickets were sold, so the rich were obliged to wait in line with the poor, and she herself the queue became a symbol of social equality.’
Historian David Torrance recounts that after public access was closed and the late monarch’s wife, Queen Alexandra, had spent some time with her husband’s coffin, “Winston Churchill tried to enter with his family” but was turned away.
In 1965, 55 years later, the great prime minister himself received the honour, which has not been conferred on any politician since then.
In 1936, there was a lie for George V and the “princes’ vigil” – when members of the royal family stand guard from the monarch’s coffin, as King Charles and his siblings did on Monday – was revived.
In 1952, the coffin of the Queen’s father, George VI, lay in Westminster Hall. Fifty years later, in 2002, the same ceremony was used for his wife, the Queen Mother.
And 70 years later, his daughter now rests at the same historic spot.