As a material in coffins, “lead helps retain moisture, keeps the body longer and prevents odors and toxins from escaping the bodies,” said Julie Ann Tadeo, professor of history research at the University of Maryland. “Her coffin remained on display for several days and made the long journey to his final resting place.”
Taddeo noted that the extra weight created the need for eight pallbearers instead of the usual six.
Soldiers carrying the coffins of deceased British monarchs, after an incident in 1901 when horses pulling Queen Victoria’s caskets panicked and her coffin was nearly spilled in the street. Winston Churchill, who hosted Britain’s last state funeral before Elizabeth’s on Monday, also had a lead-lined casket. One of the pallbearers, Lincoln Perkins, told the BBC it was so heavy that it slipped off the shoulders of some of the pallbearers when they had to stop at some steps. “Don’t worry, sir,” Perkins said as he fell upon the “pushers” at the back to prevent the coffin from falling, he said loudly to the corpse, “Don’t worry, sir, we’ll take care of you.”
“You could actually feel it slipping off his shoulders,” Perkins said. “If we had dropped it…I don’t know what it would have been, so embarrassing, but we didn’t.”
Elizabeth’s coffin was buried Monday evening in a vault at King George VI Memorial Chapel, part of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. She lies close to her parents, sister and husband Prince Philip, who died last year.
Preservation procedures are reminiscent of those used by the high-ranking ancient Egyptians, who were also placed in chambers rather than buried in the ground and whose bodies were properly preserved. And while the ancient Egyptians were often wealthy buried With caches of jewelry, sculptures and other possessions, Tadeo said, the Queen was reportedly buried with only her wedding ring, made of Welsh gold, and a pair of pearl earrings.
Such austerity would mean that Elizabeth, who was known for her embrace of economy and simplicity, was buried with fewer possessions than some of her predecessors; Tadeo said Queen Victoria was buried in her husband’s robe, a splint from his hand, a lock of hair and a picture of her favorite servant, with whom she was rumored to have an affair. Elizabeth’s orb, sceptre, and crown – made of about 3,000 diamonds and dozens of other jewels – were taken from the top of her coffin and placed on an altar when she was buried.
Using lead in coffins is a “long-standing royal tradition,” said Mike Parker-Pearson, a professor at University College London’s Institute of Archeology. He said the mummified body of King Edward I, who died in 1307, “was found in 1774 well preserved in his marble sarcophagus” in Westminster Abbey. Pearson added that the practice of using lead may have been adopted around the time of Edward’s death or in the century after.
He said that previous kings were not embalmed. Pearson said the body of William the Conqueror, who died in 1087, was apparently so badly decomposed that his distended abdomen exploded when priests tried to stuff his body into a “stone coffin that proved too small for its mass.” “The mourners supposedly ran toward the door to escape the stench.”
“William’s swollen guts exploded, and an unbearable stench struck the nostrils of those present and the whole audience,” According to Orderic Vitalis, a Benedictine monk who chronicled England’s Anglo-Norman.
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