Did Queen Elizabeth I’s body really explode? Royal myth fact-checked

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral takes place at Westminster Abbey

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Queen Elizabeth II laid in state last week to allow the public to pay their respects to Britain’s longest reigning monarch ahead of her state funeral on Monday. Yet Her Majesty’s namesake Elizabeth I reportedly had a shocking occurrence during hers.

Queen Elizabeth I, reigned from 1533 until her death in 1603 in her privy chambers at Richmond Palace. 

Elizabeth reportedly did not want to be disembowelled following death, which was customary, yet Rober Cecil left orders with surgeons to do so while he proclaimed James VI the new King of England.

She was embalmed after her passing, to help preserve the dead body and slow down decomposition.

The process is usually conducted by injecting a preservative fluid into an artery and is popular in instances of an open casket funeral or for monarchs lying in state.

Elizabeth’s body lay in state in Richmond for several days before moving to the Palace of Whitehall by barge.

Her maid of honour Lady Elizabeth Southwell described that six women watched over the coffin, which was draped in velvet, every night.

Elizabeth’s coffin remained in Whitehall Palace for three weeks and she was then laid to rest in a lavish funeral in the vault of her grandfather King Henry VII.

Lady Southwell described that during the coffin’s time in Whitehall Palace a “crack” was heard in the casket.

It is recorded that as a result of the build-up of gases released from the corpse the Queen’s “body and head” exploded.

However, the Royal Museum of Greenwich notes that the witness to this occurrence was not a reliable source.

Around a month after her death, Elizabeth’s body was transported in procession to Westminster Abbey for burial. 

Her coffin was first carried to Henry VII’s chapel, whereby it was placed in the vault occupied by her grandfather and grandmother, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. 

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Yet, in 1607 her coffin was moved within Westminster Abbey to be with her half-sister Mary, where she was interred under a statue erected by King James VI.

Elizabeth I was not the only monarch to have burst in her coffin. William the Conqueror’s body reportedly exploded as it was being lowered into his tomb and Henry VIII’s corpse is said to have exploded while in transit at Syon Abbey overnight.

Almost 400 years later, Queen Victoria decided that following her death, in 1901, she did not want to be embalmed or lie in, which may be related to previous monarchs exploding.

As a result of her refusal undertakers has to scatter charcoal on the floor of the coffin to absorb the moisture and cover the smell of decay, as reported by the website History Extra.

It is not known whether Queen Elizabeth II opted to be embalmed after death.

However, an American mortician shared his thoughts on TikTok under the username AskTheUnrtakr.

He told followers: “I have every reason to believe that it was only a very short time after her death that the embalming would have occurred.

“They would have done everything possible to ensure that the Queen’s body is well-preserved and restored to an almost near-perfect condition.

“Everything possible in the best embalmer’s tool kit, so to speak, to ensure her body will be able to lie in state for the ten-day period and without any ill-effects.”

The embalming process may not have been necessary as the Queen’s coffin is lead-lined so will naturally preserve the corpse for longer.

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