'The Crown': What Happens When a Member of the Royal Family Dies?

The Crown's ninth episode in season four, titled "Avalanche," focuses on the 1988 avalanche Prince Charles was involved in at a Swiss resort. When her secretary tells Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) and Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) about the incident, the Queen mentions contingency plans surrounding a member or the royal family's death. The plan mentioned in place for Charles is named 'Menai Bridge.'

"Why bridges?" Philip asks. "We're all bridges," the Queen responds. "I'm London Bridge, Mummy's Tay Bridge, you're Forth Bridge." She also notes that the plans are named after bridges because "the choice of names was to suggest a link from this life and then next."

The first episode of the fourth season also features Lord Mountbatten's funeral. When going through the plans for the ceremony, Prince Philip notes that his uncle had 500 pages of notes prepared for the event. (It's worth noting that in real life, Lord Mountbatten had a winter and a summer menu drawn up, depending on when the funeral would be).

As many could imagine, there are elaborate arrangements made for when a member of the royal family dies. Over the years, as members of the royal family entered their 80s, 90s, and even became a centenarian like the Queen Mother, there has been curiosity (if slightly morbid curiosity) surrounding what exactly happens.

Olivia Colman Tobias Menzies The Crown
Production still of Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II and Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip in the third season of "The Crown." Courtesy of Des Willie / Netflix

Three years ago, The Guardian did a deep-dive into what would happen when the Queen dies, known as "Operation London Bridge." The team behind this contingency plan has been meeting two three times every year since the 1960s, finalizing the plan.

First, an announcement is made regarding the death when it happens. The palace will inform the Press Association who will break the news. If she dies overnight, the announcement will be withheld until the following morning. At that same moment, a footman "in mourning clothes" will emerge from Buckingham Palace to pin a notice onto the gates of the death. Town and Country reported that the BBC will suspend all of their coverage to focus on the monarchy's updates throughout the day.

The Prime Minister will be informed promptly, and woken up if they are not already awake. They will decide which businesses and events will be suspended to pay respect to the monarchy. Flags will also be flown at half-mast throughout the U.K.

If the Queen dies abroad, a plane with a coffin on board for her will fly to the location of her remains. If she dies at Sandringham, she will be brought to London by car in a day or two. If she dies at her Balmoral estate, however, a lengthy Scottish ritual takes place first before returning to London.

Ultimately, the Queen's body winds back up at the Buckingham Palace throne room. There, her coffin is watched by four Grenadier Guards. The Queen's body will be brought to lie at Westminster Hall until the funeral, this way people can pay their respects for four days. The palace expects 500,000 mourners will be expected to show up and pay their respects to the Queen. Over 300,000 went to see George VI lying-in-state in 1952, and the line to see him stretched four miles long.

In the days following the Queen's death, there will also be "serious, busy receptions," The Guardian notes. It will be business as usual throughout the palace, despite the unfortunate circumstances.

The Queen will be expected to have a state funeral. The morning of the ceremony, the royal jewels will be taken off the coffin and cleaned. At 9 am, the coffin will be brought from Westminster Hall to the Abbey, a journey of only several hundred meters.

One particular section of The Guardian reported how somber the mood will be for England. "When the coffin reaches the abbey doors, at 11 o'clock, the country will fall silent. The clatter will still. Train stations will cease announcements. Buses will stop and drivers will get out at the side of the road. In 1952, at the same moment, all of the passengers on a flight from London to New York rose from their seats and stood, 18,000 feet above Canada, and bowed their heads." It's eerie, but will feel right in the moment.

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Funeral
Westminster Abbey For The Funeral Of The Queen Mother Who Had Lived To The Age Of 101. Her Coffin Is Carried By Pallbearers From The Household Division Of Guards. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

The Archbishop of Canterbury will lead the ceremony, which will be held at either Westminster Abbey. The funeral will be televised. The media will be inside, along with 2,000 other guests, but the press will turn their cameras away from the monarchy during prayers out of respect. After the funeral, the procession the carriage carrying the Queen's body will ultimately travel 23 miles to Windsor Castle, where members of the royal family wait. The media will stop broadcasting and the gates will close.

Like her mother and her father, the Queen will be buried there at St George's Chapel. As depicted in The Crown, inside the chapel, "the lift to the royal vault will descend," The Guardian revealed. This time around, "King Charles will drop a handful of red earth from a silver bowl."

It goes without saying that Prince Charles is expected to ascend the throne, for which he prepared all his life. The schedule following his coronation, however, is another story.

The Guardian also noted that there would be a tremendous psychological effect on the nation, and that it would not be unusual for the country to be in such a state of shock. Additionally, Buckingham Palace told the publication that they had a policy on not commenting on funeral arrangements for members of the monarchy.

What we do know about these plans are that they are drawn up and rehearsed years before they are implemented. For example, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's plan, called Operation Tay Bridge, was rehearsed for 22 years before she died in 2002. Her funeral plans were so well prepared, that when Princess Diana of Wales was killed in a car accident in 1997, the palace modeled her ceremony after it.

The fourth season of The Crown is available to stream on Netflix.