Why Queen Elizabeth II Only Attended the Funerals of 2 British Prime Ministers

Queen Elizabeth II is Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. But even though she’s been on the throne for more than six decades, it’s rare that the royal family matriarch displays emotion and she typically only attends funeral services of family members and very close friends. During her reign, however, she did go to the funerals of two prime ministers.

 Queen Elizabeth ll
Queen Elizabeth ll | Anwar Hussein/WireImage

Read on to find who’s she attended and why she chose to go to only those two.

How many prime ministers has Queen Elizabeth had?

Since she ascended the throne in 1952, Queen Elizabeth has had private audiences with more prime ministers than any other British monarch.

Counting Boris Johnson, who took office in July 2019, the queen has sworn in 14 prime ministers. According to LBC Radio, those who served under her are Sir Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Harold MacMillan, Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and Theresa May.

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Which two services did she attend?

Winston Churchill speaking to then-Princess Elizabeth in 1951
Winston Churchill speaking to then-Princess Elizabeth in 1951 | Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While the monarch is expected to remain neutral on all matters involving politics and politicians, it’s widely believed that Churchill was her favorite of all her prime ministers.

Churchill was her very first prime minister and he served under her father, King George VI, as well. The queen and Churchill were thought to have had a close friendship and their weekly meetings would go well beyond the designated 30-minute sessions with reports saying they would last closer to two hours.

Upon Churchill’s death in 1965, the sovereign said “both my husband and I owe so much and for whose wise guidance during the early years of my reign I shall always be so profoundly grateful.” Queen Elizabeth attended his funeral along with Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, and a young Prince Charles.

It took another 48 years for the queen to attend another funeral of one of her prime ministers. But in 2013, she joined the thousands who descended on London to pay their respects to her longest-serving prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Her decision to attend Thatcher’s funeral was a personal decision just like her choice to attend Churchill’s decades earlier. The Guardian noted that the queen’s presence at Thatcher’s elevated the service to a state funeral in all but its name. The publication reported that years before her death the Iron Lady “vetoed the idea of a state funeral, which requires a vote in parliament to approve funds, fearing it would lead to a divisive debate in the Commons.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979
Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979 | Tom Stoddart/Getty Images

Did the queen go against protocol with those decisions?

The queen made statements by attending Churchill and Thatcher’s funeral services because she doesn’t attend many. But there is no rule prohibiting her from doing so, monarchs just did not go to funerals until William IV’s reign.

Sources say one of the reasons the queen seldom attends such events is because she doesn’t want the focus to shift from the person everyone is supposed to be grieving to her.

“She is aware her presence causes a huge fuss, not of her doing, but of the people who are looking after her,” said royal commentator Joe Little. “Aberfan [scene of a 1966 mining disaster in which 144 people, died] was a case in point. She didn’t want to go there immediately for that same reason, and was subsequently criticised for not going soon enough”.