Royal funeral tradition explained - why do they break a stick at a monarch's funeral?

Also known as 'the wand of office', this royal funeral tradition is the final symbolic act before a monarch's coffin is lowered into the Royal Vault

Queen Elizabeth II's coffin, draped in the Royal Standard with the Imperial State Crown, the Sovereign’s Orb and the Sceptre placed on top of it
(Image credit: Getty)

'Breaking the stick' or 'breaking the wand' is the final symbolic act to take place at a British monarch's funeral, signifying the official end of the Lord Chamberlain's service to the King or Queen. 

The Queen's funeral included a litany of royal traditions, but the 'breaking of the wand' which will come at the end of Her Majesty's committal service is perhaps the most poignant. 

Queen Elizabeth II's legacy has been honored today in a majestic State Funeral with a host of longstanding royal funeral customs, including a gun carriage procession and carefully selected music from the Order of the Burial of the Dead. 

The solemn day's final tradition, however, just might be the most poignant of all. 

The 'breaking of the wand of office' will be observed at St. George's Chapel this afternoon.

Her Majesty's coffin has already been driven in a state hearse from London to Windsor Castle, where a congregation of around 800 people gathered to attend a committal service at the Berkshire property's iconic church. At the end of the ceremony, the 'breaking of the wand' will take place – a burial ritual that was last observed in 1952, when the Queen's father, King George VI, died. 

The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II with the Imperial State Crown resting on top is carried into Westminster Abbey

(Image credit: Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

One of the lesser-known royal funeral traditions, it involves the Lord Chamberlain, the most senior officer of the Royal Household, officially ending his service to the monarch. 

What does breaking the stick or breaking the wand of office involve?

'Breaking the wand of office,' which is also sometimes called 'breaking the stick', occurs at the end of every British sovereign's funeral. 

It involves the Lord Chamberlain breaking his 'wand of office' – symbolized by a thin, white stick – and positioning it on top of the Queen's coffin before the casket is lowered into the Royal Vault. The act marks the end of his service to Her Majesty and is followed by a psalm read aloud by the Dean of Windsor and a commendation pronouncing the styles and titles held by the Queen.

The breaking of the wand dates back centuries, but Queen Elizabeth II's committal service on Monday will mark the first time in history it will be seen by the public. The white staff or stick was historically used as a tool of corporeal punishment for courtiers if they misbehaved but has fortunately been given a new purpose in recent times. 

Aoife Hanna
Junior News Editor

Aoife is an Irish journalist and writer with a background in creative writing, comedy, and TV production.

Formerly woman&home's junior news editor and a contributing writer at Bustle, her words can be found in the Metro, Huffpost, Delicious, Imperica and EVOKE.

Her poetry features in the Queer Life, Queer Love anthology.

Outside of work you might bump into her at a garden center, charity shop, yoga studio, lifting heavy weights, or (most likely) supping/eating some sort of delicious drink/meal.