Why this McMaster royals expert says Queen Elizabeth's funeral will be 'unprecedented'

Justin Vovk, a PhD candidate in early modern history at McMaster University who specializes in royals history, said mass media made Queen Elizabeth's reign unique and will also impact her funeral.

Unlike past royals, Elizabeth ruled amid 'rapidly developing, technologically advanced world': Justin Vovk

Queen Elizabeth stands in Windsor Castle on April 28 in Windsor, England. She died on Thursday. (Dominic Lipinski/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

As people around the world react to the death of Queen Elizabeth, a McMaster University expert on the history of the royals says Queen Elizabeth's funeral — like her reign — will be particularly unique.

"This is a global event and this is unprecedented," said Justin Vovk, a PhD candidate in early modern history at the Hamilton, Ont., university who specializes in, among other things, royal funerals.

"This will be the first funeral of a British monarch that will be this accessible via media to almost anyone in the world. Phones, internet, TV, we've never had this level of interconnectivity before," he said.

Buckingham Palace said the 96-year-old, who was Canada's head of state and the longest-reigning British monarch, died Thursday afternoon at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

  • WATCH | Queen Elizabeth dead at 96

Queen Elizabeth dead at 96

1 year ago
Duration 8:33
Queen Elizabeth, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, has died. The CBC's Margaret Evans has a look at her life and legacy.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among the national leaders reacting to her death.

"As we look back at her life and her reign that spanned so many decades, Canadians will always remember and cherish Her Majesty's wisdom, compassion, and warmth. Our thoughts are with the members of the Royal Family during this most difficult time," he tweeted. 

Elizabeth was 25 when she became Queen in 1952, presiding over the country and the Commonwealth, including Canada, for seven decades.

In her time as monarch, Elizabeth bore witness to profound changes at home and abroad, including the decline of the British Empire and decolonization of many African and Caribbean countries, along with the end of hostilities with Irish republicans. 

As one of the most famous women in the world, she was also under great public scrutiny during some of the most painful moments of her life, including the death of her father, King George VI, the marriage breakups of three of her four children and the death of her former daughter-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales.

Vovk said despite dealing with some controversies, Elizabeth's reign was considered to be largely successful.

"It's important to commemorate the fact that she presided over ... a rapidly developing, technologically advanced world in which mass media and the monarchy itself were placed under constant public scrutiny."

He said her death will spur questions about the future of the monarchy and the Royal Family, but that's nothing new.

"People who are not in favour of the monarchy, I imagine, are going to still be wrestling with these questions of, 'Well what do we do with the institution now?'" Vovk said.

Elizabeth's son, Charles, is now king. Vovk said the change likely won't impact how Canada runs.

"No one under the age of 70 has known a British sovereign besides the queen. We're going to have to change our mental furniture and start talking about a King of England again," he said.

Pandemic may impact funeral

Vovk said royal funerals tend to transcend politics, but noted Elizabeth's funeral will be more significant and unique compared to those of other royals. 

"Death always is a process and experience that causes people to question and look for bonds with community. I think many people will be showing demonstrations of grief, tuning into the news, taking to social media and looking for a sense of connection," he said.

At the same time, Vovk said he's curious if the pandemic will impact her funeral. Hundreds, if not thousands, of dignitaries may be in attendance in person, he said.

A date for the funeral has not yet been announced. 

"This is also a funeral in a world that is not fully out of COVID yet," he added. 


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC News