On a day laden with ceremony and symbolism, one of the stranger moments of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II was a ceremony known as the “breaking of the wand”, an event that has not taken place since her father, King George VI, was buried in 1952, and which had never been widely seen by the public before.
The “wand” at the royal funeral had nothing to do with the Arthurian legend of Merlin, or indeed a more modern British wizard in Harry Potter, but was actually a symbol of the lord chamberlain, Lord Andrew Parker, known as the “wand of office”.
This thin white staff has its origins in a tool that was used by the lord chamberlain to admonish people in the monarch’s court by tapping them if they were too rowdy or disrespectful. The last act of the service at the Queen’s committal involved the wand being broken, and then placed on the coffin before it was lowered into the royal vault.
The lord chamberlain is the most senior position in the royal household, and Parker has held the role since 1 April 2021. He was responsible for organising ceremonial activities such as weddings, funerals and state visits.
He was formerly the head of the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence service, MI5. Despite the seniority, and responsibility, it is a part-time role. Named Baron Parker of Minsmere when he took up his position in the House of Lords, Parker was the eighth and final lord chamberlain appointed by Queen Elizabeth II.
Also known as the “breaking of the stick”, the action marks the end of the lord chamberlain’s service to the monarch. King Charles will duly appoint a lord chamberlain of his own, who will receive a new wand of office.