State funerals in the United Kingdom

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Funeral of Elizabeth I, 1603. Horse-drawn bier flanked, as in modern times, by Gentlemen-pensioners carrying their axes 'reversed'. The coffin has an effigy of the late Queen on top of it, and is flanked by knights holding banners and a canopy.

In the United Kingdom, the term State Funeral is used primarily for the funeral of a monarch. The last such funeral was in 1952 for King George VI.

In addition, very exceptionally, a State Funeral may be held to honour a highly distinguished subject, by leave of the monarch and with Parliament's approval (of expenditure of public funds).[1] This last happened in 1965 for Sir Winston Churchill.

Other funerals (including those of senior members of the Royal Family and high-ranking public figures) may share many of the characteristics of a State Funeral without being gazetted as such; for these, the term 'Ceremonial funeral' is used. In the 21st century, the funerals of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (2002) and Baroness Thatcher (2013) have fallen into this category.

Along with the funeral service itself (which will be a large-scale national occasion), these events tend to be characterized by the use of a gun carriage to transport the coffin between locations, accompanied by a procession of military bands and detachments along with mourners and other officials. They may also feature a Lying in state and other associated ceremonies.

Features of a State Funeral[edit]

The procession during the state funeral of Edward VII


In the past century the State Funeral of a monarch has generally followed this pattern:

  • Conveyance of the body from the private resting chapel to Westminster Hall. Having arrived in London (eg by train from Sandringham) the coffin is transported to Westminster on a horse-drawn gun carriage, escorted by military contingents, officials and mourners. The coffin is draped with the Royal Standard, and on it is placed the Imperial State Crown.[2]
  • Lying in state in Westminster Hall. The coffin is placed on a catafalque in the middle of the Hall. Following a brief service, members of the public are admitted and file past the coffin to pay their respects. During the Lying in state (which usually lasts three days) each corner of the catafalque is guarded by units of the Sovereign's Bodyguard and the Household Division.
  • Conveyance of the body from Westminster Hall to Windsor. A large procession accompanies the monarch's body on its final journey: several military contingents, along with State office-holders, the Royal Household in all its diversity and (close to the coffin) the dead monarch's personal staff/servants. The late monarch's Equerries serve as pallbearers,[3] walking alongside the coffin, which is escorted by the Sovereign's bodyguards: the Gentlemen at Arms and the Yeomen of the Guard. The Royal Family (as chief mourners) follow the coffin, along with foreign and commonwealth representatives (often in significant numbers). The gun carriage is hauled by sailors of the Royal Navy for the two-hour journey from Westminster to Paddington. The coffin, mourners and officials then travel by train to Windsor, where the procession re-forms for the journey to Windsor Castle.[4]
  • Funeral service and burial in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. The form of service used is the same for a monarch as for a commoner; in recent centuries the Book of Common Prayer has been used. Prior to the burial, Garter King of Arms pronounces the style of the deceased monarch, using a form of words that has varied little over centuries of use. As the body is placed in the vault, the Lord Chamberlain breaks his white stave of office to symbolize the end of his period of service to the late monarch.[5]

State funerals of distinguished citizens have followed a similar pattern, except for the location of the funeral and burial. Churchill's body was taken by gun carriage from Westminster Hall to St Paul's Cathedral for the funeral. Afterwards it was taken by river (on board the Port of London Authority launch Havengore) to Waterloo for the railway journey to Bladon for burial.

Distinguishing between a state funeral and ceremonial funeral[edit]

The procession during the ceremonial funeral of Margaret Thatcher

Many of the features of a State funeral are shared by other types of funerals, and distinguishing between them is not easy. A Ceremonial funeral, like a State funeral, often has a lying in state, a procession with a gun carriage and military contingents, and a funeral service attended by state representatives, both domestic and foreign.

The visual distinction usually referred to is that in a state funeral, the gun carriage bearing the coffin is drawn by sailors from the Royal Navy rather than horses. (This tradition dates from the funeral of Queen Victoria; the horses drawing the gun carriage bolted, so ratings from the Royal Navy hauled it to the Royal Chapel at Windsor.) This distinguishing feature is not invariable, however, as shown by the use of Naval ratings rather than horses at the ceremonial funeral for Lord Mountbatten in 1979 (one of a number of features on that occasion which emphasized Mountbatten's lifelong links with the Navy).

Another distinction made between a state funeral and a ceremonial funeral is that a state funeral requires a motion or vote in Parliament; however, while this has been the case for State funerals of distinguished citizens, it is not clear that it is required for the funeral of a deceased monarch.

One clear distinction, however, is that State Funerals (like Coronations and the State Opening of Parliament) are organized and overseen by the Earl Marshal and his officers the Heralds,[1] who are prominently placed ahead of the coffin in the procession. They are not so involved in Royal Ceremonial funerals, which are instead organized by the Lord Chamberlain (who is an Officer of the Royal Household, whereas the Earl Marshal is a Great Officer of State).


State and ceremonial funerals in the United Kingdom are usually assisted by the funeral directors to the Royal Household, which are privately owned and commercially operated businesses selected and appointed by the Lord Chamberlain's Office.

Lying in state[edit]

On some occasions (most notably the funerals of King George V and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother) male members of the Royal Family have mounted the guard, in what has become known as the Vigil of the Princes. For George V, his four sons King Edward VIII, the Duke of York, the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent stood guard. For the Queen Mother, her grandsons the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex, and Viscount Linley took post.[6]


The honour of a state funeral is usually reserved for the sovereign as head of state. Spouses and widows of monarchs usually receive a ceremonial funeral, which differs only in the fact that the gun carriage bearing the coffin is drawn by horses, as opposed to sailors, as well as an action of Parliament not being required. However, a few historical civilians of profound achievement, exceptional military leaders and outstanding statesmen have also been honoured with a full state funeral, including, for example, Sir Isaac Newton, Lord Nelson, and Sir Winston Churchill.[7]

The former prime minister Benjamin Disraeli was offered the honour of a state funeral, but refused it in his will. The famous nurse and statistician Florence Nightingale was also offered a state funeral, but her family opted for a private ceremony. Charles Darwin (died 1882) was honoured by a major funeral in Westminster Abbey, attended by state representatives, but this does not seem to have been a state funeral in the formal sense.

The most recent state funeral of a former prime minister was that of Churchill in 1965. His was, at that time, the largest in world history, with representatives from 112 nations.[8] The only difference between his state funeral and that of the sovereign was the gun salute: prime ministers get a 19-gun salute as a head of government; the sovereign receives the full 21-gun salute, as head of state.

Despite initial speculation that Margaret Thatcher would be accorded a state funeral, after her death in 2013, the government indicated that she would not receive a state funeral "in accordance with her own wishes"[not in citation given].[9] Instead, she was to be accorded a ceremonial funeral with full military honours at St Paul's Cathedral, as authorised by Queen Elizabeth II.[10]


Members of the Royal Family[edit]

State Funerals[edit]

Ceremonial Funerals since 1952[edit]

Private Funerals since 1952[edit]

Outside the Royal Family[edit]

State Funerals[edit]

Several other notable people and former prime ministers have been awarded a full state funeral:

Ceremonial Funerals[edit]


  1. ^ a b House of Commons briefing paper, 2013
  2. ^ London Gazette, various issues (see below). NB in addition to the Crown the Orb and Sceptre are placed on the coffin prior to the larger procession which follows the Lying in State.
  3. ^ London Gazette. The Pallbearers, who walk alongside the coffin, should be distinguished from the 'bearer party' which carries the coffin when required (and which usually comprises eight guardsmen of the Grenadier Guards). At Churchill's funeral, the pallbearers were political and military leaders with whom he had worked closely during the war: Clement Attlee, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Lord Ismay, Lord Slim, Lord Portal, Lord Alexander and Lord Mountbatten.
  4. ^ London Gazette, various editions (see below)
  5. ^ Continuation of this ancient practice is attested in newspaper reports, but has not been mentioned in the official Gazette since the nineteenth century.
  6. ^ The Queen thanks public in televised address - CBC News[dead link]
  7. ^ Remembering Winston Churchill: The State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, part 2, BBC Archive. Retrieved 5 March 2011
  8. ^ Ramsden, John (2002). Man of the Century: Winston Churchill and His Legend Since 1945. Columbia University Press. pp. 16–17,113. ISBN 9780231131063. 
  9. ^ "Ex-Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher dies". BBC News. 8 April 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-08. 
  10. ^ Gregory, Joseph R. (2013-04-08). Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Who Reforged Britain, Dies at 87. The New York Times, 8 April 2013. Retrieved on 2013-04-08 from
  11. ^ Gleick, James (2003). Isaac Newton. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-42233-1. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "The Ceremonial Funeral of Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma". Retrieved 2011-05-29. 

External links[edit]

For the past 300 years, detailed official reports of the events surrounding State Funerals has been published in the London Gazette:

Since the late nineteenth century State funerals have been filmed and they are now viewable online: