State funerals in the United Kingdom
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In the United Kingdom, a state funeral is usually reserved for a monarch and the Earl Marshal is in charge. The last such funeral was held in 1952 for King George VI. In addition, very exceptionally, a state funeral may be held to honour a highly distinguished figure, with the approval of the monarch and with Parliament's approval (of the expenditure of public funds). 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. The funerals of Diana, Princess of Wales (1997), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (2002) and Margaret 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.
- 1 Features of a state funeral
- 2 History
- 3 Entitlement
- 4 List of funerals
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
Features of a state funeral
In the past century, the state funeral of a monarch has generally followed this pattern:
- Conveyance of the body to Westminster Hall. Having arrived in London, 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.
- 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, 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.
- 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 and tosses it into the grave to symbolize the end of his period of service to the late monarch.
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. Afterward it was taken by river (on board the Port of London Authority launch Havengore) to Waterloo for the railway journey to Bladon for burial.
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.
Distinguishing between a state funeral and ceremonial funeral
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 Royal Navy).
Another distinction made between a state funeral and a ceremonial funeral is that a state funeral for a distinguished subject requires a message from the Sovereign to each of the Houses of Parliament, under the Royal Sign Manual, informing them of the funeral and inviting their attendance. In the case of the state funeral for a deceased Sovereign, a message from the Earl Marshal, acting at the new Sovereign's command, informs the Houses of Parliament of the arrangements for the funeral and requires their attendance at the lying-in-state. Ceremonial funerals do not require such formal invitation of the Houses of Parliament by the Sovereign.
Ceremonial funerals on the death of a member of the Royal Family are preceded by the approval of a motion in each House of Parliament directing that an address of condolence be presented on behalf of the House to the Sovereign. But such addresses are usual for the deaths of all members of the Royal Family, and are therefore moved even for deceased members of the Royal Family who will have private funerals. In the case of a state funeral for a distinguished subject, the parliamentary address takes a different format, because it is moved in reply to the Sovereign's message informing Parliament of the decision to hold a state funeral, and in this case the address thanks the monarch for the decision to hold a state funeral and for all arrangements made, and expresses Parliament's participation in the national grief. In the case of a state funeral for a deceased Sovereign, the new monarch writes a message to each House of Parliament a few days after his accession (and after the delivery to Parliament of the Earl Marshal's message regarding practical arrangements for the funeral), mentioning the demise of the late Sovereign and expressing his sentiments for the new reign, and both Houses of Parliament then reply with addresses expressing condolence for the death of the late monarch and assuring the new Sovereign of their allegiance.
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, 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).
Since 1820 funerals of monarchs have invariably been held in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, with the burial also taking place there (or, in the case of Queen Victoria, in the nearby Frogmore Mausoleum). In earlier centuries, Westminster Abbey was the usual venue for both funeral and burial (albeit with several exceptions: for instance, Henry VIII was buried at Windsor, whilst James II and George I were both buried overseas). The funeral of Admiral Nelson in 1806 set the precedent for St Paul's Cathedral being used as a grand venue for funerals of distinguished subjects. The State Funerals of Wellington and Churchill also took place there, as, more recently, did the ceremonial funeral of Baroness Thatcher. Recent royal ceremonial funerals (those of Diana, Princess of Wales and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) have been held in Westminster Abbey, with the burial in each case taking place privately elsewhere.
Allowing the body of a monarch or nobleman to lie in state (for the public to pay their respects) is a long-established custom dating back many centuries, and is analogous to the once widespread practice of laying out a corpse for mourners at their home prior to a funeral. The use of Westminster Hall for this purpose, though, is comparatively modern, having begun with the state funeral of William Gladstone in 1898 (until 1882 the hall had been in use as law courts, and would not have been available for state events at short notice). The first monarch to lie in state there was Edward VII in 1910, and the first consort Queen Mary (1953). Monarchs in the 19th century all lay in state in Windsor Castle. In the 18th century Kensington Palace was often used; in the 17th century, Mary II lay in state in the Banqueting House, Whitehall.
Beforehand, the body will often have lain in a private room or chapel elsewhere (e.g. at the place of death) for private viewing. Both George V and George VI died at Sandringham and their bodies lay in the church there for a time, watched over by estate workers and gamekeepers; whereas the body of Edward VII lay in the throne room in Buckingham Palace.
Pre-1700: Heraldic funerals
Tudor and Jacobean State funerals had a strongly heraldic flavour (this in fact had been a distinguishing feature of both royal and noble funerals since the Late Middle Ages). Those taking part in the procession (most of whom would have been noblemen) wore full-length black mourning cloaks and hoods, as did their attendants. The quality and amount of material in these garments was strictly regulated by the College of Arms, according to the rank of the wearer. (Thus, a seventeenth-century Duke was permitted 16 yards of fabric at 10s a yard, a Knight only 5 yards at 6s.8d.) Colour was provided by heralds themselves, who wore tabards over their mourning cloaks and carried the late monarch's achievements in the procession. Colourful heraldic banners were also carried. The coffin was borne on a horse-drawn bier or 'chariot' and covered by a richly embroidered Pall. Those of the highest rank in society were distinguished by having a canopy carried over their coffin, which remained held in place for the duration of the funeral service. As well as the mourners, the horses were dressed all in black, and it was customary for black drapes to be hung along the route of the procession.
From the fourteenth century onwards it became customary for a lifelike wax effigy of the deceased person to be carried on or near the coffin in royal and noble funeral processions; previously, the embalmed body itself would probably have been on view. Surviving effigies, with contemporary clothing, are on display in Westminster Abbey. The last effigy of a monarch to be carried in procession was that of James I in 1625; since the funeral of his successor, Charles II, a crown on a cushion has instead been placed on the coffin.
1700–1900: Heraldic tradition maintained
Many of the above funeral practices persisted well into the nineteenth century. At the funeral of William IV (the last monarch to die before Queen Victoria) the chief mourner and his attendants still wore black mourning cloaks, black drapes were hung along the route of the procession and a black canopy was borne over the coffin. The coffin itself was covered with a purple velvet pall, embroidered with the Royal arms. The crowns of the United Kingdom and of Hanover were carried on cushions in the procession, and placed on the coffin for the service, and behind the coffin heraldic banners were carried: the banner of the royal arms and banners of the Union, of England, Ireland and Scotland, and also of Hanover and Brunswick.
At this time, and indeed in previous centuries, the procession at a state funeral was very clearly a state procession: thus, as well as members of the late monarch's household, it usually included peers, privy counsellors, the judiciary and other office-holders. When King William IV attended the funeral of his late brother George IV, the Sword of State and Cap of Maintenance were carried before him, as at the State Opening of Parliament (it should though be noted that until the 20th century monarchs by custom did not attend the funerals of their predecessors; William IV was an exception: not only did he attend, but he published a personal message of thanks in the Gazette for all who had participated. It was also rare for women to be seen in attendance, though the women of Queen Anne's royal household did walk in her funeral procession in 1714.)
It is intriguing to note that these funerals took place after sunset. At the funeral of William IV, for example, that the procession from the lying in state set off at 8 o'clock in the evening; not only did men of the Brigade of Guards line the processional route (as they still do today), but one in four of them held a burning torch. The regiments involved were accompanied by their regimental bands (according to the Gazette, each band in turn played the Dead March in Saul as the procession approached their position along the route). As today, those bearing arms (swords or rifles), whether lining the route or marching in the procession, carried or held them reversed as a sign of mourning.
A tradition of firing 'minute guns' during the funeral procession is one that has been followed for over 300 years. Indeed, in 1830 and 1837 the guns began at 4 a.m., and they continued firing: once every five minutes for the next seventeen hours, and then once every minute from 9 p.m. until the end of the ceremony.
Non-royal state funerals in the 19th century were very similar to those for monarchs, even down to a herald reading the style and titles of the deceased, and leading members of their household carrying white staves and breaking them at the graveside. One striking exception, though, was the state funeral of William Gladstone, which took place entirely without military involvement. Instead, the members of the Lords and the Commons walked in procession, each led by their respective Speaker.
The funeral of Queen Victoria: an innovative approach
The state funeral of Queen Victoria took place in February 1901; it had been 64 years since the last burial of a monarch. Victoria left strict instructions regarding the service and associated ceremonies and instituted a number of changes, several of which set a precedent for state (and indeed ceremonial) funerals that have taken place since. First, she disliked the preponderance of funereal black; henceforward, there would be no black cloaks, drapes or canopy, and Victoria requested a white pall for her coffin. Second, she expressed a desire to be buried as "a soldier's daughter". The procession, therefore, became much more a military procession, with the peers, privy counsellors and judiciary no longer taking part en masse. Her pallbearers were equerries rather than dukes (as had previously been customary), and for the first time, a gun carriage was employed to convey the monarch's coffin. Third, Victoria requested that there should be no public lying in state. This meant that the only event in London on this occasion was a gun carriage procession from one railway station to another: Victoria having died at Osborne House (on the Isle of Wight), her body was conveyed by boat and train to Waterloo Station, then by gun carriage to Paddington Station, and thence by train to Windsor for the funeral itself. (It was in Windsor that the horses broke away from the gun carriage, necessitating the recruitment of a nearby contingent of sailors to pull the coffin.)
The rare sight of a state funeral cortège travelling by ship provided a striking spectacle: Victoria's body was carried on board HMY Alberta from Cowes to Gosport, with a suite of yachts following conveying the new king, Edward VII, and other mourners. Minute guns were fired by the assembled fleet as the yacht passed by. Victoria's body remained on board ship overnight (with Royal Marines keeping vigil) before being conveyed by gun carriage to the railway station the following day for the train journey to London.
Since 1901: innovation becomes tradition
State funerals since have in many respects followed the template set by Queen Victoria, but with the public lying in state reinstated. (The use of Westminster Hall for this purpose immediately proved popular, with over a quarter of a million people taking the opportunity to file past the coffin in 1910; its use as the primary venue for lyings-in-state is now well-entrenched.)
The Funeral of Edward VII involved a very large number of foreign heads of state, together with royal and other representatives; however, pride of place behind the gun carriage was given to the late king's fox terrier, Caesar, who was escorted by a highlander.
One notable event at the lying-in-state of King George V was the so-called Vigil of the Princes: the four sons of the late king (King Edward VIII, the Duke of York, the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent) all stood guard together for a time. (The vigil was recalled 65 years later at the lying-in-state of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, with her grandsons the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex, and Viscount Linley taking post together.)
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. 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.
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.
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". Instead, she was to be accorded a ceremonial funeral with full military honours at St Paul's Cathedral, as authorised by Queen Elizabeth II.
List of funerals
Members of the Royal Family
State funerals since 1901
- 1901: funeral of Queen Victoria, at St. George's Chapel, Windsor
- 1910: funeral of King Edward VII (religious service and burial in St. George's Chapel, Windsor)
- 1936: funeral of King George V (religious service and burial in St. George's Chapel, Windsor)
- 1952: funeral of King George VI (religious service and burial in St. George's Chapel, Windsor)
Ceremonial funerals since 1952
- 1953: funeral of Queen Mary (religious service and burial in St. George's Chapel, Windsor)
- 1974: funeral of The Duke of Gloucester (religious service at St. George's Chapel, Windsor; burial at Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore)
- 1979: funeral of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (religious service at Westminster Abbey; burial at Romsey Abbey)
- 1997: funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales (religious service at Westminster Abbey; burial at Althorp)
- 2002: funeral of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (religious service at Westminster Abbey; burial at St. George's Chapel, Windsor)
Private funerals since 1952
- 1968: funeral of Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent
- 1972: funeral of The Duke of Windsor (religious service at St. George's Chapel, Windsor; burial at Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore. The former King Edward VIII had opted for a private royal funeral, rather than a full state funeral, with the exception that Garter King of Arms recited words reserved for the deceased sovereign - a feature of a state funeral).
- 1972: funeral of Prince William of Gloucester
- 1981: funeral of Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone
- 1986: funeral of Wallis, Duchess of Windsor
- 2002: funeral of The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (religious service at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, followed by cremation; ashes buried at St. George's Chapel, Windsor)
- 2004: funeral of Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester
Outside the Royal Family
Several other notable people and former prime ministers have been awarded a full state funeral: (Some of the following may not have been state funerals in the strictest sense of the term, even though some sources refer to them as such.)
- 1657: funeral of Admiral Robert Blake (religious service and burial in Westminster Abbey during Commonwealth; exhumed after the Restoration and reburied in St Margaret's churchyard)
- 1727: funeral of Sir Isaac Newton (religious service and burial in Westminster Abbey)
- 1806: funeral of The Viscount Nelson (religious service and burial in St. Paul's Cathedral)
- 1852: funeral of The Duke of Wellington (religious service and burial in St. Paul's Cathedral)
- 1865: funeral of The Viscount Palmerston (religious service and burial in Westminster Abbey)
- 1890: funeral of Lord Napier of Magdala (religious service and burial in St. Paul's Cathedral)
- 1898: funeral of William Ewart Gladstone (funeral service and burial in Westminster Abbey)
- 1914: funeral of The Earl Roberts of Kandahar (religious service and burial in St. Paul's Cathedral)
- 1928: funeral of The Earl Haig (religious service at Westminster Abbey; burial at Dryburgh Abbey)
- 1935: funeral of The Lord Carson (religious service and burial in St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast)
- 1965: funeral of Sir Winston Churchill (religious service at St. Paul's Cathedral; burial at St Martin's Church, Bladon)
- 1919: funeral of The Lord Beresford (religious service at St. Paul's Cathedral; burial at Putney Vale Cemetery, London)
- 1920: funeral of The Lord Fisher (religious service at Westminster Abbey, followed by cremation; ashes buried at Kilverstone, Norfolk)
- 1925: funeral of The Earl of Ypres (religious service at Westminster Abbey, followed by cremation; ashes buried at Ripple, Kent)
- 2013: funeral of The Baroness Thatcher (religious service at St. Paul's Cathedral, followed by cremation; ashes buried at Royal Hospital Chelsea, London)
There is no formalised process or convention for how the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland commemorate important figures. The deaths of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness were privately commemorated, reflecting political and religious sensitivities in Northern Ireland. In Scotland, there as of yet have been no funerals organised by the state in the modern era. In 2017, the Welsh Government organised a humanist funeral for former First Minister Rhodri Morgan at the National Assembly for Wales, which was televised and billed as a major national event.
- House of Commons briefing paper, 2013
- 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.
- 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.
- London Gazette, various editions (see below)
- Continuation of this ancient practice is attested in newspaper reports, but has not been mentioned in the official Gazette since the nineteenth century.
- The Royal Encyclopedia. 1992.
- Parliamentary briefing paper
- Woodward, Jennifer (1997). The Theatre of Death: The Ritual Management of Royal Funerals in Renaissance England, 1570-1625. Woodbridge: Boydell. p. 20.
- Westminster Abbey website
- "St. John Daily Sun - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
- Rappaport, Helen (2003). Queen Victoria: a biographical companion. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
- D. Cannadine in The Invention of Tradition, Hobsbawm & Ranger (eds), CUP, 1983.
- London Gazette; see below for details.
- The Queen thanks public in televised address - CBC News Archived 2007-07-31 at WebCite
- Remembering Winston Churchill: The State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, part 2, BBC Archive. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
- Ramsden, John (2002). Man of the Century: Winston Churchill and His Legend Since 1945. Columbia University Press. pp. 16–17, 113. ISBN 9780231131063.
- "Ex-Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher dies". BBC News. 8 April 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
- Evans, Martin (8 April 2013). "Baroness Thatcher to receive ceremonial but not state funeral". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
The funeral will have official status, similar to that accorded to the funeral of the Queen Mother, but it will not be a full state funeral in line with her own wishes and those of her family.
- 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 https://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/09/world/europe/former-prime-minister-margaret-thatcher-of-britain-has-died.html?_r=0.
- Gleick, James (2003). Isaac Newton. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-42233-1.
- Lambert, A. (2011). Admirals. Faber & Faber. p. 332. ISBN 9780571265688. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
- Gittings, Clare, Death, Burial and the Individual in Early Modern England, first publ. 1984 by Croom Helm, reprint (London: Routledge, 1988).
- Range, Matthias, British Royal and State Funerals. Music and Ceremonial since Elizabeth I (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2016).
- Woodward, Jennifer, The Theatre of Death: The Ritual Management of Royal Funerals in Renaissance England, 1570-1625 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1997).
- Wolffe, John, Great Deaths. Grieving, Religion, and Nationhood in Victorian and Edwardian Britain (Oxford University Press, 2000).
For the past 300 years, detailed official reports of the events surrounding state funerals have been published in the London Gazette:
- Funeral of Queen Anne (1714): "No. 5254". The London Gazette. 24 August 1714. p. 1.
- (The funeral of George I took place in Hanover.)
- Funeral of George II (1760): "No. 10049". The London Gazette. 1 November 1760. p. 1.
- Funeral of George III (1820):
- Funeral of George IV (1830): "No. 18707". The London Gazette. 19 July 1830. p. 1493.
- Funeral of William IV (1837): "No. 19519". The London Gazette. 13 July 1837. p. 1775.
- Funeral of Victoria (1901): "No. 27316". The London Gazette (Supplement). 22 May 1901. p. 3545.
- Funeral of Edward VII (1910): "No. 28401". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 July 1910. p. 5471.
- Funeral of George V (1936): "No. 34279". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 April 1936. p. 2763.
- Funeral of George VI (1952): "No. 39575". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 June 1952. p. 3345.
Since the late 19th century state funerals have been filmed and they are now viewable online: