State funeral

State funeral

A state funeral is a public funeral ceremony held to honour heads of state or other important people of national significance. They usually include much pomp and ceremony. Generally, they are held to involve the general public in the mourning process after the family of the deceased give consent.

United Kingdom

A state funeral consists of a military procession using a gun carriage from the private resting chapel to Westminster Hall, where the body usually lies in state for three days. This is then followed by a funeral service at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's Cathedral.

Many of the features of a state funeral are shared by other types of funeral—a Royal Ceremonial funeral (for example, that of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) often has a lying in state and Westminster Abbey service. The real distinction between a state funeral and a ceremonial funeral is that a state funeral requires a motion or vote in Parliament. However, 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, and so ratings from the Royal Navy hauled it to the Royal Chapel at Windsor. During the lying in state, the coffin rests on a catafalque in the middle of Westminster Hall. Each corner is guarded by various units of the Sovereign's Bodyguard or the Household Division. However, 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. [ [ The Queen thanks public in televised address - CBC News] ]

The honour of a state funeral is usually reserved for the Sovereign as Head of State and the current or past consort. Few others have had them:
*Sir Philip Sidney (1586)Fact|date=December 2007
*Isaac Newton (1727) [cite book | author = Gleick, James | title = Isaac Newton | publisher = Alfred A. Knopf | year = 2003 | isbn = 0-375-42233-1 ]
*Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (1806)
*Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1852)
*Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (1865)
*Charles Darwin (1882)Fact|date=August 2008
*The Rt Hon. William Gladstone (1898)
*Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts of Kandahar (1914)
*Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig (1928)
*Edward Carson, Baron Carson (1935)
*The Rt Hon. Sir Winston Churchill (1965)

Diana, Princess of Wales had a ceremonial funeral in 1997 similar to a state funeral. Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield was offered the honour of a state funeral, but refused it in his will.

Another significant state funeral was that of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965. 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.

In 2008, it was reported that a state funeral is planned for the first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. [ [ The Guardian — State funeral planned for Lady Thatcher] ]

United States

In the United States, state funerals are granted by law to Presidents-elect, sitting Presidents and former Presidents, and may be granted to other individuals as designated by the sitting President. While tradition and protocol greatly influence the funeral planning, the exact sequence of events is largely determined by the family of the deceased. This decision is made once a President leaves office.

History and development

The pomp and circumstance of state funerals were eschewed by the founding fathers who believed them to be too reminiscent of British rule. The first general mourning proclaimed in America came upon the death of Benjamin Franklin in 1790, as well as the death of George Washington nine years later. Though public mournings were held all over the country for George Washington, his funeral was a local affair at Mount Vernon. The first major funeral ceremony was for William Henry Harrison, the first president to die in office. Alexander Hunter, a Washington merchant, was commissioned to design the ceremony. He had the White House draped in black ribbon and ordered a curtained and upholstered black and white carriage to carry the coffin. Another famous U.S. state funeral was that of former First Lady Dolley Madison.

It was not until the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 that the United States experienced a nationwide period of mourning, made possible by advances in communications technologies — train and telegraph. Lincoln was the first U.S. president to lie in state in the rotunda of the Capitol, and ceremonies conducted henceforth have been based on Lincoln's funeral. Eleven presidents have been honored by having their remains lie in state (on the same black catafalque built for Lincoln) in the rotunda with a ceremonial honor guard to attend them.

Major components

Funeral processions in the nation's capital have honored eleven presidents, including the four who were assassinated. Although the details of a presidential state funeral may vary depending on the wishes of each president (or other honoree) and/or his family, the following is the most common sequence of events; however, there is no rule forbidding the honoree or his family from making changes to the sequence.

Most state funerals include Armed Forces pallbearers, various 21-gun salutes, renditions by military bands and choirs, a military chaplain for the immediate family, and a flag-draped coffin if the President or honoree is a veteran.

Presidents who die in office may lie in repose in the East Room of the White House; former presidents may lie in repose in their home or adopted state before traveling to Washington, D.C. to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Dwight D. Eisenhower was an exception to this general rule. Eisenwhower lay in repose at Washington National Cathedral, rather than his presidential library in Abilene, Kansas, following his death at Walter Reed Army Hospital in 1969.

A ceremonial funeral procession in a caisson (drawn by six horses of the same color, three riders and a section chief mounted on a separate horse from the Old Guard Caisson Platoon) is a traditional component of a state funeral observance. The procession begins in sight of the White House and travels to the U.S. Capitol. For former presidents, the coffin is transferred to the caisson at 16th St. and Constitution Avenue before the South Lawn and the procession moves down Constitution Avenue, but for sitting presidents, the coffin is transferred at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance of the mansion and the procession moves down Pennsylvania Avenue. (Pennsylvania Ave. in front of the White House has been closed since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.) The procession is composed of National Guard, active-duty, academy, and reserve personnel that represent the five branches of the United States armed forces and the coffin is followed by a riderless horse. Each march unit is led by a service band. The exception on the procession was for Gerald Ford. His casket was driven by hearse all the way to the Capitol and en route, stopped at the National World War II Memorial, to pay tribute to his service in the Navy during World War II. President Ford himself requested the Pause of Mutual Tribute and did not wish a procession.Fact|date=June 2007

The procession usually ends at the center steps of the east front of the U.S. Capitol. Exceptions were made for LBJ, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford. LBJ was carried up the Senate wing steps because the center steps were blocked with construction from the second inauguration of Richard Nixon just days earlier. [Foley, Thomas, "Thousands in Washington Brave Cold to Say Goodby to Johnson," "The Los Angeles Times", January 25, 1973] Reagan, as former governor of California, requested that he be carried up the steps which face west, overlooking California. Ford, as a former member of the House of Representatives, requested that he be carried up the House wing steps.

Upon the coffin's arrival at the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol a short service (the official "state funeral") is given with members of Congress present.

Afterwards, the president's body lies in state for public viewing. Although lying in state continues through the night, it differs from lying in repose. The honor guard, whose members represent each of the armed services, maintain a vigil over the remains throughout the period of time the remains lie in state. Public viewing is allowed continuously during the lying in state until one hour before the departure ceremony.

A national memorial service is held in Washington, D.C. It is held either at Washington National Cathedral or at another church or cathedral, depending on the family, with various foreign dignitaries and government officials attending. On the matter of seating arrangements for the funeral, the presidential party is followed by heads of state, arranged alphabetically by the English spelling of their countries. Royalty representing heads of state, such as princes and dukes, come next, followed by heads of government, such as prime ministers and premiers. During the ceremony, generals sit in the north transept, family members in the south transept, if the ceremony is held at Washington National Cathedral.

Immediately after the service is completed, the body travels to its final resting place for interment.

Before the mid-20th Century, the body was moved long distances by funeral train procession, where thousands of citizens would line the railroad tracks to pay their last respects. Transport in recent decades between the deceased president's home state and Washington, D.C. has been by one of the jets usually used as "Air Force One". Arrivals and departures are usually met with 21-gun salutes.

Funeral arrangements

State funerals are usually planned years in advance. Each living U.S. president—current or former—is required to have funeral plans in place upon becoming president. These details become more important upon leaving office, as it reduces stress for the president's family in an era of worldwide electronic media scrutiny.

The Military District of Washington (MDW) has primary responsibility in conducting the ceremony and goes by a 138-page planning document. Additionally, in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security is in charge of security arrangements, as state funerals may be terrorist targets as they are events of political importance.


In Canada, those entitled to state funerals include current and former governors general and prime ministers, as well as other eminent Canadians as decreed by the government. On November 21, 2006, Parliament approved a state funeral for Canada's last First World War veteran. []

The body arrives on Parliament Hill by hearse. On arrival, an honour guard meets the hearse and escorts the body into the centre block of Parliament Hill in a simple ceremony. The honour guard is drawn from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for a prime minister or from the Governor General's Foot Guards for a governor general.

Lying in state occurs in the Senate Chamber in the case of a governor general, or in the Hall of Honour for a prime minister, and usually lasts for two days. There are designated hours each day for public viewing during the lying in state.

Similar to the United States and the United Kingdom, there are guards at each corner of the coffin. The guards are from the RCMP and Canadian Forces. In the case of the governor general, their foot guards also guard the coffin. With prime ministers, the other guards are from Parliamentary security and Senate security.

As the body is escorted from Parliament Hill to the hearse, a 21-gun salute is fired for governors general or a 19-gun salute in the case of a prime minister. When the funeral service is held in Ottawa, it is usually held at Christ Church Cathedral.



In Australia, State Funerals are increasingly offered to persons of general celebrity. Such an offer was extended to the family of Steve Irwin but they declined.

New South Wales

State Funerals held in NSW are subject to a policy operated since 1966.

Politicians (both current and former) and people holding positions such as Governor and Chief Justice automatically qualify for a State funeral, however the Premier of the State of NSW can offer such a service for those determined to be distinguished citizens of NSW. For example, football (soccer) legend Johnny Warren was given a State Funeral in NSW.

Where the family of the deceased does not wish to have a State funeral, the offer of a State memorial service will be considered.

On 27 November 2007, Bernie Banton, a campaigner for asbestos victims who worked for James Hardie, lost his battle with asbestos-related mesothelioma. His family was offered a state funeral by NSW Premier Morris Iemma.


A State Funeral was offered for Steve Irwin in September 2006, but the offer was declined.


A State Funeral was held in September 2006 for race-car driver Peter Brock.

New Zealand

Traditionally, state funerals are reserved for all former Governors-General, as well as Prime Ministers who die in office. Others to receive state funerals include Sir Frederic Truby King (1937) who founded the Plunket Society, the unidentified victims of the Tangiwai rail disaster (1953) [cite news|url=|title=Govt breaks rules for a national hero|date=January 12, 2008|accessdate=2008-01-15] , Victoria Cross winner Jack Hinton (1997) [cite news|url=|title=Nation's farewell to be broadcast|date=2008-01-12|accessdate=2008-01-14] and mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary (2008). [ [ Radio New Zealand News - Sir Edmund Hillary honoured by state funeral] (12 January 2008)] The offer of a state funeral was refused by the family of former Prime Minister David Lange. [cite news|url=|title=Lange wanted simple family funeral|date=August 15, 2005|accessdate=2008-01-14]

Russia/Soviet Union

Several notable examples of state funerals during the Soviet period would be those of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the USSR, and Joseph Stalin, Premier and General Secretary. Lenin would have a mausoleum built in his honor, despite his rejections for such an idea during his life. Joseph Stalin's body would lie beside Lenin's until being moved to the Kremlin Wall Necropolis several years after his death. Both Lenin and Stalin's funerals were massive events, both with millions of mourners all over the USSR.


State funerals in Tonga are elaborate affairs, involving an interweaving of western pomp and ceremony with ancient rituals. Full honours are generally given only upon the death of the reigning Monarch, or other members of the Royal family, nobles of the realm, or in discretionary cases, upon the death of a serving Prime Minister (who is usually a noble or member of the royal family, but has been recently opened up to commoners).

The most elaborate rituals are always brought into play when a reigning monarch dies. The most recent example was the death in September 2006 of His Majesty King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV.

The entire country came to a standstill for two weeks, and were on an official mourning for a month. All public buildings were draped in large bunting and sheets with the official mourning colours of purple and black. Every person in the country was expected to be publicly dressed in the traditional mourning costume, while foreigners were expected to dress in black clothing.

The Royal Standard was draped over the coffin of the deceased to signify the death of the reigning sovereign. In all other state funerals in Tonga, the Tongan national flag is draped over the coffin. The body was carried by pallbearers from the honour guard of the two services of the Tongan Defence Force. This consisted of eight members of the Royal Tongan Navy and eight members of the Royal Tongan Army. The coffin was placed in a hearse which was at the head of a 10 kilometre long procession of vehicles which followed the hearse to the Royal Palace in Nuku'Alofa. Upon arrival, at the palace, the coffin was placed inside the eastern hall facing the royal tombs 800 metres away towards the sea. The official lying in state period began from this point onwards until the morning of the funeral service for a period of one week.

The ancient ritual of Takipo was observed on every night of the lying in state. The body is never left alone before burial. On the final night of the Takipo (the night before the funeral service), the vigil is kept up all night until dawn. A final prayer service was conducted at first light by the people of Kanokupolu.

When a reigning monarch dies, the royal undertakers - the Nima tapu (Sacred Hands) - are the only people allowed to touch the body of the King and guard him for 24 hours per day until the burial. In past centuries, one of them was also expected to be buried alive with the King to accompany him to the afterlife. On the day of the funeral itself, the flag-draped coffin of the King was placed upon a huge catafalque, and borne to the Royal Tombs at Mala'e Kula by 1,000 men of Sia'atoutai Theological College and others representing all the clans of Tonga.

Lauaki, one of the King's matapule (talking chiefs) and leader of the Nima tapu, made stylised movements with his fue (fly whisk) and held a tokotoko (staff) as the catafalque is borne to the tombs. These stylised movements symbolise the warding off of evil spirits in his duty of protecting the King on his final journey to Pulotu (the afterworld in Tongan mythology).

The Nima tapu are considered sacred throughout the period of mourning for the deceased King. At the end of the funeral service, the military guard removed the Royal Standard and folded it as the last post was sounded. The Nima tapu then carried the coffin of the King to the final resting place inside the Royal Tomb. For ten nights after the burial, they kept constant vigil at the Royal Tombs in accordance with their ancient duties of guarding the recently deceased monarch from evil spirits and ensuring a peaceful transition into the afterlife.

ee also

*Lying in state
*State funeral of John F. Kennedy
*Death and state funeral of Pierre Trudeau
*Death and state funeral of Ronald Reagan
*Funeral of Pope John Paul II
*Death and state funeral of Gerald Ford


External links

* [ The traditions of a British state funeral]
* [ Memorializing U.S. Presidents]
* [ Funeral Section of the RCMP Ceremonial and Protocol Guide]
* [ "The Last Salute" by the U.S. Army]
* [ NSW Policy on State Funerals]
* [ Commentary on state funeral offer for Australian Kerry Packer]
* [ Royal Funeral of King Tafa'ahau Tupou IV - Royal Palace Office]
* [ Royal Palace Office - Tonga]

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