A state funeral is a public funeral
ceremony held to honour heads of state
or other important people who have
attained a national significance. They
usually include much pomp and
The Queen Mother had a royal ceremonial funeral rather than a state funeral
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.
Many of the features of a state funeral are shared by other types of funeral—a
Royal Ceremonial funeral (for example, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother ) often
has a lying in state and Westminster Abbey service. The distinction between a state
funeral and a ceremonial funeral 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
In 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 honour of a state funeral is usually reserved for the Sovereign as Head of
State. Few others have had them:
• Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (1806)
• Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1852)
• The Rt Hon. William Gladstone (1898)
• Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts of Kandahar (1914)
• The Rt Hon. Sir Winston Churchill (1965)
(Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield was offered the honour, but refused it.)
In the United States, state funerals are granted by law and are held for Presidents
(elect, sitting, and former), as well as, important individuals, or anyone deemed of
national significance by a sitting President. (see: U.S. Presidential Funerals)
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.
A sometime component of these solemn but deliberately low key occasions in the
case of a military leader is the procession of the casket by caisson, (drawn by six
horses of the same color, three of them with mounted riders from the Army's Old
Guard) through the Nation's Capital.
Funeral processions in the nation's capital have honored ten presidents, including
the four who were assassinated.
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 casket as a veteran's honor.
Presidents who die in office lie in repose in the East Room of the White House.
Former presidents lie in repose in their home state before traveling to Washington,
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 casket is transferred to the caisson at 16th St. &
Constitution Avenue before the South Lawn and the procession moves down
Constitution Avenue, but for sitting presidents, the casket 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 casket is followed by a riderless horse. Each march unit is led by a service
band. The procession usually ends at the east front of the U.S. Capitol. The
exception is the funeral of Ronald Reagan. Reagan, as former governor of
California requested that he be carried up the steps which face west, overlooking
Upon the casket'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 late 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
A national memorial service is held in Washington, D.C. It is held either at
Washington National Cathedral or at another church or cathedral, if the family
requests, 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 nave, family members in the south nave, if
the ceremony is held at Washington National Cathedral.
Immediately after the service is completed, the body travels to its final resting place
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 usually been one of the jets used as Air Force
One. Arrivals and departures are usually met with 21-gun salutes . Because of jets,
it has become possible for the final funeral and burial
services to be completed in one day, regardless of what
parts of the country they take part in, as evidenced
during the two recent state funerals: those of L.B.J., in
1973, and Ronald Reagan in 2004.
The most famous state funeral in the U.S., was that of
John F. Kennedy who was buried on Nov. 25th, 1963,
resulting from his assassination.
State funerals are usually planned years earlier.
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. The
commanding general of the MDW appoints an Armed Forces team to provide
security for the presidential remains, whether they be lying in state or in a church
or other location. Additionally, in the post-9/11 world, the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for security measures since state funerals
may be terrorist targets.
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 was on the death of Benjamin Franklin in 1790
and the next on the death of George Washington in 1799. Though public
mournings were held all over the country for George Washington, his funeral was a
local affair in 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
However, 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 U.S. Capitol. Ceremonies
conducted henceforth have been based on Lincoln's funeral. To date, ten
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
Roman Catholic Church
When the pope dies, the officials in Vatican City begin a vigorous series of rituals
dating back to the middle ages.
The standard announcement is as follows:
After the initial determination of his death, made by calling his given name in Latin
(for example, in the case of Pope John Paul II the camerlengo called "Carolus")
three times without response, the Camerlengo ("Cardinal Chamberlain" is the
English title) drapes a white cloth over the deceased pope's head and declares him
dead, orders the papal offices and apartment sealed, and destroys the pontiff's
signet ring (the Ring of the Fisherman) and seals with the silver hammer.
The Pope's body is initially moved to the Clementine Hall in the Apostolic Palace,
where he is privately viewed by Vatican officials in a ceremony to confirm and
certify his death.
The Pope's death is announced to the world in the standard form:
"The Holy Father died this evening at ______ (time) in his private apartment. All
the procedures outlined in the apostolic Constitution 'Universi Dominici Gregis' that
was written by John Paul II on Feb. 22, 1996, have been put in motion."
The above form was used upon the death of John Paul II. If Benedict XVI does
not make any changes this will be the same form used until a future Pope does
decide to make changes.
After that, his body is moved to St. Peter's Basilica to lay in state, guarded by the
Swiss Guard , for public viewing and mourning for several more days. The pontiff
is then moved to his final resting place. The popes of the last century have been
buried beneath St. Peter's Basilica.
President Reagan Funeral
President Kennedy's Procession
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
The body arrives on Parliament Hill by hearse rather than by caisson or gun
carriage. 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 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. Unlike in
the United Kingdom and the United States, public viewing isn't allowed
continuously until a certain time. There are designated hours each day of the lying
in state. In certain cases, everyone may be allowed access despite the deadline, but
only after police officers tour the lines.
Similar to the United States and the United Kingdom, there are guards at each
corner of the casket. The guards are from the RCMP and Canadian Forces . In the
case of the governor general, their foot guards also guard the casket. 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.
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Most state funerals make one point clear, the family of the deceased agreed to the
public honors because so many other citizens in their countries want to join in
commemoration of the individual and their accomplishments.
|Roman Catholic State Funerals|
|U.K. State & Royal Funerals|
|U.S. State Funerals Components|
|U.S. State Funerals Arrangements|
|U.S. State Funerals History|
the anniversary of
The most famous state funeral was that of
a commoner, 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.
Procession for Winston Churchill