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Honor guards who serve as pallbearers from all branches of the United States Armed Forces, carry the flag-draped coffin of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, down the center aisle of Washington National Cathedral during the president's memorial service held on June 11, 2004.

A state funeral is a public funeral ceremony, observing the strict rules of protocol, held to honor heads of state or other important people of national significance. State funerals usually include much pomp and ceremony as well as religious overtones and distinctive elements of military tradition. Generally, state funerals are held in order to involve the general public in a national day of mourning after the family of the deceased gives consent. A state funeral will often generate mass publicity from both national and global media outlets, such as state funerals undertaken in the United Kingdom as well as state funerals in the United States.




United Kingdom

The Prince of Wales guarding his grandmother's coffin on April 8, 2002

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 funerals—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.[1] 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.[2]

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:

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield 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.

The most recent state funeral for someone outside the royal family 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, as head of state.

When the Duke of Windsor (formerly Edward VIII) died in 1972, he was given a private royal funeral, with the exception that the Garter King of Arms recited words reserved for the deceased sovereign—a feature of a state funeral.

Diana, Princess of Wales had a ceremonial funeral in 1997, similar to a state funeral. In 2008, it was reported that a state funeral was being planned for former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher,[4] but Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman denied that there were any plans were being made but did not deny that a state funeral would be made for the former Prime Minister.[1]


Russia/Former 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.

North America

United States

An honor guard removes the coffin of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, from the Lincoln Catafalque in the United States Capitol Rotunda, June 11, 2004

In the United States, state funerals are funerals with ceremonial, military, and religious overtones which are granted by law to presidents-elect, sitting presidents, and former presidents in order for the nation to mourn and pay homage to their memory. However, state funerals may also be granted and accorded to other individuals who make significant contributions to the nation by a resolution of the United States Congress. While protocol greatly influences the detailed planning of a state funeral which is steeped in tradition and rich in history, the elaborate sequence of events are largely determined by the president and his family.


In Canada, state funerals are public events held to commemorate the memory of present and former governors general, present and former prime ministers, and sitting members of the Ministry. With ceremonial, military, and religious elements incorporated, state funerals are offered and executed by the Government of Canada which provides a dignified manner for the Canadian people to mourn a national public figure.

South America


Juan Perón, Eva Perón and Raul Alfonsín have had all state funerals.


New Zealand

People draped in the New Zealand flag at the Auckland Domain as the hearse carrying Sir Edmund Hillary's coffin drives past during his state funeral.

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),[5] Victoria Cross recipient Jack Hinton (1997)[6] and mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary (2008).[7] and the tomb of Unknown Warrior to represent all soldiers who represented and sacrificed NZ in all wars. The offer of a state funeral was refused by the family of former Prime Minister David Lange.[8]


In Australia, state funerals are increasingly offered to persons of general celebrity.

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 occurred for Joh Bjelke-Petersen.


A state funeral was held in September 2006 for race-car driver Peter Brock. In 2009, a state funeral was held to honour the actor Charles 'Bud' Tingwell.[9]


See also


  1. ^ a b "Thatcher state funeral undecided". BBC News. BBC. 2008-08-02. Retrieved 2009-03-12. "In effect there is little difference between ceremonial and state funerals—with the gun carriage during a state funeral drawn by Royal Navy ratings rather than artillery horses." 
  2. ^ The Queen thanks public in televised address - CBC News
  3. ^ Gleick, James (2003). Isaac Newton. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-42233-1. 
  4. ^ The Guardian — State funeral planned for Lady Thatcher
  5. ^ "Govt breaks rules for a national hero". January 12, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  6. ^ "Nation's farewell to be broadcast". 2008-01-12. Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  7. ^ Radio New Zealand News - Sir Edmund Hillary honoured by state funeral (12 January 2008)
  8. ^ "Lange wanted simple family funeral". August 15, 2005. Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  9. ^,25197,25490705-601,00.html

Further reading

  • Sandburg, Carl (1936). Abraham Lincoln: The War Years IV. Harcourt, Brace & World. 
  • Swanson, James (2006). Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. Harper Collins. ISBN 9780060518493. 

External links


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